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The Club Scene: Pepsi Caserta
Jan 21, 2011
This season Pepsi Caserta has taken another huge step forward as it resurrects the name of a once proud franchise that disappeared off the basketball map for several seasons. Caserta has been a home to many big name players, though none bigger than Hall of Fame scorer Oscar Schmidt. During the 1980s, Caserta reached two continental finals and later became the Italian champions. Its run with the best ended in the early 1990s, but this season the club returned to European competition after a nearly two-decade long drought. And by not only reaching the Eurocup Last 16 but then starting with a victory, Caserta has proven itself a force to be reckoned with as it looks to start a new era of greatness.
SC Juventus Caserta was founded in 1952 by Santino Piccolo, but it wasn’t until 1971, when local businessman Giovanni Maggio became owner and president, that the club started its climb to the top. The new owner gave the club a new home, PalaMaggio, which was built over just three months in the summer of 1982. PalaMaggio was among the best venues of its time, a beautiful complex with a 6,500-seat arena, team offices, practice courts and all the facilities a big club needed to compete in the elite of Europe. Caserta reached the Italian first division for the first time at the end of the 1982-83 season, with point guard Zoran Slavnic and super scorer Schmidt leading the way. Another legend in the making, Nando Gentile, was a promising 15-year-old on that squad, which was coached by former Euroleague champion Boscia Tanjevic. With Tanjevic in charge, Schmidt scoring at will and Gentile developing into a big-time player. Caserta reached its first European competition, the 1983-84 Korac Cup.
It didn’t take long for Caserta to continue climbing the Italian and European basketball ladder and by the end of the 1985-86 campaign, Tanjevic and Co. were flirting with European glory. After knocking off fellow Italian side Varese in the Korac Cup semfinals, Caserta was stopped short of its first title by Virtus Roma in a two-game final. Caserta also reached the Italian League finals for the first time, but lost out there to Simac Milano.
Barcelona stood in the way of a repeat appearance in the Korac Cup final in 1988, but Caserta had reason to celebrate nonetheless. Head coach Franco Marcelletti, a former Tanjevic assistant, guided the club to the Italian Cup crown. That victory landed Caserta in the following season’s Cup Winners' Cup. Victories over big names – including current Euroleague powers Zalgiris and Real Madrid – landed Caserta in the final in Athens to decide the champion. The title game was a showdown between two of the game’s classic scorers, Schmidt against another Hall of Famer, Drazen Petrovic. While an unstoppable Schmidt poured in 42 points, Petrovic outdid him with 62 as Madrid claimed the crown with a 117-113 overtime victory.
Mobilgirgi Caserta, still with coach Marcelletti at the helm, made history on May 21, 1991, when it won Game 5 of the Italian League finals at the Forum of Milan against Philips Milano and coach Mike D'Antoni. Sandro Dell'Agnello and Gentile were the heroes with 30 and 28 points, respectively, as Caserta won 88-97 and then raced home to celebrate. But that proved to be Caserta’s peak. The big players soon left and by the end of the 1993-94 season, the team had fallen back to the second division.
Basketball in Caserta was hardly mentioned over the next decade, until new management rebuilt the team from the foundation. Early in the new millennium Caserta was on the comeback trail. The 2004-05 season was spent in the second division and by 2008 the club was back in the top Italian league. New owner and president Rosario Caputo ushered in a new era and brought the passion for the Caserta black and white back to the streets as the PalaMaggio stands started to fill up again.
Fabrizio Frates was the coach who led the team back to the Italian first division, with Randolph Childress serving as on-court leader. The first season back in the Italian League wasn't easy, and during the summer of 2009, the club hired coach Pino Scripanti and general manager Claudio Coldebella to improve the club structure. They put together a roster with Jumaine Jones, Fabio Di Bella, Andrea Michelori, Timmy Bowers and Ebi Ere, which was able to reach the playoff semifinals after having finished the regular season in the second place. That great performance earned the club the opportunity to play the 2010-11 Euroleague qualification rounds, where it was eliminated by BC Khimki Moscow Region. However, a ticket to the Eurocup regular season awaited.
A new general manager, the legendary Antonello Riva, and new names on the court like Luca Garri and Eric Williams added to the base of the team from the previous season, and they helped Caserta to advance to the Eurocup Last 16. A club full of tradition is now full of life again and wants to restore the golden era that bridged the 1980s and '90s. Patience may be the key for Caserta fans, but one thing is clear: Pepsi Caserta is already making noise and riding a steady road to improvement that could end with great things this season.