Basketball ready to bounce back

Jumping through hoops for success. Photo FC Bayern BasketballWhen football appears to be the only spoken currency in Bavaria, it takes a brave president to back the rise of another sport under the same club badge. Uli Hoeneß has never been a man to shy away from a challenge, just look at Javi Martinez this summer, but basketball? FC Bayern Munich Basketball has been hiding away for far too long and is too often mistaken for its noisy footballing neighbour. The rejuvenation of the side is no marketing ploy either, there is history and pride at stake. The unification of sports under one club name is something that stretches back to the origins of organised sport. Those somewhat clumsy and odd-looking initials that precede the names of football clubs are linked to the origins of when sports clubs where just that, some of which still are today.

FC Bayern Munich is one of those and proudly so. It just so happens that the football team are at the forefront of the club's press and many other facets of the club feel the football team are due a spell in the shade. In the 1980s, the FC Bayern Munich gymnasts were four time German champions and as for the chess club, they have broken records with the number of championships they have won. Now though, the sun seems to be rising on another sporting tangent of the FC Bayern Munich franchise. Basketball is on the rise and it too is hoping to return to the glory of former years.

The golden period for basketball in Munich was in the mid 1950s, when FCB won their only two German basketball championships to date. The club threatened to disappear altogether after winning the domestic cup in 1968, as results failed to follow this success. The second division became a reality and the club turned its attentions elsewhere. After an almost traditional period in the doldrums, the cobwebs were brushed off and the club, under the unmistakable presidency of Uli Hoeneß, declared a desire to reach the heights of previous years. In 2007/08 the first of those steps were taken, with the aim of returning to the Basketball Bundesliga in mind. These brave words were supported by strong actions when the FC Bayern Munich Basketball team returned to the top flight in the 2010/2011 season. They found no difficulty in adjusting to the higher level, finishing 5th and reaching the playoffs as a result. Despite narrowly missing out in the quarterfinals, the side have never looked more at home than in this division and this year, the aim is to go even further.

Beyond the glory of becoming German champions lies the every improving and highly competitive Euro League. This is the goal that Bayern have set for themselves. A bold and courageous one considering never in the history of the competition has there been a German winner. Olympiacos are this year's defending champions but they are joined by Panathinaikos, CSKA Moscow and of course, eight-time champions Real Madrid. The field is awash with quality but Bayern have every right to believe they can host such sides, especially on the back of such a strong Bundesliga campaign.

As with most teams hoping to play at the highest level, especially those hoping to achieve greatness once there, change is a necessary evil. Bayern's weakness appeared to be in the guard position and two players have been successfully recruited during the summer. FC Bayern's sporting director, Marko Pesic points out rather importantly that both Tyrese Rice and Yotam Halperin were their first choice targets and he is thus delighted at both of their arrivals. Both Rice and Halperin arrive with the experience of having played in the Euro League Final Four, something that many believe will drive Bayern's European charge. Halperin has already racked up 157 Euro League appearances and averaged 11.8 points for Israel at the 2011 European Championships. Despite a slightly smaller frame than his new Israeli team-mate, Rice remains a strong slasher, averaging 9.7 points, 4.4 assists and 1.4 rebounds per game for Lietuvos Rytas last year. Joining from the same club as Rice, is power forward Lawrence Roberts, a man who also boasts Euro League Final Four experience (with Partizan Belgrade) and someone who, according to Marko Pesic, "fits perfectly to our plan here at Munich." The 29 year old spent two seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies (2005-2007) before moving to Europe and in 2010, averaged 9 points and 7.4 rebounds for Partizan in their impressive Euro League campaign. The 6'9" signing is excited about the start of the season: "I can hardly wait. I am delighted to be here in Munich and have a great feeling about this year. The team is well constructed and the organisation at the club is fantastic. I want to make sure I take every chance I get and hope to become an important part of the squad."

It is this influx of leadership, particularly from Rice and Roberts that will hold the key to Bayern's success this year. Rice was Lietuvos Rytas's star man last year and when absent (due to injury), the gap in quality was far too evident. By recruiting more than one leader, Bayern have given themselves the best possible chance at reaching that European goal.

The man in charge of all this is head coach, Dirk Bauermann. When Bauermann was appointed in 2010, Bayern appeared to have found the perfect candidate to front Bayern's basketball resurgence. He was Germany's national coach for nine years and had an extremely successful spell with TSV Bayer 04 Leverkusen in the 1990s. He knows more than anyone though, that FCB Bayern must not get carried away. The solid foundation is in place but Bayern must show patience. As tempting as it is to be seduced by the romance of glorious sporting achievements, Bayern are not there yet. They are on their way to becoming one of the better sides in the country, but domestic and European triumph remain the only valid currency in a sport full of hype.

Before this year's hotly anticipated campaign begins, the Audi Dome has more pre-season action to look forward to. Alongside the game against European giants, Panathinaikos Athens, there is also the BEKO Leagues Cup. This is a two-day event and Bayern have been drawn in a semi-final against the powerful CSKA Moscow. The winner of that game will play the winner of Besiktas Istanbul vs. Zalgiris Kaunas in the final on the 23rd September. Then, on the 3rd October, FC Bayern can focus their attention towards the start of the 2012/2013 Basketball Bundesliga season, when they take on surprise 2009 national champions, EWE Baskets Oldenburg at home.


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