By Aris Barkas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
For many years, Marco Baldi was a pioneer. The former player has been part of ALBA Berlin’s management since 1990. During his involvement with the club, ALBA has won 17 German League titles and the Korac Cup, while building the most solid fan base in German basketball. Since 2006, he is the CEO of the club, and he won the EuroLeague Executive of the Year award twice, in 2009 and 2015.
What’s even more admirable, however, is the way that Baldi changed a winning recipe when he understood that necessity.
A lot of successful managers can end up being out of touch, relics from an older time who simply can’t keep up with a constantly changing landscape. Baldi is the opposite. And in 2016 he proved it with an unusual hiring. Baldi signed Spaniard Himar Ojeda and made him the sport director of ALBA. Ojeda, a former assistant coach and GM of Gran Canaria, left his position at the Atlanta Hawks as director of international scouting in order to join ALBA. His input became visible right away.
Not only did Ojeda bring a new perspective, but he also attracted a coaching icon to the club. In the summer of 2017, ALBA Berlin hired Aito Garcia Reneses, a legendary coach with a knack for developing young talent. He did it admirably with players like Rudy Fernandez, Pau Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro, Kristaps Porzingis and Ricky Rubio. Now, he is doing it again with a roster that doesn’t include any player older than 29.
Coach Aito, 71, is the right match, too, considering the fact that during the last decade, ALBA has been heavily focused on junior teams, an idea first pushed back in 2005 by German basketball icon Henning Harnisch, who is also part of the club’s management.
The “ALBA macht Schule” – roughly translated as “ALBA goes to school” – is one of the first and very few programs in Europe that managed to integrate youth basketball into the local school curricula.
How all those dots are connected? The prime example is Franz Wagner, the younger brother of the Moritz Wagner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers.
Born in 2001 and a product of ALBA’s youth program, Wagner has already played in six 7Days EuroCup games under Coach Aito, averaging 7 minutes on the court.
Aito was born in 1946 and started coaching 46 years ago, back in 1972. He has a long career, he has won big and he never hesitates to give more than a chance to any young player.
Stefan Peno, 21, is part of the regular rotation, averaging 18 minutes per game. Kresimir Nikic, 19, and Jonas Mattisseck, 18, have each had his first taste of a EuroCup game, too.
Meanwhile, ALBA Berlin is winning. The team is 5-1 EuroCup Group B despite injury woes, which include team leader Peyton Siva, Joshiko Saibou and Martin Hermannsson.
It shows that Coach Aito’s faith in youngsters, and his special touch for helping them grow into stars, is as strong as ever.