Brescia set the eyes on repeating the historical Italian Cup triumph

2024-02-14T14:45:52+00:00 2024-02-14T15:58:44+00:00.

Cesare Milanti

14/Feb/24 14:45

The Italian team’s head coach Alessandro Magro and the likely Sixth Man of the Year CJ Massinburg set their eyes on repeating last year’s success

By Cesare Milanti /

TURIN, Italy – Coming to Turin on a six-game losing streak, Alessandro Magro and Brescia were destined to separate ways after last year’s Italian Cup Quarter-Finals. The elimination from the Final Eight was just a matter of time, facing a stacked roster like Milano.

On Wednesday, however, the first surprise came with Brescia pulling the upset over the EuroLeague powerhouse. They repeated themselves against Pesaro three days later, reaching the Italian Cup Final for the second time in the club’s history, five years since the first of such appointments.

In the golden game to bring the trophy home, once again, nobody was expecting Brescia to beat a EuroLeague team like Virtus Bologna, eager to find a success that was missing for more than two decades. Instead, they made it, writing history and turning the tables for an unprecedented success.

This time, the white-and-blue team is coming to Turin – where the Inalpi Arena will likely be sold out in the decisive days of the competition – with the exact opposite mood: first in the Italian league standings with 16 victories out of 20 games played, they’re playing one of the best basketball in Europe.

After winning the first-ever trophy in Brescia’s history, the head coach Alessandro Magro and the likely LBA Sixth Man of the Year CJ Massinburg spoke to Eurohoops about ideally repeating the success of 2023, having shaped one of the most entertaining teams to watch out there.

Building on solid ground to try winning once again

Alessandro Magro has never been one of the most attention Italian head coaches, at least moving the magnifying glass from the country to the continent. However, studying the game for almost a decade next to Simone Pianigiani and Luca Banchi in Mens Sana Siena, he surely knows how to win.

Reaching Torino with a completely different mood than last year, the goal is to end this week on the same note. “Last year we got into a crisis and we could isolate that moment in that week because this is the Final Eight: a technical and emotional bubble that goes beyond what happens in the championship. Being able to get there from the top of the class right now gives us a different level of awareness: I think I am neither arrogant nor disrespectful to anyone if I say that right now Pallacanestro Brescia arrives in Turin with merit for what it is expressing on the field”, he first said to Eurohoops.

Playing against Igor Milicic’s Napoli in the Quarter-Finals, they could face the winner of the clash between Reggio Emilia and Virtus Bologna in the Semi-Finals, potentially recreating last year’s Final scenario. “We arrive with an enormous will to try to defend the Cup. We will have a difficult path at the beginning, because the level of the championship in my opinion has risen, especially among those who will compete for the Cup”, Alessandro Magro stated.

“Historically it is increasingly difficult to win back than not trying to win, but this team has shown a level of maturity and solidity that makes us come to Turin to play our basketball. It would be a testament to how much this project is growing and becoming more solid and credible”, Brescia’s head coach added ahead of the clash with Napoli on February 15 at 20:45 CET.

Without lining any comparison, Brescia’s success reminds of what Gordon Herbert said after winning the 2023 FIBA World Cup, going beyond any expectations in the second year of a three-season project. “The great successes are always born from afar, from a vision and programming, supported by investments as in the case of our club. We started three years ago trying to sow what could be a project that we wanted to try to make ambitious, we wanted to place Brescia on the map of Italian basketball that counts after a couple of seasons lived between ups and downs”, Alessandro Magro stated.

After a solid first season dragged by the backcourt duo composed of Amedeo Della Valle and Nazareth Mitrou-Long, reaching all-time club records like the longest consecutive victory span in the Italian league and the 3rd place in the standings, last year the triumph in the Italian Cup was placed next to a disappointing overall season between LBA and EuroCup, despite reaching the Playoffs in both leagues.

“We are indeed in the third year of a three-year project, but perhaps we have moved on. Last year it looked like we had already finished the first project: if only after two years you win the first trophy in the history of Brescia, so important for this city, it was worth relaunching”, he commented heading into the 2024 Final Eight as reigning champions, underling continuity within the organization.

“We are in the middle of two situations: the continuity of a group in the third year – five players who stayed from the first to the third season, seven players compared to last year -, with the great successes which always come on a skeleton base important from the numerical point of view, born in the sign of continuity. But there was a willingness to relaunch, taking a step back from the European point of view”, he admitted, saying that it was time for Brescia to focus one game at a time.

With the 2023-24 season working as an adjustment period, “one of the great goals will be to try to re-discover the cup next year, bringing Brescia back to Europe with a team that has different ambitions”. Next season’s roster could even stay the same, considering the addition of three assets: Jason Burnell, Semaj Christon, and Miro Bilan. “They are three great players who already knew the championship: the idea and the ability to know what they would find is important”, Alessandro Magro said.

The American forward, who has always played in Italy since starting his overseas professional career with the lights of Cantù, Sassari, Brindisi, and now Brescia, has brought huge physicality to the team. “We needed to make up for the absence of a player like David Moss, replacing it with somebody who could give the same physical impact”, he said. “Since our first call, [Semaj] Christon put the team first. He wants to win, and he doesn’t care what we have to do to try to win”, he added about the guard.

Finally, the best newcomer is somebody who has already written significant pages in Italy. “We wanted Miro [Bilan] because he is a huge facilitator of the game, an added playmaker with great ability to pass the ball, to put in rhythm his teammates: he can play both front and back to the basket, and knows the game above average. A player who makes others play better and makes the game seem easier”, Brescia’s head coach commented on the Croatian center, who’s leading the LBA in rebounds per game (8.3) and shooting percentage from the field (61.6%).

Having the LBA Sixth Man of the Year on board

Another huge reason why Brescia is playing way better than last year is the impact off the bench for CJ Massinburg, who has been named Sixth Player of the Month in November, December, and January within the Italian league. If we’re talking about a LBA Sixth Player of the Year, that’s the name.

Never starting for Alessandro Magro’s team, he has been averaging 13.7 points (61.7% from two, 49.4% from three, and 84.1% at the line), 3.7 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game in Italy this season, marking the difference from his first year with Brescia. “I want to contribute by doing what I can. I accepted the role of coming off the bench and it gives me an advantage: I see how the game is going, and what I need to do to make an impact on the game”, CJ Massinburg commented with Eurohoops.

Despite not playing in any European competitions, Brescia is a veteran side, and the 26-year-old is one of the youngest. “It makes my job a lot easier playing with guys of such a high caliber. We all just feed off each other. As far as what I learn on a day-to-day basis, practice sometimes is better than the games. We go at it so hard, I’ve always been proud of being a sponge: I like to take the knowledge from whatever I can get. Every day I try to get something from way more experienced teammates, with me being one of the younger guys on the team. I love having all types of veterans around me”, he said.

Touching on what it looks like playing without the European commitment and scheduling the daily work, Alessandro Magro talked benefits and downsides. “Having the whole week to prepare the game allows us to arrive technically, tactically, and even physically almost always in the best conditions: the team is always ready to face opponents and we manage the workloads to try to have the maximum expression of what we need in terms of physicality and condition during the game”, he said.

At the same time, there are downs. “We are a team with many players with years on our legs, we are not a super young team: training all week becomes very long, therefore we are forced by choice and will to dismantle the week so as not to fall into monotony. There are many training sessions where the intensity is really from the game, and the players help themselves to grow: Petrucelli guards Massinburg, while Petrucelli and Burnell guard each other in different situations. By doing intense training, we grow and are more ready for the game”, he commented.

Playing more than one game per week could tire you, but make you stronger as well. “As I always think, the game is a bit like your exam at school: playing in Europe you have two exams a week, not just one. Having the chance to find opponents that put you in trouble during the week often speeds up the growth processes of a team, because you are always forced to respond to what might be the technical situations that opponents put in front of you”, Alessandro Magro also said.

Touching on the opportunity of playing alongside such a smart defensive mind like Petrucelli, CJ Massinburg has nothing but praises for the Italian-American. “Playing and practicing with and against John Petrucelli has helped me. He’s a Defensive Player of the Year caliber type of player. Watching his film and seeing the effort he gives, helps me. We have similar body types, so I said to myself to make that effort too, to make a similar impact. I learn from him as well”, the former Limoges player added.

Brescia’s guard also had great words on the basketball Sibenik Fortress. “Miro Bilan is the ultimate teammate, I couldn’t ask for a better one. He’s so selfless, he’s not afraid to make other teammates involved. He’s dominant on the block, so he creates so much gravity towards him. He always makes the right play, it’s such a joy to be around him on and off the court: he’s an amazing teammate”, he said.

Touching on his improvement, CJ Massinburg believes he has gotten better and better. “The first year was an adjustment year. This is my first time playing with guys who have been in the EuroLeague. It was a real adjustment for me, I wanted to take the backseat and help in where I could help. This year I’m one of the guys who can be a leader on this team, and make my teammates better. Brescia welcomed me back with open arms, the fans were happy to have me back; I wanted to show them I can be consistent, I can be the player that I showed flashes of last year”, the 6MOY Candidate expressed.

Despite this not being exactly the perfect type of team in Alessandro Magro’s way of perceiving basketball, he can’t complain. “This is a team a bit anachronistic compared to what would be my utopian and theoretical perfect team: the three-point shot is not so marked, we do not have so many shooters always on the field, we play a different pace than the new trends. But the ability and willingness that players have to play together, makes us go beyond that”, he commented.

At the end of the day, Brescia is first in the standings, second in points per game (88.4), second in rebounds per game (38.7), and fourth in assists per game (18.3). They scored four times over 100 points (116-73 vs Varese, 110-65 vs Sassari, 109-90 vs Pistoia, 104-83 vs Napoli) in the first part of the season, and one time they stopped at 99 points (99-71 vs Treviso). According to Hack a Stat, they’re second in Offensive Rating (119.0) only behind Virtus Bologna (120.0).

Alessandro Magro gave the right and deserves credit to CJ Massinburg as well. “He’s in his technical-tactical explosion. The things that we had glimpsed in him came out and he is an excellent alter ego of Amedeo [Della Valle]: for forty minutes we always have a dangerous guard”, he commented about the 26-year-old, who had to return the favor to the Italian head coach. “[Alessandro Magro is] one of the main factors of me deciding to come back to Brescia because I liked playing for him”, he said.

“He’s a great basketball mind, almost obsessive when it comes to doing the right thing, playing hard, breaking down the game studying the film. He instills confidence into his guys, even if you’re not playing to your potential. He always encourages us to be the best version of ourselves. He’s a great person off the court, checking in on your family, and your kids. He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had”, CJ Massinburg finally commented on the eve of the Final Eight.

PHOTO CREDIT: Pallacanestro Brescia

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