BiE’s editor returned to Bamberg for the first time since 2010 to take in the gang from Freak City hosting Reggio Emilia in Eurocup action. He got as much hops as hoops in on this trip.
It was always the quietest ones. A young fan would go “Brose Baskets” and then the 999 at their back and the other 5,800 around them would join in. This was not the Bamberg I remembered, largely because my previous visit here had nothing to do with basketball.
For a basketball fan, there are few easier sells to any of your non-hoop loving buddies than Bamberg. The city is steeped in history, only a part of which is related to beer but that’s a really great part.
The first stop on my journey was to return to the place where I first discovered smoked beer, the Schlenkerla beer hall. In Bamberg, when they say you are getting a whole leg of pork for your meal they don’t mess around. Two half litres of the local brew helped wash down a monster of a late lunch before hitting the streets to take in some medieval architecture.
When I last came here in 2010, the heat was intense but it couldn’t take away from the sheer beauty of the town. Now, in November, the heat was gone but the city still looked fantastic. The next stop was Zum Sternla, the oldest pub in Bamberg, where Spezial offered a different kind of rauchbier experience and Mahr’s was the choice of the locals.
The key thing to take in here is that having four beers during the day and tweeting photos of said behaviour is not necessarily the smart way to behave when covering a game from courtside but fortunately Thomas and Katharina were well aware that I’d be sober by the time I got to the brose Arena.
About 30 minutes before tip the fanklub behind me started warming up. Like the Skyliners fans in the spring, their loudest section was right behind press row. The home team is in an odd spot right now. Bayern’s ascension last year came as Brose Baskets went out in the first round of the Bundesliga playoffs, the first time they had failed to lift the title since my last visit here. The down season seems to have acted as a wake up call. In a free throw laden game on Sunday, they dispensed with Skyliners on the back of a big third quarter. The question, and it’s one that won’t be answered until the BBL post-season, is whether they have re-tooled enough to make it back to Euroleague.#
Rather aptly, given who was in town, the William Tell Overture was part of an ad pre-game. Dan Rather says an intellectual snob is someone who can hear that piece and not think of the Lone Ranger.
Well I am an intellectual snob and any Rossini makes me go Hi-yo Silver.
The visitors, Reggio Emilia, have been below par in Eurocup but are turning into a force in Serie A in Italy. Federico Mussini and Amedeo Della Valle represent a youthful revolution for a side that threw away the chance to knock out Montepaschi Siena in the playoff last year. Mussini’s stature grew at the European Under 18 championships and he’s on anyone with a brain’s radar. For now, and crucially tonight, he is a Reggio Emilia man and a key part of their hopes of extending their Eurocup campaign into the last 32.
While Reggio Emilia are clearly on the rise, the doubts are still there for Bamberg. Backed by automotive giant Brose, with a market value of around $14 billion, the team has one of the wildest fanbases in the game and worthy of their nickname Fresk City. Right now should be a nervous time for the small city with crazy support but there wasn’t a hint of concern in the arena as Sirius hit for the intros. It’s not a belief that they will be back, more an acceptance that it’s going to happen and whether it’s this year or next doesn’t really matter. What mattered was thst an Italian team that beat them in Round 1 had come to town and this place was about to get silly.
Whoa, this place is loud. With 7.44 left in the first the drums stopped…for roughly the time it took to inbound the ball again. Lots of arenas have loud fans, few have this kind of sheer unrelenting will to be loud continuously. The drums kept banging even during free throws for the home team, albeit more subtly, but the opening frame was off to a tight start. Donell Taylor wore headphones throughout warm-ups to drown out the crowd but managed to drain a pair of threes with them right in his ear. Mussini however looked tiny out there. At 18 he’s still nowhere close to filling out and Bamberg had no troubke getting physical with him. While the body isn’t there yet, his mind clearly is and irrespective of what the stat sheet said that’s a promising sign. Ryan Thompson was on top for the home team but it was still Taylor getting it done as he snuck Reggio Emilia into a 14-16 lead late in the first.
Trevor Mbakwe, who was already getting it done in the first frame, brought it on offence to open the second but the Italian visitors were able to counter his success inside. What is unmissable in any game at this level featuring a Bundesliga team, especially at home, is the pace. They want games with a ton of possessions and while that can lead to some disjointed play the overall product is basically ATTACK ATTACK ATTACK. It isn’t the purist’s ideal but, like jagerbombs, it’s the best thing in the world at the time.
Just listening to these fans can take it out of you. The noise is unrelenting and the drums were making my stomach, and I really can’t stress this enough, literally shake.
Couple that with the pace on the floor and it’s a fast reminder as to why the Bundesliga is en vogue right now. Josh Duncan brought the sides level late in the half but the visitors weren’t shook. Achille Polonara drained a three to keep Reggio Emilia in charge and they held a 36-38 lead at the half.
At the half I took a breather with Dave Hein (always, always repping the brand) and Bamberg’s scouting director. This, it turned out, was a relatively quiet night for the crowd. Get Alba or Ulm in town and it’s a whole different kind of crazy. The third started a touch slower but to Bamberg’s benefit as the home side retook the lead for the first time since the opening quarter. Duncan nailed a three to make it 45-42 midway through the frame. The drums weren’t quite as hard, now rattling faster to urge the home side to push the pace more.
Thompson heard them and Bamberg pushed it on offence and ramped up the aggression around their own rim. Pollonara was doing his level best to force some space inside but the swarm kept the heat on. Thompson flipped a long pass to Brad Wanamaker who snaked inside for the lay-up and the foul. On the sideline Andrea Trinchieri, always animated, was in playoff form with his gesticulations and on the floor Janis Strelnieks put Bamberg into a double-digit lead from deep. With 10 minutes to play the home side, beefed up by a 10-1 run to finish the third, led 57-47.
Strelnieks nailed another three early in the third and Duncan and Thompson both dunked on fast breaks as Bamberg’s aggression continued to pay off. What looked like it could be a tight one was turning into a rout. Bamberg hadn’t changed their approach significantly from the first half, they were jusr executing better and the bounces were going their way. With the game in hand the crowd…kept being utterly bonkers. A 19 point lead with 4 minutes to play is no time clearly to cool off, particularly in Eurocup where Brose Baskets has only routed opponents on their home floor this season.
Della Valle, quiet all game, finally enjoyed some success in garbage time but the former Ohio State Buckeye had been a non-factor when this one mattered. Mussini didn’t get to colour his star sheet much but his intelligence was obvious and he looked far calmer in the closing stages than in htStrelnieks meanwhile kept making threes and move to 20 points for the night. Despite the 75-61 final, the refs still got booed on the way out. I’d love to hear this crowd on a bad night but it was pretty sweet to get them on a good one first time around.
Norman, who had served me in Zum Sternla, had warned me that it would be hard to find a place to drink back in towm after the game because “we Catholics” which clearly showed the church had a rather different influence on drinking culture to we Irish. Still, I managed to get back to his hostelry for one more before closing before moving on for more Mahr’s at Hofcafe. The morning brings Munich and Bayern vs Barca. That can wait. Right now I’ve some beer to tidy off.
We’ll have another video up over the weekend with lots more from Bamberg and the brose Arena. Keep an eye on BiE.