aOn Thursday morning, the German Basketball Association published several photos on Instagram. You can watch national players Maodo Lô, Johannes Thiemann, Niels Giffey and Franz Wagner at the airport. “Good morning Berlin” is written under the pictures. It has a deeper meaning: the Germans are not just in town as they will be fighting for a lead against Montenegro in the Round of 16 of the European Championship on Saturday (6pm at MagentaSport).
They are also in the city where their sport has received a huge boost. Lô, Thiemann, Giffey and Wagner play or play for Alba Berlin, the German champions of the past three years, the club that develops basketball in Germany with its ideas and convictions season after season. And the national team.
The Germans can be confident against Montenegro because they have what Alba Berlin has too: a team with depth, confidence in their own abilities and great fun in what they do. In the preliminary round in Cologne, they managed to win against them. France and Lithuania. These are teams with more talent. National coach Gordon Herbert often uses ten out of twelve players in the first quarter. It’s not just the way Germans play with each other, but the way they talk about each other that reminds us of Alba.
Aunt Francesca enters the play
“It would be a very nice feature in the home area,” says Nils Jaffe. Born in Berlin and a two-time college champ in the US, he traveled abroad as a professional only last year at the age of 30, after seven years at Alba. However, he was not happy in Zalgiris Kaunas, and he has not yet received a contract for the new season.
He seems happier in Berlin. “I’ve noticed in my circle that there is some kind of noise,” he says. With others it is not worth noting that the aunt is waiting to play, and she is with him. Francesca Givi is the ruling mayor of Berlin. “I don’t think she will go to Hertha on Saturday,” her nephew said with a smile.
What is the impact of what happened in Berlin on the national team? Center Johannes Thiemann, who has been with Alba for four years, says: “You carry a little soul. You can tell that you play fluently because you understand each other so well. You can tell that a lot of players come from this culture. That shapes the game.”
Franz Wagner, born in Prenzlauer Berg, is the rising star of the NBA. Who is the fourth Berliner? asked coach Herbert when asked about the Alba quartet on his team. Wagner, who is only 21, and who represented his brother Moritz with the Orlando Magic for a year, was first used in the Bundesliga by Spanish coach Eto’o Reenses at the age of 16. “The parallels I can draw are that we had so much fun together, and that everyone is happy with each other. I had a similar experience with Alba,” Wagner says.
“Sometimes it looks like an alba game”
Maodo Lô, who returned to Berlin due to a stroke in the family, had developed into a so powerful bodyguard within two years at Alba that Dennis Schröder predicted for him a career in America. One seems to see in Lou so imaginative and almost choreographic that his mother, the painter Elvira Bach, gave him part of his talent. “There’s a certain harmony,” he says of Alba’s association with the team, “that’s helpful.”
National coach Herbert looks comfortably at his “second unit”, as he calls the Berlin players, three of whom always come off the bench. If all three alternatives are also in the game along with young Wagner, then there is often a blind understanding. The pros know each other’s strengths and preferences, how they want to play, whether they’re going to be passing or throwing.
“It sometimes looks like an Alba game, although the national team has more talent and is an independent team,” says Hemar Ojeda, Alba’s sports director. He felt that in the opening match of the European Championship, when they defeated France, he explained. “Everyone played without fear, with courage, full of self-confidence and playful,” he says.
After the Alba training match, coaches, players and youth coaches stayed together in the training hall at the Berlin Mitte on Sunday and watched the match against Lithuania be broadcast. When Lô launched the attack, he threw thirty in a row, when shortly afterwards he hit Giffey from outside and under the basket, hiss as loud as the former school gymnasium.
The excited coaches shouted that Lô had to get the ball and show what he could do. “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, Jiffy, Lou, and Tiemann met at the Schutzenstrasse in Mitte: naturally in the Alba training hall.
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