Long after the others have left the field, Franz Wagner stands in
a sports hall in Berlin near Checkpoint Charlie and escapes.
Hit, the ball bounces off the ring to the ground. The next litter. Pass by the coach, Wagner
catches, jumps off, throws. It. His teammates are already in the cabin, which is training
past. Wagner continues, over and over again: pass, jump, throw, inside. Two three four
one after another, as if controlled by a magnet, the balls fall into the basket. Five, six,
Franz Wagner is 17 years old, basketball player at Alba Berlin. And probably the greatest young talent in Germany.
It is one of the last days in March, the end of a week at the beginning of Franz Wagner with Alba Berlin moved into the European Cup final. "I hope we win this thing," he says. He is sitting on a wooden bench on the edge of the training hall. The thing, the EuroCup, something like the Europa League in football, would be the first big international cup of a German basketball team for almost 25 years. In the first game of the final series on Tuesday Alba lost against the opponent from Valencia with 75:89. It is also up to Franz Wagner that it could be that long now – and an attempt that began when Wagner was five years old: to promote competitive and popular sports simultaneously with a youth program.
Alba Berlin has created a sports program for children and teenagers that is unique in Germany. The association cooperates with state and private educational institutions, and recently started offering a bachelor's degree program. Behind this is an idea that is playing an increasingly important role in many professional clubs: children and adolescents, who could one day be professionals, to be tethered through junior programs and academies from an early age. The clubs hope to save themselves by expensive transfers, because they train relatively cheap own professionals. The talents, in turn, have the opportunity to combine high-level competitive sports and training through cooperation between clubs and schools.
A few days after the finals, Marco Baldi is sitting in a restaurant in Berlin-Mitte and looks satisfied. Baldi is the manager of Alba Berlin, he has been managing the club for almost 30 years and has experienced almost everything during this time. In the late 1990s Alba won seven league titles in a row. At that time, the team consisted largely of players that Alba had trained herself. But then tipped the austerity limit of the league, suddenly the clubs could set up unlimited players for whom it had not been a professional in their homeland, most of them came from the United States. German youth players had a harder time to assert themselves, the effort to train them, hardly worth it.
Baldi also engaged several Americans, but at the same time hardly any talents came from the offspring. The successes of earlier were missing. It was at this time, just after the turn of the millennium, when Baldi was sitting with Henning Harnisch, a former Alba player and European basketball champion. That is no longer the Alba that he knows, he said, so Baldi remembers. And he, Baldi, answered, then help us change that and join in. Harnisch took part. In 2006, the club started under his responsibility a radically renewed youth program.
"We wanted to create something sustainable with the program," says Baldi. It should be about more than winning the next game. Berlin has little money, but many people. They wanted to use this potential. The core of the new concept was a simple idea: If the children do not come to the club, the club just comes to the children. They should be made to play basketball. Because the more present the sport in the city, the higher the probability that children and young people exercise it. The project initially had no direct benefit for the club. Only one hope: "Due to the mass players should arrive in the top again," says Baldi.
So Alba started sending his coaches to schools. The basketball teams started only at elementary schools, then at secondary schools, meanwhile, Alba trainers even come to kindergartens and lead exercise programs. Together with housing cooperatives, the association offers basketball training in low-income districts. And in the future he wants to be a free bearer for all-day care at elementary schools.