“We’re hungry,” Jaleen Smith said. “It’s over. We want to do more and keep getting better.” Alba Berlin left a 12-game defeat streak in the Basketball Euroleague with an intact fighting spirit and indestructible confidence. Smith contributed 22 points to victory in Lyon-Villeurbanne the day before New Year’s Eve. On Thursday, when Alba, bottom of the table, defeated Baskonia Vitoria, who had been victorious for twelve rounds, he was his team’s top scorer and contributed 18 points to the 85:84.
The Berliners had narrowly lost many games, with a difference of only two or three baskets. “The players might have gotten nervous at other clubs, but everyone stayed calm here,” praised coach Israel Gonzalez. His self-confidence is remarkable. “We can beat any team in the Euroleague,” he says. He and his team are looking forward to the Bundesliga game against Bayern Munich on Sunday (6 p.m., at MagentaSport); Armani Milan and Real Madrid are coming to Berlin next week.
Unique in German basketball
In the game against Baskonia, the Berliners led twice with eleven points (25:14 and 72:61). And yet it took a masterful block from Ben Lammers to prevent the American Markus Howard from scoring the winning goal for the Spaniards in the last second. Balm for the soul, as Alba manager Marco Baldi says, may the success be, says team Psychologist Renate Eichenberger: “But the soul wasn’t cracked by the defeats.” Rather, it is a gift that the team plays and keeps up with the best teams in Europe in the Euroleague.
In the German championship, Alba lost only one of twelve games. “We can also look forward to BBL victories,” she says. One of her main concerns is to make it clear to the pros that they do their work for the joy of the game, that they don’t have to do anything, but can pursue the profession they have chosen because they are good at it. She, on the other hand, is happy about how the Berlin players cheer each other on before the game, jumping and screaming. “You can feel the joy there,” she says. One infects the other with it.
The romping before the game and in particular the special Alba spirit, which goes far beyond camaraderie and collegiality – “The players love each other,” said Baldi once – is not the result of their work, says Eichenberger. She got promoted to the professional team by working with young players. She has been a part of it for two and a half years. “Renate has gained the trust of the players,” says sporting director Himar Ojeda. He even talks about the department of sports psychology. It complements the work of the trainers on strength and condition, throwing and tactics: “Spirit, mentality, attitude and decision-making are just as important as physical and tactical preparation, individually and in the team.” The psychologist and her assistant Elisa Lierhaus therefore worked with them players as with coaches. This is unique in German basketball.
Renate Eichenberger doesn’t want to overestimate her contribution to Alba’s work and success. She describes her work as a cog in a Swiss clockwork and herself as a kind of moving suggestion box. Alba’s special spirit first and foremost comes from the sporting director’s personnel decisions and is reinforced by the coach’s work. She is present at every home game and especially at every training session. She remains seated, and one after the other, basketball pros squat down on the bench next to her. Small talk is often enough.
If necessary, the scientist and the athlete can deepen their exchange in a café or arrange to have a digital conversation. “If you take people as they are and allow them the space they need,” she says, “you can be very successful.”