ANDOn Thursday morning, the German Basketball Association posted some photos on Instagram. At the airport, you can see national players Maodo Lô, Johannes Thiemann, Niels Giffey and Franz Wagner. The words “Good morning, Berlin” are written under the pictures. They have a deeper meaning: Germany is not only in the city where this Saturday (18.00 at MagentaSport) will fight for progress against Montenegro in the 1/8 finals of the European Championship.
They are also in a city where their sport has gained a lot of momentum. Lô, Thiemann, Giffey and Wagner play or have played for Alba Berlin, the German champion of the last three years, a club that develops basketball in Germany season after season with their ideas and convictions. And with it the national team.
Germany can be confident against Montenegro because they have what Alba Berlin has: a team with depth, confidence and great fun at what they are doing. They were able to win against France and Lithuania in the preliminary round in Cologne. These are bands with more talent. National team coach Gordon Herbert often uses ten of the twelve players in the first quarter. Not only is the way the Germans play with each other, but the way they talk about themselves is reminiscent of Alba.
Aunt Franziska is involved
“It will be a very, very good home advantage,” says Niels Giffey. Born in Berlin and a two-time university champion in the United States, he went abroad as a professional only last year at the age of thirty, after seven years as Alba. However, he was not satisfied with Żalgiris Kaunas and he still does not have a contract for the new season.
He seems happier in Berlin. “I noticed in my circle that there was some hype,” he says. With others, it is not worth mentioning that your aunt has fun, she is with him. Franziska Giffey is the mayor of Berlin. “I don’t think she went to Hertha on Saturday,” says his nephew with a smile.
How much does what happened in Berlin affect the national team? Center Johannes Thiemann, who has been with Alba for four years, says: “You are carrying a little spirit. You can say that you play smoothly because you understand each other very well. It can be said that many players come from this culture. It shapes the game.
Franz Wagner, born and raised in Prenzlauer Berg, is a rising star in the US NBA. “Who is the fourth Berliner?” Coach Herbert asked about the Alba quartet in his team. Wagner, who is only 21 years old and like his brother Moritz has been playing for the Orlando Magic for a year, was first used in the Bundesliga by Spanish Alba coach Aito Reneses at the age of sixteen. “The similarities I can sketch are that we have a great time together, that everyone is happy for the other,” says Wagner, “I had a similar experience with Alba.”
“Sometimes it looks like an Alba game”
Maodo Lô, who returned to Berlin due to a fate in his family, has grown into such a strong playmaker in two years with Alba that Dennis Schröder predicts a career in America. It seems that in the extremely inventive and almost dance-like Lô you can see that his mother, the painter Elvira Bach, gave him some of his talent. “There is a chemistry,” says of Alba’s reunion in the band, “It’s beneficial.”
National team coach Herbert looks with satisfaction at his “other unit”, as he calls his Berliners, three of whom always come from the bench. If the three substitutes are also in the game along with the young Wagner, there is often a blind understanding. Professionals know their strengths and preferences, they know how they want to play, whether they will fold or throw.
“Sometimes it looks like an Alba game,” says Himar Ojeda, Alba’s sports director, “although the national team has more talent and is an independent team.” He felt that in the opening match of the European Championship, when they beat France, the cleanest. “Everyone played without fear,” he says, “boldly, confident and having fun.”
After Alba’s training match, the coaches, players and youth coaches stopped on Sunday in the training hall in Berlin-Mitte and watched the match broadcast against Lithuania. When Lô attacked, he threw two threes in a row, and shortly after Giffey also hit the outside and under the basket, it got loud in the former gymnasium.
Enthusiastic coaches shouted that Lô should get the ball and show what he can. “We are proud of our players and the entire German national team,” says Ojeda. “It would be a dream if they played for the title here in Berlin.”
On the first day in Berlin, the players of the national team were free. Wagner and Giffey, Lô and Thiemann met at Schützenstrasse in Mitte: in Alba’s training room, of course.