ALBA's Hermannsson, the HU show how far Iceland has come

Oct 01, 2018 by David Hein, Print
ALBA's Hermannsson, the HU show how far Iceland has come

Nothing symbolizes the rise of Icelandic basketball better than the HU, and new ALBA Berlin guard Martin Hermannsson is all too aware of that. Anywhere he goes, he gets asked about the HU, his home country's rhythmic Viking clapping chant.

"The HU seems to be the Icelandic symbol in the world, so I guess we have to continue doing it," said Hermannsson, who joined Alba after playing last season with French club Chalons-Reims.

"It's everywhere, even in France. Everywhere I went, they were doing the HU. Anywhere I went, when I said I was from Iceland, they said: 'Oh, the HU.' That's the first thing they say to me, any time I meet new people. It's crazy how far the HU went and how much social media can do for a small country like Iceland."

The HU grew in popularity at soccer's Euro2016, when Iceland shocked the world by beating England to reach the quarterfinals. But the Icelandic fans had left their mark on the world, too, thanks to their unique celebration: an intimidating slow chant, accompanied by a unanimous single clap.

"They put Iceland on the map. The HU went viral and they did a great job," Hermannsson said of the magical summer of 2016. "I think it's just the fact that it brings everybody together. Keeping a whole stadium silent at a soccer game, all waiting for the next clap to come, is pretty cool. For me personally I never get tired hearing it."

It wasn't long before Icelandic basketball's national team fans adopted the HU, too. They unleashed it on the basketball world in earnest at EuroBasket 2017 in Finland, where Hermannsson got to experience it first-hand. That was Hermannsson's second EuroBasket, after Iceland reached the event for the first time in 2015, playing at Mercedes-Benz Arena, ALBA's home court, in the group stage.

"That was something that everybody had dreamed of but was never even close to a reality. Now, seeing we can do it, we want to continue," said the 24-year-old guard.

"Anywhere I went, when I said I was from Iceland, they said: 'Oh, the HU.'"

Hermannsson averaged 4.6 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists at the 2015 EuroBasket, then boosted those number's to 12.8 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists in 2017. Even though Iceland lost all five games in both EuroBaskets, the soccer team's 2016 run provided inspiration to those back home.

"It really just showed Icelandic people that anything is possible – with hard work and dedication, teamwork and believing," said Hermannsson, whose farther Hermann Hauksson played for the Iceland basketball national team from 1995 to 2001.

Still, Hermannsson playing at ALBA, Tryggvi Hlinason last season at Turkish Airlines EuroLeague side Valencia Basket, and former EuroLeague player Jon Stefansson have shown young Icelandic basketball players that big things are possible on the hardwood.

"We are also having more and more players going overseas and to college in America," said the 1.90-meter guard, who spent two years in the United States at LIU Brooklyn. "It gives kids in Iceland hope. Seeing that you can earn a good money and life by playing basketball, not only soccer. Also It makes the Icelandic national team better and hopefully in the future, when we finish our careers, we can go home and help the country to get better with our experience."

Before that, though, Hermannsson has a few goals on the court.

"We probably will have to have an Icelandic section in the arena."

"My goals are always to win every game and hopefully get a title," he said. "I'm really looking forward to playing in the EuroCup and experience the level there. My goal is to play EuroLeague and I want to show that I'm able to play there."

And he wants to bring a little bit of that Icelandic Viking mentality of a true warrior to the court for ALBA.

"That's something that I bring to the team from the Icelandic culture – from the hard winter – that we can fight anything. Nothing can bring us down," Hermannsson said.

One thing he knows for sure is that there will be Iceland fans at ALBA games.

"People I don't even know are texting me for a ticket or telling me they want to come and see a game," Hermannsson said. "All my friends and family are coming for sure. We probably will have to have an Icelandic section in the arena."

Maybe there will be a HU, too.