Maccabi Tel Aviv visits Alba Berlin tonight, the final opponent in Group B that the undefeated leader hasn't yet met.
Berlin's Serbian coach, Sasa Obradovic, is known for getting emotional. Berlin's players have learned already to identify the early signs of one of his outbursts.
When Obradovic starts wiping his bald head in agitation, it's a matter of seconds until his glowing eyes, shouts and exaggerated hand movements combine for a theatrical performance that no player enjoys watching from arms length.
"I won't wait for three or four mistakes to react," Obradovic explained to Der Spiegel. "Some coaches wait for miracles. I demand of my players to make things happen every moment on the court."
To his credit he does not demand anything he didn't do himself in his days as a player. The Serb was one of the premier guards in the mid-1990s, making things happen on a regular basis. It often ended in titles - three European championships, a world championship and an Olympic silver medal with Serbia, and several championships with various teams he played on.
One of them was Alba Berlin. Between 1994 and 1997 Obradovic etched his name in the annals of German basketball by leading the team to its first European title - the Korac Cup - in 1995, and its debut appearance in the European Championships in 1997 after Berlin won its first German championship. Berln went on to win seven consecutive German championships through 2003.
Obradovic started coaching immediately upon retirement, starting with Cologne in 2005. In 2010 he took over Donetsk, which won the Ukrainian championship under him last year. He was supposed to stay on but the desire to restore Berlin to its former glory overtook him.
Obradovic says he had a much better deal in Ukraine but one talk with Berlin changed everything. He says he loves the club, the city and the fans, even though Bamburg had surpassed Berlin as the league's top team and Berlin last played in the Euroleague in 2009. Only an open invitation brought Berlin back to center stage after three years in the Eurocup.
Obradovic says he knew taking on the job would be a challenge. He signed six new players to raise the team to Euroleague standards. Forward Deon Thompson stands out among the new signees.
Under a magnifying glass
Yet sometimes it seems the real star stands on the sidelines. Obradovic's intensity is felt all the more because of the vacuum he filled. His predecessor, Gordon Herbert, barely yelled, smiled a lot and went easy on the team's stars. Obradovic, in contrast, told his players at their very first practice that they would all be under a magnifying glass all the time.
The coach said the only way to succeed at critical moments of the game was for the players to be under pressure at every practice. Others at the club say even DeShaun Wood, the dominant point guard who viewed defense as a waste of energy, started pursuing opponents like a watchdog.
The new reality generated a slogan: Everyone is equal under the bald guy.
Berlin started its Euroleague campaign with two wins, including one against Siena. The team has since lost to Asseco Prokom and Malaga, but has never trailed an opponent by much.
Obradovic says his team will fight from the opening whistle, even against the likes of Maccabi, whose budget Berlin cannot compete with.
If David Blatt, Maccabi's coach, looks at the German bench tonight and sees his counterpart rubbing his bald head during the game, he will know his team is headed in the right direction.
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