By Antonis Stroggylakis/ email@example.com
ANTWERP– The songs inside the locker room of Virtus Bologna hadn’t stopped even after more than an hour from the team’s crowning as the 2019 Basketball Champions League champions.
Some Bologna faithful were patiently waiting in the cold for the players that had just begun heading to the bus. Amath M’ Baye was blasting Jadakiss’ “The champ is here” on his cellphone for everyone to hear. He was feeling it to the bone.
Bologna captain Pietro Aradori was one of the last players who came out of the locker, a wide smile painted on his face.
“If you told me at the start of the season that we would finish as champions, then I’d tell you that you are crazy,” Aradori confessed to Eurohoops.
“But it was a goal,” Aradori admitted. “When we qualified to the Final Four we believed. When we arrived here in Antwerp, we believed even more. We believed that we can be champions.”
“And… we did it. It’s an amazing feeling because this is a once in a lifetime achievement. It’s not easy to experience this kind of moment. So we are lucky to do so. But also we worked hard to reach this situation.” the Italian swingman said.
“I’m very happy.”
Aradori had a certain responsibility after being appointed captain of a team of such a tradition and magnitude. Bologna fans grew up with the fables created by such players as Predrag Danilovic, Manu Ginobili, Zoran Savic, and so many others, plus the titles those guys brought to the club.
Perhaps what took place in Sportpaleis during the Final Four weekend will create some new “heroes” for the historic club and its demanding fans that craved to see their beloved team get a taste of continental success again.
“Bologna lives about basketball. This is very important for the city,” Aradori said. “You know… you walk in the city. And when you win, you are treated as a god. When you lose, they say “Once we had Danilovic, we had Ginobili.” OK, they were the best, of course. But we were trying to do our best. And tonight, our best was enough to win this championship.”
On March, Bologna hired Serbian basketball great Sasha Djordjevic as head coach. Djordjevic, a highly decorated player back in the day, won his first European title as a coach after implementing his demanding brand of basketball with the team.
“He tried to bring his style,” Aradori said on his coach. “It wasn’t easy for him. But he tried. He tried hard. And in the end, it works. He helped us a lot in the defensive part of our game.”
Few days before Bologna got crowed Basketball Champions League Dinamo Sassari won the FIBA Europe Cup. Thus this season marked the first time since 1998 when two European titles go to Italy (s/o Marco Pagliariccio).
Will these two titles herald a potential beginning of an Italian basketball renaissance?
“It’s not easy,” Aradori believes. “We aren’t yet at that level. A lot of things have to change with Italian basketball to return to that level. It’s not only about money obviously. In the last couple of years, the rest of European countries have been going upwards on a club level. We don’t.
“But we still fight. We love basketball. And we try to be at the top”