It was Monday in late May 2018 24 hours after Alba Berlin had pulled off the impressive sweep in German youth basketball wining the NBBL(U-19) and JBBL(U-16) titles in Quackenbruck as Josef Dulibic the NBBL champion coach was back in Berlin in the training facility. Alba Berlin had just proved again that they belong to the best youth movements in German basketball while the pro club was busy trying to win their first league title since 2008. Dulibic was on the court and then observed the Spanish coaching legend Aito Garcia Reneses make his way across the court to the Croatian coach. They were both in their first season with Alba Berlin and both rapidly made eye contact. Aito gave him a typical calm but commanding nod and said congrats coach. Dulibic and his NBBL boys had just won the NBBL title the day before. It isn´t always usual that one may get that type of attention from a legend, but Aito isn´t any coach, but a legend with a massive basketball heart and who simply cares about everything in the Alba Berlin organization. “This nod and recognition of the NBBL success just shows that everything is important to Aito in the organization. I really liked this moment and won´t forget it. That is how he is as a person”, remembered Josef Dulibic. Dulibic isn´t the only person in the Alba Berlin organization that will be able to tell a long lasting story or moment that they had with the Spanish teacher, but surely 100´s could. After four years in the Alba Berlin organization, Aito has decided to take a sabbatical and has given the control center over to his assistant Israel Gonzalez.
Aito Garcia Reneses arrived in Berlin in 2017 and had already built an incredible basketball resume. He had coached in five decades and spent his whole career in Spain. He had spent 13 seasons with FC Barcelona, seven years with Badalona and also got further experience with Malaga, Sevilla and Gran Canaria. His title case is impressive as he won 9 ACB titles and 5 cups, 2 Korac Cups, Europe Cup, Fiba Eurocup and also won a Silver with Spain at the 2008 Olympics. Just from his resume, Alba Berlin had staged a coup being able to get this legend to Germany. The pick up of Aito would prove to be one of their best decisions in the last decade. Josef Dulibic also came to Alba Berlin in 2017. Dulibic was very impressed how Alba Berlin was able to lure him to the easyCredit BBL. He remembered first hearing about Aito when he was a coach with Badalona. “He let Ricky Rubio play Euroleague when he was 14. At that time that was very unusual. I was a young coach in Croatia and observed him. He had that special personality and was able to successfully develop young players something that he has been known for for the longest time. He would show where ever he went that he had the ability to help make players make that difficult step from a youth player to the pro´s. He has always shown that it may take a little time at the start even after four or five loses, but after a while everything goes click and teams begin to win. This would be the same story where ever he went to. He let´s young players play and controls little on the court. He allows players to see what is right in a certain situation on the court. His read and react became very successful in his system. Important also was his scouting and finding the right characters to fit his system. Luke Sikma was the best example”, stressed Josef Dulibic. Obviously winning three titles with Alba Berlin was so vital, but in reality his biggest strength and achievement was being able to give the Alba Berlin youth development another push. Dulibic noticed rapidly that his reputation of letting young players get minutes was true. Dulibic trained the NBBL kids in the same gym as where the pro´s played and there were always 3-4 NBBL guys practicing with the big boys. He liked watching Alba Berlin practice and being able to intensively watch every move of Aito. “The most interesting thing I liked to watch was his body language. He was always calm. He corrected a lot also. I would say that I was at 80% of the practices and he never yelled at anyone. I had never seen anything like that before. He was like a grandfather telling a story. You would have never have thought that this could go well. But his experience and charisma were so important and just hypnotized everyone. Everybody listened to his words and wanted to do it right. Everyone believed in him and wanted to make the next step”, stated Josef Dulibic. Aito was key in a number of guys making the next step something that had been unheard of in the past under coaches like Luka Pavicevic and Sasa Obradovic. The first two guys that were able to get minutes was Jonas Mattisseck and Hendrik Drescher. Mattisseck is on a good way. Even if it has been slow, but he still has a lot of upside. Drescher had a lot of mis fortune with injuries. The next trio that came were Franz Wagner, Malte Delow and Lorenz Brennecke. Wagner was a lottery pick and is in the NBA, Delow is in the Alba Berlin rotation and should make the next step this season while Lorenz Brennecke left and joined the Fraport Skyliners. A sly move as there is no room at his position with the emergence of Tim Schneider in Berlin. “He liked all of them and watched their NBBL practices. They all profited from Aito”, warned Josef Dulibic who last watched the Net Flick series Black List. Another big strength of Aito was how he treated his players. Often coaches don´t have the balls to criticize the star or cocky American and then take out their frustration on the young German player and make an example of him. This isn´t beneficial mentally for a young player. “He always told his players to give 100%. If they didn´t he wouldn´t get mad. That just wasn´t his style. But luckily for Aito his players always gave 100”, remembered Josef Dulibic.
Alba Berlin had had a beautiful dynastic from 1997-2003 winning 7 league titles in a row, but from 2003-2017 really lost a lot of momentum as Bamberg started a dynasty under Chris Fleming and Andrea Trinchieri and FC Bayern Munich also won titles. Alba Berlin was able to win 5 BBL cups in that span which is a nice achievement, but nothing compared to winning a league title which they had last done in 2008. Alba Berlin was used to winning and this long drought wasn´t beneficial to the ambitious organization in any way. Aito finally brought another league title to the German capital in 2020 and followed with a second in 2021. Aito was like a four leave clover for the club and the main reason for bringing it back up and being the number one team in Germany again after being in the rear view mirror of Bamberg and Munich the last years. You have to wonder where Alba Berlin would be today had Aito not arrived in 2017? Aito didn´t have more money than pervious years. He was able to have success doing it his way. “His game philosophy and doing and being able to execute how the organization wanted it to be run was the reason for his success. He was the perfect coach and the perfect fit for the youth movement. He let the players grow and doors opened so they could make the jump to the next level. The players understood that they could get to the next level under his guidance”, explained Josef Dulibic. Not only did the organization Alba Berlin profit from the success of Aito, but so did the easyCredit BBL a league that continues to strive to want to become the best league in Europe. “The BBL continues to grow and it is a process. I sometimes feel like the BBL doesn´t even know how good the league is. You often hear from players lauding how good the BBL level is. Aito is very original and just very unique. I don´t think that people were able to estimate his worth as much in Spain. He really influenced many in Germany. People were able to really see him as a coach and how he worked in his time in Germany”, added Josef Dulibic.
Aito seems to have paved the road for more Spanish coaches to get an opportunity in Germany. The best example is Pedro Calles who made a name for himself in Vechta helping the club reach the playoffs with a limited budget and did it again with the Hamburg Towers. Now clubs like the Fraport Skyliners want to go the Spanish route with Diego Ocampo and the Baksetball Lowen Braunschweig are seeking success with Jesus Ramirez. Are Spanish coaches the new sexy in the easyCredit BBL? “I think that it is similar to fashion. After Dirk Nowitzki came on the scene, it was Andrea Bargnani. People were saying Andrea who? There is and only will be one Aito. Just because a coach is coming from Spain, it doesn´t mean you will get a guy like Aito. Aito is unique and nobody is like him. It is very difficult to be like him. I am in no way saying the other Spanish coaches aren´t good, but you just can´t compare Aito to anyone else”, warned Josef Dulibic. New Alba Berlin head coach Israel Gonzalez now has the difficult task of filling the shoes of Aito. But it isn´t like a new coach has arrived in town. He was an assistant under Aito for four years in Berlin and also in Gran Canaria. Alba Berlin will be fine. “Israel was influenced heavily by Aito. One can´t await to get a second Aito. That just won´t happen. He will keep a lot of that Aito game philosophy but give his personality and character. He won´t change much. Then we will see if all can be like Aito or if there is only one Aito. Israel is calm like Aito. I hope the success continues”, expressed Josef Dulibic. Not only will all eyes be on Israel Gonzalez and Alba Berlin this season, but also on Orlando Magic Franz Wagner, Aito´s ex player. That one pro season under Aito in 2018-2019 was so vital for Franz Wager. “Important in that season was that Franz wasn´t injured. He had finished school at age 17 and was able to concentrate only on basketball. At the same time he also was able to get the needed recovery for his body which is so important for a young player to get. Being healthy and practicing twice a day was huge in his development. He made a big development under Aito”, said Josef Dulibic. You have to wonder where Franz Wagner would be today had he not gone to Michigan(NCAA) for two years and played two more years under Aito? “It doesn´t matter what route Franz would have taken, he would of achieved his goal of the NBA. If he stayed in Berlin he would be a starter today and averaging 10,0ppg”, warned Josef Dulibic. It will be interesting to see if Aito will come back one day to continue coaching, but anything is possible as he is just a basketball fanatic at age 74 and can´t get enough of the sport. Whenever I saw Aito after games in Frankfurt, he was always calm and such a gentleman. “With Aito around it felt like a calm Oasis and you always felt comfortable”, added Josef Dulibic. The basketball world needs more great coaches like Aito who refrain from that aggressiveness and bring tranquility on and off the court. But unfortunately that won´t ever happen, because there is only one Aito.