heinnews’s David Hein this week caught up with Marco Baldi, manager of German basketball club Alba Berlin. They discussed the team’s tough contest against Barcelona in the Euroleague, new signing Blagota Sekulic, basketball in German television, the affects of the Euroleague Final Four on German basketball, the club’s long-term plans and how European clubs should be motivated to invest in more  infrastructure.

heinnews: Thursday is the big game against Barcelona. Alba are 0-3 in the group after letting the game at home against Real Madrid slip out of their hands and then playing a great first half at Barcelona but a miserable third period. What do you expect about Thursday’s game at home against Barca?
Baldi: I think Barcelona is the strongest team in the Euroleague, if you look at their personnel. They are fast, have big players and great individual players who can take over games like Juan Carlos Navarro and Ersan Ilyasova. They are big enough in the paint and have a lot of depth and have veteran players as well. So I think they are the strongest team in the Europe. Whether or not they bring all their potential to the court against us we will have to see. But we cannot afford to relax even for one minute because they can punish you so quickly. And then it’s so difficult to try and climb back into the game. We have to play a constant 40 minutes at our highest level. With the help of our great fans we have a chance. But if you look at the two teams’ level you can see we are a good bit behind them.

heinnews: Last week you announced the signing of Blagota Sekulic, the much-needed big man to replace the injured Patrick Femerling in the paint. What did you see in the 2007 ULEB Cup winner with Real Madrid, who joins the team from Aris Thessaloniki? And will he play against Barcelona?
Baldi: Well he is eligible to play. Whether or not he will play is for the coach to decide, if Blagota is comfortable enough with the system and everything else. But we were happy to have found him. We have a certain fundament within the team already established so we needed a player to come in and find his way into the team and system. We didn’t want a player to just want to play his style. And Blagota is an intelligent player and he should figure out things pretty quickly. What was also important was that he had been playing before coming from another team so he is in game shape. We didn’t want to bring in someone who did not have a job or was injured. Then it would take time to get them into game shape. But he should adjust quickly and he will be a big help.

heinnews: Alba had originally hoped that Kenny Adeleke would have been the solution for the center position. But he failed the physical and Berlin nixed the move. How frustrating was that whole situation?
Baldi: We had Kenny on our radar for the past two or three years. And then we saw that Sofia had released him from his contract. We gave him a check-up and saw the injury. And we figured it would take time to get him healthy again and it was chronic-type injury. We desperately needed the spot filled but didn’t know how much we could rely on him. So we didn’t want to take the chance. As it turns out, our patience and fortitude paid off and we got a player who better fits into our team.

heinnews: Sekulic was brought in to fill in for Patrick Femerling. What is the status of Patrick after his knee surgery?
Baldi: It’s tough to say. It wasn’t a major surgery. But it was on his knee. And we have to wait for him to recover and then see how he reacts to using it. It will be a couple of weeks still until he can really use it. For him, it’s been a bad season. After coming back from the national team he was nicked up. And then was back and then injured again. We still have to wait and see how he is but we expect to be fit at the latest for the playoffs.

heinnews: Many in Germany have complained about the state of basketball on German television – both free and pay-TV. Eurosport decided before Week 3 of the Euroleague Top 16 to broadcast the final four Alba Berlin Euroleague games live. How relieved and satisfied are you that this is happening?
Baldi: This is a matter of one thing bringing on the next. From a sports standpoint, we showed that we can play in this league and then reached the Top 16. We also are leading the Euroleague attendance ranking with nearly 12,000 spectators per game. So the focus has come more and more onto Alba. Eurosport was interested in showing the games. But you really can’t underestimate BBL and Sportdigital. The BBL is open for new cooperation deals and that’s what made this deal happen. And we are very happy about it of course. And now all German basketball fans can watch great teams in action.

heinnews: Do you think this move will eventually lead more basketball to being shown on German television?
Baldi: The structure and the cooperation with Sportdigital allows for other platforms and channels to come and show games. This is a start. But it will take a lot of work on the BBL and clubs side to keep asking people if they are interested. It’s just the beginning.

heinnews: Are there any plans to use the success of this season in reaching the Top 16 and build it into mid-range planning for the future?
Baldi: When we were planning for this season, we did not calculate with reaching the Top 16. Over the past couple of years we had not always played so well in the ULEB Cup. And there is an enormous density among teams. When you think that a team like Dynamo Moscow with a budget of 30 million euros is not even in the Euroleague. There are a lot of great clubs not in this competition. We just wanted to play as well as we could in the competition and we are more than satisfied. But we cannot expect to reach the Top 16 every year. Our goal will be first and foremost to defend the German championship. On the one hand we want to be German champions again. But we also want to return to the Euroleague. Our long-term goal is to grow the club over time and establish ourselves as a team that can always compete to reach the Top 16. There will be years when we don’t even make the Euroleague. Big clubs like even Barcelona have been there. But like them, we also have to have the fortitude to come back strong and give everything we have to return to the Euroleague.

heinnews: Looking ahead to early May and the Final Four, how is the planning for the spectacle going?
Well, we as a club are not really that involved in that. That is more in the hands of the Anschutz group and Euroleague. They are in steady contact and are working feverishly at all levels.

heinnews: With the Final Four taking place in Berlin, how can German basketball and the BBL take advantage of that?
Baldi: I think it’s a mistake to assume that just because the Final Four is in Germany that there will be a big push in German basketball. Having a team like Alba Berlin or Bamberg or whoever regularly performing at a high level in the Euroleague will move more than having the occasional showcase event.

heinnews: The o2 Arena in Berlin is quite impressive. Do you think it can help Alba Berlin at all in attracting free agents to their team?
Baldi: Well, the arena itself no. But the club is building a good reputation. We are credible. Berlin is a great city. And the management is very ambitious. But when you are talking about top caliber players, they are not really worried about developing their games. Obviously they think about the money quite a bit. And we are improving that more and more. But just a large sum of money is not a guarantee to get to the top in Europe. Things should be done step by step. We will not double our budget overnight. We want the revenues to grow slowly and continually. A problem in Germany is that when a player in Russia gets 100,000 euros, it costs the club 100,000 euros. But that same salary will cost a German club 250,000 euros.

heinnews: The Euroleague and the national federations agreed last week to restructure the European competitions between 2009-2012. Where do Alba Berlin and the German BBL stand in the deal? And what do you think of the plan?
Baldi: The main thing is I wish there was less emphasis on the team’s rankings and more emphasis on the infrastructure and financial standing of the clubs, that clubs are motivated to invest more in their infrastructure. It’s unfortunate when a team gets a big sponsor and invests loads of money in players but not at all in the well-being of the club. And then if the success isn’t there, or if the sponsor leaves, the club falls apart.

heinnews: Like Dynamo St. Petersburg a couple years back.
Baldi: Exactly. Still, we are very happy that the qualification means a second German club could possibly get to the Euroleague. And it’s important that we kept our spots in the Eurocup. We need that to stay competitive at the international level.

heinnews: So, last question and we will let you go. Berlin are in fourth place in the BBL but have three less games played than Oldenburg and two fewer than Göttingen. How do you see Alba’s current standing in the German league?
Baldi: The German BBL is underestimated. Teams can still play nine foreigners. And for us, every game we play is the opponents’ top game. And in Germany it is tough for every team – even Alba – to win on the road. The league is very dense and competitive throughout. Over the next 30 days we will play 11 games. And in the BBL we are often playing against rested teams. But our goal remains to finish the regular season in first place. But it will not be easy with teams like Göttingen, Oldenburg, Bonn and Frankfurt as well. Also I am sure that Bamberg will come back and make some noise. They just have too much potential. And then there will be a team sneaking up that nobody expected to challenge. But the schedule will play a big role in the rest of the season – how many games are at home or on the road, etc. But the best thing about the BBL is that every game has plenty of drama since every team is playing against relegation, a spot in the playoffs or a better spot in the playoffs.

heinnews: Okay, thanks a lot for your time and enjoy the game against Barcelona
Baldi: I think it will be an excellent game.

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