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The Club Scene: Strasbourg
Dec 04, 2006
by Javier Gancedo, ULEBCup.com
SIG Strasbourg, the pride of Alsatian basketball in France, is already making a strong debut in the ULEB Cup. Two years removed from the first trophy in its almost 80-year history, Strasbourg keeps adding to what has been a rather sudden rise in European basketball. Since the refurbishment of the state-of-the-art, 6,200-seat Rhenus Arena just three years go, Strasbourg has rewarded local fans in the Alsatian provincial capital with some historical sporting highlights. First came the 2004-05 French League title, and with it, the right to participate in the Euroleague last season. Strasbourg made a more than respectable debut in Europe's top competition and now stands tied for first place at 4-1 in Group B of the ULEB Cup halfway through the regular season. From obscurity in the French third division just 17 years ago, Strasbourg has climbed high enough to be included in any conversation of the fastest-rising clubs in Europe.
Strasbourg was founded as the Sportive d’Illkirch Graffenstaden in 1928 and its basketball section was created just one year after that. The club played its first game in 1929, losing 93-2 against l’Etoile de Cronnenbourg. Few could actually think back then that basketball would become a global sport and Strasbourg one of the best teams in Europe. The team took part in the Alsatian Basketball League from 1932 to 1937, as well as playing the FSF Cup all around the country. Strasbourg made it to its first-ever FSF Cup final in 1938 and lost against Alfortville 28-35 in front of 3,000 fans, showing that basketball has been popular in the city for many decades. The club made it to the French top division that very same year. The team changed its name to S.G.I.S. - Sportgemeinschaft Illkirch Graffenstaden - between 1939 and 1945. Strasbourg became the Alsatian champion in 1948 by beating l’A.S. Mulhouse 31-29 in the final. That win allowed the team to take part in the first-ever edition of the French League, where the team was relegated initially, only to be promoted back to the top division in 1951. It wasn't until 1957 when a Strasbourg player joined the French national team as Jerome Christ represented the team for the first time out of his 73 selections. He is now the team president.
Strasbourg underwent a down period for many years, even though the club's first U.S. player, Frank Jackson, arrived very much by accident in 1960. Jackson had from the United States to pursue medical studies in Munich, but an airline lost his luggage and he was stranded in Strasbourg for a few days. He liked the city so much, however, that he decided to stay and join the basketball team. Strasbourg had its biggest success to date by making it to the French Cup semifinals in 1961, but the team nonetheless fell as far down as the French League third division in 1963. There followed more than 25 years without much success, until the team reemerged in the second division in 1989. It took only five years for Strasbourg to appear again in the French League's first division, the same year in which Strasbourg went all the way to the French Robert Busnel Cup final. After knocking off some of the best French League powerhouses, Strasbourg fell to Limoges, the defending European champion at the time, by 83-66 in the title game. Even with that, Strasbourg made history by sealing a ticket for the 1995 Korac Cup. With players like Gary Alexander, Olivier Weissler, Marc Johnson or James Deines, Strasbourg defeated Universitatea of Romania before losing against Bellinzona Basket of Switzerland right before the start of the group stage.
Strasbourg dropped to the French League second division again, but quickly won it to return to the first in 1999, the year in which the team made it again to the French Cup final. Cholet Basket stood on its way for its first-ever national title, as it beat Strasbourg 85-70 in the final game played at Paris-Bercy. Having built a solid financial structure since 1996, when the club was divided into two different entities - professional club and youth teams - Strasbourg started with the new milennium to become a French basketball force. The team made it to the 2000 and 2001 French League semifinals, as well as taking part in the 2001 Korac Cup with well-rounded veterans like Ray Smith, Frederic Forte, Brian Howard or David Robinson. Strasbourg defeated Trier of Germany in the preliminary stage, but could not advance in a group featuring Le Mans or eventual Korac Cup champs Unicaja. Strasbourg did much better in the 2002 Saporta Cup, as Forte and Smith joined forced with Kornel David, Khalid El-Amin or Hugh Occansey to go past the group stage and reach the eighthfinals, where the team lost against eventual champs Montepaschi Siena. A couple of years would pass before Strasbourg could lift its own first-ever title in shocking fashion.
Strasbourg got stronger for the 2004-05 season with a roster full of veteran yet hungry players such as Stanley Jackson, Ricardo Greer, Aymeric Jeanneau, John McCord, Crawford Palmer or Sharif Fajardo. The team took part in the 2005 FIBA Europe League, and even when Strasbourg survived the group stage, Besiktas won the best-of-three eighthfinals playoffs in which the home court advantage proved to be a decisive factor. Strasbourg had a domestic date with history, however, as it finished third in the French League regular season and knocked off perennial champs Pau-Orthez in the two-game quarterfinal playoffs. Afik Nissim led the winners with 27 points on 8-for-9 shooting and 8 of 8 free throws in the decisive second leg. Then Strasbourg downed Adecco Asvel 88-70 in the first leg of the semifinals to get full control of the series and advance to the title game. Thousands of people gathered in Paris at the Palai Omnisports-Bercy to witness Strasbourg's most brilliant moment ever, a second-half rally to beat Nancy 72-68 for its first French League title as Greer earned MVP honors with 14 points. Its first trophy of any kind came with a big bonus, as Strasbourg also earned the right to play in the 2005-06 Euroleague.
To get ready for its Euroleague debut, Strasbourg added Zelly Wesson, Jeff Greer or Sacha Giffa to its title-winning roster. Despite getting three home wins in the first eight games, Strasbourg lost its final six regular season games to finish seventh in Group A with a 3-11 record. Its highlight came with a 84-76 home win against eventual Final Four qualifier Tau Ceramica in which Ricardo Greer had 19 points. Back in France, Strasbourg rallied to finish third at the end of the regular season and managed to make it to the French League semifinals. Nancy stood in the way of Strasbourg's second consecutive domestic title, taking revenge for the 2005 title game. Even with that, Strasbourg confirmed its new status as one of the French League's modern powerhouses and is using its Euroleague experience to come out even more competitive in the ULEB Cup this season.