Ten days between the end of the European Basketball Championship and the start of the Bundesliga is really not much time and at least Johannes Thiemann’s vocal cords could have used a little more break. The German national player had celebrated winning bronze at the European Championships in the catacombs of the Berlin Arena with a primal scream, and now he is loudly ringing in the new BBL season. “Is that all we have?” his Alba colleague Louis Olinde yelled at him at Media Day. Thiemann answered in a somewhat rough voice: “That’s all we need!”
Whether the Berliners really have everything they need for another successful season will be shown for the first time in the opening game against the Hamburg Towers on Wednesday (7 p.m., free on Magentasport) in the MB Arena. Then the national players Thiemann and Maodo Lo, who were rested on Sunday in the 88:63 in the last friendly against newly promoted Rostock, will play again.
As a series champion in recent years, Alba is clearly favored for the race. Of course that applies to the game against the North Germans, but also to the entire season. Anything but a close title race between the permanent rivals from Berlin and Munich would be a sensation. “It would be naïve to say that we will win two titles again this year,” said Thiemann. “It’s going to be damn difficult, but if we build on what we’ve done in recent years, we’ll have a good chance again.”
Alba took into account that the first few weeks of the season could be a bit crazy. With Lo, Jaleen Smith and Tamir Blatt, all three playmakers were at the European Championship, as well as two other top performers in Thiemann and Yovel Zoosman. Marcus Eriksson and Malte Delow missed all pre-season due to injury. “We changed the program a bit this year,” said sporting director Himar Ojeda. Fewer friendlies were scheduled because, with so many absentees, “there’s no point in playing that often if you can’t build on it.”
But in contrast to the previous season, when Alba suffered three of the six BBL defeats on the first five match days, the start-up difficulties in the coming weeks should be significantly smaller. A year ago, Israel Gonzalez had just taken over the head coaching post from his teacher Aito Garcia Reneses, there had been numerous personnel changes in the team, and some players were missing.
This time the Berliners can build on a very solid base. With the departure of Oscar da Silva and the commitments of Yanni Wetzell and Gabriele Procida, there has been less movement in the squad than there has been for many years. “Our advantage is that we were able to keep the team together to a large extent and only have to integrate two new players,” said coach Gonzalez.
The big challenge for the Berliners this season should not be warming up at the beginning, but conserving the form. The five EM participants have been in the rhythm of the game for weeks. “We’re at the beginning of the season, but the boys have already passed a peak,” said manager Marco Baldi. In the next nine months there will be hardly any breaks in around 80 games. Calling the strain borderline is a euphemism.
Alba’s medical department, the physios and the coaching team have a lot of work to do, but athletics coach Pepe Silva Moreno is confident that the team will be able to get through the deadline hunt this season as well. As early as 2019 and 2021, some Berlin professionals came straight into league operations after the World Cup or the Olympic Games without a real break.
In the past few weeks, Silva has been in contact with Alba’s national players, asking about their well-being, exhaustion and pain. Smith, Zoosman and Blatt are already fully integrated back into the team. Lo and Thiemann have been carefully reintroduced since they started training on Friday. “Physically they are in good shape, but we have to be careful because the season is long,” said Silva. The key is customization. If a player feels tired or exhaustion becomes visible in the performance diagnostics, the training has to be adjusted and sometimes a game has to be suspended.
That sounds easy, but given the game plan and possible attacks in the team, it’s “damn difficult”, as Thiemann says. “I know what impact the summer with the national team has on the whole season. There will certainly be phases in which you “walk a bit on your gums”. In recent years, however, he has always managed to be in good form again in the play-offs. When winning the title in June, Thiemann was even voted Finals MVP.
But no one in Berlin is thinking that far at the moment. A few days ago, Alba’s bronze medalist was struggling to get the opposition together in the opening game after everything that had hit them over the past few weeks. That should have changed in the meantime, because Alba WILL certainly not underestimate the Towers, even if they are probably far from ideal preparation like the Berliners. Large-scale construction work was scheduled for Hamburg in the summer – and this does not mean the entry of a name sponsor.
A lot has happened to the staff at the Towers, the departures are numerous and prominent. National player Justus Hollatz moved to Spain, for example, and coach Pedro Calles is no longer there and has been replaced by Raoul Korner. With DBB center Jonas Wohlfahrt-Bottermann and the Slovenian talent Ziga Samar, who was loaned out by Alba, two European Championship participants only started training last week.
“We’ve only had three training sessions at full strength and we have to really grow together over the weeks,” said Hamburg’s managing director Marvin Willoughby, adding with a laugh: “But we see it positively and an opening win against the German champions and cup winners would of course help.” At Alba they will surely object.
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