Stepping onto the court for a Turkish Airlines EuroLeague game is special for any player, but for Malte Delow it is even more meaningful than most.
The ALBA Berlin youngster grew up in the German capital and joined the club at the age of 12, before progressing through the youth ranks and he is now starting to make his way as a regular performer for the team he still supports as a fan.
Delow had only been playing basketball for a few months when he was invited to join ALBA’s academy, as he recalled: “When I was younger, my main sport was football, although my parents both played volleyball and my older sister played basketball, so I knew a bit about basketball because I went to watch her games.
"It all happened very fast – in only a few months I went from starting to play basketball to joining ALBA."
“But then I went to a new school and found some new friends who always played basketball during the breaks. So, I played with them and it was a lot of fun – more fun for me than football. Then ALBA arranged some practices where young players could go so they can watch them and I was selected to go to the real practice of the ALBA Under-12 team. That was when I fully switched from football to basketball. It all happened very fast – in only a few months I went from starting to play basketball to joining ALBA.”
This whirlwind journey from never having played organized basketball to joining an elite-level professional club in the space of a few weeks was a big surprise for Delow…and a very exciting one.
“It felt amazing,” he admitted. “I’d been to watch a couple of ALBA games and it was always an amazing atmosphere. To be selected, them telling me ‘we want you to be part of our club’, was huge for me. I was already a fan of the club, so to start playing basketball at that club was a huge thing.”
Over the next few seasons, in addition to playing games for ALBA’s youth teams, he was also a regular supporter of the senior team from the stands – an experience that inspired him to keep getting better.
“I went to a lot of games,” he said. “I remember a lot of the really exciting finals series in the German League and the EuroCup Finals in 2019 against Valencia when there was a really amazing atmosphere. I was always in the gym whenever I could to watch and be a fan.”
Shortly after that EuroCup Finals meeting with Valencia, Delow was given the opportunity to join his heroes on the floor – and it took him a while to come to terms with the idea of becoming a senior player for ALBA.
“In my first season when I started practicing with the pros, it was my first practice and I was like ‘damn, I watched all these players only from afar and never really expected to be part of them and practice with them’. That moment really was special.
“And of course, I remember my first game. I was sitting at home before the game because the coach told me I was going to be in the lineup, and I needed some time at home to calm down and be focused because I was so excited. It was a German Cup game and I played the last few minutes. It was amazing to be on the court with guys I had always watched on the TV or from the stands.”
Delow isn’t the only local youngster to have made the leap into the senior team. ALBA focuses heavily on developing its own talent, with Jonas Mattiseck and Tim Schneider also part of the EuroLeague roster and others pushing from below.
“Last year there was one game where we had five Berlin natives on the court at once, and I think that’s something not a lot of clubs can say about themselves,” Delow stated with pride. “It’s a huge accomplishment for me and the other players but also for the club. This is the result of the youth work they are doing and how much trust they put in us as young players.”
“It was amazing to be on the court with guys I had always watched on the TV or from the stands.”
The 20-year-old is too modest to regard himself as an example for younger players within ALBA’s system to emulate, but admitted the presence of so many local players helps create a bond between the club and its fans.
“It’s still a little bit weird for me to think like that about myself,” he laughed. “Because I’m still a fan as well, to be a role model to these young players…I hope I am, but it’s weird for me to feel that way because it’s a huge accomplishment. But I remember when I was young and went to the games, back then some youth players from Berlin were playing in the professional team. I remember the first game of Ismet Akpinar who was from the ALBA youth. For me as a fan that was really exciting because I could identify myself with him, and I hope that’s what the fans feel today about Tim, Jonas and me.”
In addition to ALBA’s attempts to make a run towards the EuroLeague Playoffs, this is a special season for the city because the Final Four will be returning to the German capital in May. And Delow believes that will further boost the city’s growing interest in basketball: “It’s huge that the EuroLeague trusts ALBA and trusts Berlin.
“It’s going to be great for the city and great for the fans to have the Final Four because it’s a great arena and sports culture here. A lot more people around the city are playing and generally showing an interest in basketball. Especially the younger kids, they are more confronted with the sport and ALBA is doing a really good job of promoting basketball.”