What's newest about ALBA Berlin is what is oldest, too: its recently arrived and highly respected 70-year-old head coach, Aito Garcia Reneses, a dean of his profession who is renowned for shaping important young talents, not to mention winning games. He was a 7DAYS EuroCup champ 10 years ago this season and won four other continental cups before that, so his experience is off the charts. The coach will be one of eight newcomers, along with guards Stefan Peno, Spencer Butterfield, Joshiko Saibou and Marius Grigonis, and big men Luke Sikma, Clifford Dennis and Kresimir Nikic. Among them, only Sikma has true EuroCup experience, but Peno has some in the EuroLeague and others in the Spanish League. Six of them are 25 or under, however, so Garcia's track record for getting a lot out of young players should work well for them and ALBA during the EuroCup season.
Peyton Siva is the top returnee for ALBA and will be expected to lead again as a passer, scorer and on-the-ball defender who can make things go for this team. Stefan Peno can give another look at point guard, taller and more physical, and brings EuroLeague experience with him from FC Barcelona Lassa last season. Joshiko Saibou returns seven years after a one-game EuroCup debut for ALBA to show what he has learned on other German teams. On the wings, Akeem Vargas brings the most EuroCup experience of any ALBA player, not to mention good defense. Spencer Butterfield arrives with the reputation of a true sharpshooter who can change games from long distance, although he'll start the season on the injured list. And Marius Grigonis brings solid experience to go with talent and energy after playing for Lithuania at EuroBasket 2017.
There's a little more continuity in a frontcourt where swing forward Niels Giffey, the team captain, enters his fourth season with his hometown club and does a little bit of everything. It'll be the second season in Berlin for 2.13-meter Bogdan Radosavljevic, who made good use of limited minutes last season. ALBA will get even bigger with 2.16-meter Dennis Clifford, who will debut in Europe after one pro season in the D-League showed his solid inside skills. If teenager Kresimir Nikic, at 2.15 meters, gets playing time, ALBA will likely outsize almost any opponent in the middle. The other frontline spot, however, is in the hands of experienced Luke Sikma, who will likely have the opportunity to fill lots of minutes as young Tim Schneider works his way into the rotation at power forward.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Playing for a coach who has helped launch the careers of guards like Ricky Rubio, Juan Carlos Navarro and others, the role of Peyton Siva is sure to be key for ALBA. Siva is the team's sole returning double-digit scorer; he played more minutes than any returnee, and he shot percentages across the board last season that any coach would like. Most important, however, is Siva's prowess at passing and hawking the ball. His 6.3 assists per game last season would have ranked him third in the EuroCup last season had he not missed a couple games while injured, just like his 2.0 steals on average would have been second-best in the competition. The presence of a point guard who can both help his teammates excel while taking away possessions from the other team – all while making his shots count – is a luxury that Coach Garcia will know how to make the best of. The fact that Siva is a likable leader, as well, makes him much more than a point guard for ALBA going into this EuroCup season.
In a group of heavy hitters that includes former champs Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar and Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius, and a former finalist in RETAbet Bilbao Basket, it's clear that ALBA will have to come out of the gate strong despite so many new faces. The team started jelling early with a trip to China in mid-August and will have a master at the controls in Coach Garcia. The question marks come with several newcomers who lack experience at the EuroCup level or higher combined with the young age of some others. The positives are solid returnees, good size and a solid home-court advantage. The genius of Aito, as Coach Garcia is known throughout European basketball, doesn't go out of style – as he proved in leading his last EuroCup team, Herbalife Gran Canaria Las Palmas, to the finals two years ago. The Top 16 is this team's first goal, and if they make it that far, expect them to be more dangerous as the season progresses.