When trying to fit these three terms At Close Range, Sean Penn and Alba Berlin together, the average observer born after 1990 most likely will be unable to piece together the similarities that they do have, but the older generation that follow movies and German basketball might just be so shrewd and be able to link it all together. Close Range was an 80´s movie and for many the only thing that will be remembered will be the theme song by Madonna “Live to tell” and that it featured up and coming actor Sean Penn. At that time in 1985, the American who was an up and coming actor was reeling off the critically acclaimed flick the Falcon and the snowman and followed that up with the next masterpiece “At Close Range”. The only problem, nobody noticed except for the critics as the movie theaters weren´t overflowing as it grossed only $2,347,000 at the North American box office during its theatrical run in 83 theaters, earning less than its production budget of $6.5 million which was a major disappointment. Ok so these three terms might not directly have too much in common with the famous German team Alba Berlin, but there is always a way how certain things can be linked. In the case of acclaimed actor Sean Penn, Close Range and Alba Berlin, it has to do more with success. At that time, Sean Penn was a big acting talent, but just hadn´t really had that big success at the box office, but they would occur later in his career. It isn´t much different for Alba Berlin either. The German basketball powerhouse have had a lot of talent over the last 10 years, but not had as much success as a Marco Baldi would have liked. Winning cup´s are nice, but not the same as going through the playoffs and standing at the top of the peak at the end of the successful run. Winning a cup translates in a successful weekend where you win two games and was able to play your best basketball in a short period of time. The fact of the matter is that Alba Berlin hasn´t won a league title in 10 years and the Alba Berlin drought has been as annoying for the traditional organization as it has been for the Boston Celtics who also won their last NBA title in 2008. Penn was looking for that box office success in 1985 while Alba Berlin is seeking that league title success after a long delay, but they are at close range. But not only is the Professional team Alba Berlin that is at close range this season of reaching the basketball peak, but also the two youth teams the JBBL(Under 16) team and NBBL(under 19) team that are battling this weekend in Quakenbruck for two titles. Alba Berlin is battling the MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg for the ticket to the easyCredit BBL final as well. In a few days the German basketball world will know if the Alba Berlin organization will celebrate two youth titles and in a few weeks if Alba Berlin can finally win a league title again. Even if Sean Penn and Alba Berlin have no real connection, Penn often is at close range to the court at the Staples Center in Los Angles sitting next to his buddy Hollywood legend Jack Nicholson, so at least there is somewhat of a basketball connection as Alba Berlin is at close range of reaching the peak again in German basketball.
The organization Alba Berlin has been a top German address for more than 20 years and continue to keep that winning tradition alive even if it has been a bit blinded in the last 10 years. With the emergence of FC Bayern Munich in 2011 and the amazing run of Brose Bamberg of 11 titles in the last 9 years has put Alba Berlin in the shadow and have been chasing that next BBL league title since 2008. Professional sports have had those dominating teams and Alba Berlin once was at the top for a while. In the 60´s it was the Boston Celtics that dominated with Bill Russell for many the greatest player ever, the 70´s had the Pittsburgh Steelers that won 4 Superbowls with the guidance of great quarterback Terry Bradshaw, the 80´s spawned the great Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers that combined for 8 titles and the 90´s and early millennium had the power dynasty of Alba Berlin that won 7 straight BBL titles from 1997-2003 producing great players like Wendell Alexis, Henrik Rodl, Marko Pesic and Mithat Demirel. That amazing dynasty ended 15 years ago where they won 10 titles in seven seasons and since then the club has only produced six titles in 10 years. Most other clubs would love to win at least one like a ratiopharm Ulm who have been a finalist for years, but for an established club like Alba Berlin that is used to winning, the inability to win a league title in 10 years has been a bitter pill to swallow. But their luck in that department may be changing as they have perhaps their best roster in the last 10 years. It may not be the most talented, but perhaps the best team of characters that it has ever had. And at the moment the junior teams aren´t too shabby either.
But before talking about the junior teams, one has to comment on the senior team Alba Berlin. The club has been successful in the past years winning three cups under the leadership of 1995 Korac cup winner Sasa Obradovic which was a huge accomplishment, but in the storied short history of Alba Berlin is like a side note when teams like Brose Bamberg have been ruling the basketball landscape the last 10 years. Even if Alba Berlin finished in the top three teams in the regular season in five of six years since their 2008 last league title, they just didn´t have the right personal to make the next step in the playoffs when it counted most. In the years from 2015-2017, they even struggled in the regular season and that was mostly evident two seasons ago when they were swept by the Fraport Skyliners after winning the cup in Munich only three months earlier. The biggest problem that Alba Berlin have had in the past 10 seasons concerning their personal hasn´t been the talent, because that has always been abundant, but having the right character players that any team needs to win that much coveted title. Ok they were able to win 4 cups in the last 10 years, but it is always easier to come together and make it possible in a two day tournament then it is going through the highs and lows of long playoff series. This season everything has come together as Marco Baldi got the right coach and he found the right players. With the 70 plus year old Aito, many were questioning this move as another Caki type of coach who didn´t know the BBL, but instead he brought new life to the organization. He made basketball fun again and all players have bought into his philosophy and flourished as they have given the name team basketball a special new meaning. The key signing has been Luke Sikma who has carried the team with his MVP season and all have followed. After an injury and tough last season, Peyton Siva is reborn and a top 5 point guard, Joshiko Saibu has made a 180 degrees turn and isn´t a solid BBL player, but a very good player now thanks to Aito, Lithuanian Marius Grigonis is back to his deadly sniper ways having that feared season he last had in 2013-2014 with Penas Huesca (Spain-LEB Gold, and Americans Spencer Butterfield and Dennis Clifford have been quiet, but productive pieces to the success. One could continue to go down the roster list as Aito has given not only the team an identity, but each player has developed their own identity and have had success carrying out their roles. Their pinpoint accurate shooting and depth are their biggest strengths and no matter who is in the final, they will give whichever team a very good run for the money. Aito believes in his team and the team´s confidence is continuing to grow and have their best chance since 2008 to win their next league title.
It is necessary to mention that Alba Berlin also has been an extraordinary and big time organization in developing it´s youth. Even if Alba Berlin is still a distant third to top youth team Urspring who have won 5 NBBL titles since the begin of the league in 2006, Alba Berlin have won two titles and one JBBL title and now have the opportunity to make the double sweep this weekend as both teams are in the top 4. The most notable players that Alba Berlin have produced in their basketball stables in the last years have been Moritz Wagner and Niels Giffey who have reached the NCAA final and currently have so many new talented players including Moritz Wagner´s brother Franz Jacob and Jonas Mattisek and Hendrik Drescher all who have already received BBL minutes and have huge futures in front of them. This weekend Alba Berlin will participate at the JBBL(U-16) and NBBL(U-19) top 4 championships in Quackenbruck where the once BBL playoff team is now just a pro B team, but one thing is for sure, the Artland arena will have an amazing atmosphere as the small compact 3000 seat arena is always bustling and loud. It would be an understatement to say that Alba Berlin wasn´t favorites in both competitions even if there are other very talented clubs like FC Bayern Munich and the Young Rasta Dragons ready to do battle not to mention other worthy teams from Ulm, Ludwigsburg and Goettingen. Alba Berlin is defending their JBBL title from last season and are led by ex German national player and coach Vladimir Bogojevic where they easily disposed of Eintracht Frankfurt/Fraport Skyliners 88-60. Are they feeling any pressure? I doubt it. In last season´s run, they lost only one game and this season has been the same as they lost only to their city rival Tus Lichterfelde. They didn´t march to the JBBL top 4 in Quakebruck, but stampeded like ambitious elephants trying to get their way to the next watering hole sweeping all three teams. Alba Berlin crushed their opponents in a rude fashion showing no mercy. They then creamed Phoenix Hagen 104-39 and 125-50 and then crushed the Young Rasta Dragons 115-53 and 124-39. They didn´t stampede their way as easily in the quarterfinals, but still easily disposed of the Metropol Baskets Ruhr 93-77 and 96-85. They come to Quakenbruch having outscored their playoff opponents by a whopping 657-243. Their biggest strength is their overwhelming depth as they have 10 players on the roster that average in double figures led by Elias Rodl(19,3ppg, 6,3rpg and 2,9apg) who is the son of 1993 NCAA champion with North Carolina Henrik Rodl, Matis Sedlak(16,9ppg, 8,9rpg) and Nolan Adekunle(16,4ppg,6,4rpg and shooting 75% from outside at 11/17). They will face BBA Ludwigsburg in the semi-finals and it may seem like déjà vu for anyone that follows the BBL team. Just like the BBL team, the JBBL team likes to play everyone and has inserted 16 guys this season and 12 players have averaged 10 minutes or more. Alba Berlin has the overpowering talent and will reach the final and have good chances to defend their title from last year.
The only real difference between the Alba Berlin JBBL and NBBL teams is age, because like the JBBL team, the NBBL team has an abundance of talent and seemingly unending depth that also will get them over the top even if there is also very good competition here. Alba Berlin is a two time NBBL champion having won in 2009 and 204. They are led by 2018 NBBL coach of the year Josef Dulibic and this season they marched through the regular season and lost only once surprisingly in the Artland arena against the Young Rasta Dragons 75-69 and could meet them again in the final should they advance over ratiopharm Ulm. They totally outclassed their two playoff opponents Metropol Baskets Ruhr and Eintracht Frankfurt/Fraport Skyliners sweeping them with extreme ease and winning each game by a point average difference of 33 points and come to the NBBL top 4 with extreme self confidence and a deep roster where even their 11th and 12th guys could start for other teams. Their experience is overwhelming as they have four German U-18 national players and three guys with 2018 NBBL MVP Jonas Mattisek(17,1ppg,3,7rpg,5,5apg), Hendrik Drsecher(15,6ppg,8,1rpg,2,0apg) and Franz Wagner(11,1ppg,3,4rpg,1,8apg) that have BBL experience. Mattisek has even played three Eurocup games this season. Overall the club has eight players that averaged double figures in scoring this season. Two other very significant contributors to their success are Lorenz Brenneke(12,9ppg,5,1rpg,1,9apg) and Abdulah Kameric(10,8ppg,3,1rpg,3,5apg). Alba Berlin have a real tough foe in the semi-finals with FC Bayern Munich in prime time at 8:00 pm and in a way this is the final before the final. It will be a very good first test for Alba Berlin and if they meet a very focused Munich team that starts hitting right away, then it could be a real dogfight of a game. Even if FC Bayern Munich has nice depth, Alba Berlin´s depth is even better and their undeniable experience especially with the trio of Mattisek,Drescher and Wagner who practice at a way different level and have played at the highest level in Germany won´t be able to be matched by the Bavarian team. Alba Berlin totally overpowered their playoff opponents in the paint and it won´t be as obvious against FC Bayern Munich, but Alba Berlin does have the size advantage and will be able to do damage in this area and help them get to the final. Sky is the limit for the two Alba Berlin junior team´s this weekend in the Artland arena and they pretty much have their own destiny in their own hands and if nothing totally goes out of control should be heading back to Berlin Sunday night with the double and having Marco Baldi in a good mood again after the possible BBL sweep of the MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg. The club will then be a step closer to being at close range of reaching the peak in German basketball again while Sean Penn wonders if he is at close range of having success with his next movie with Mel Gibson called The Professor and the Madman at the box office opening later in 2018.