Benetton Treviso is a household name in the European Basketball scene, but did you know that there is another team called Benetton that is actually rocking the European scene? And the biggest surprise is that the team is coming from Switzerland.
Before the start of the ULEB Cup, I was asking myself some questions why the ULEB selected a Swiss team to participate in the competition. Switzerland is not really know for being a powerhouse concerning basketball but the representatives from Fribourg are doing far better than expected. This was the reason to look a bit behind the scenes and to get to know what is behind that success.
So I asked the Swiss blogger Emmanuel, who covers the games of Benetton Fribourg Olympic for his own blog, a few questions about this year’s competition.
Emmanuel, can you come back to the history of Fribourg Olympic Basketball team and also explain the relation that exists between your team and Benetton?
Basketball has been played in Fribourg since 1935 under the colours of CAF (Club athlétique de Fribourg). following that, two other teams were created in the Swiss city, Fribourg Basket in 1947 and Olympic Basket in 1949. A huge competition started between the two enemy brothers to be the top team of the city and it was in 1955 that Olympic moved up to the 1st division.
So in 1961, the two teams merged to create a joined team of the name of Fribourg Olympic. Since that day, the team played 44 seasons in the highest Swiss league and has reached numbers of titles (14 championships, 15 championship runner-up, 6 Swiss Cups, 4 doubles and 1 triple crown in 2007).
The name of Benetton has been associated to the for about 20 years now as the clothes brand from Italy made an agreement with the Swiss team.
This is the first season in the ULEB Cup. What were the expectations of the team before the start of that competition?
After the 2006/2007 season, the goal of the team was to participate at the ULEB Cup in a mid-term future, when the new arena will be ready in 2009. But the historic triple crown (Champion, Cup and League Cup) accelerated the process. The club has been invited to participate right from this season. But the choice to go was not so easy as budgetary restrictions were quite present to go for such a competition.
So the expectations were not very high at the beginning. The goal was to gain some experience against much stronger teams. The priority of the staff was clearly to win the national championship in order to regain a spot for the ULEB Cup for next year and to become a "normal" ULEB Cup team in a near future, which also means to triple the team’s budget.
At the moment, it looks very good for the team in order to qualify for the Round of 32 in the ULEB Cup. And on the national side, the team reached the Round of the last 8 in the Cup and is leading the Swiss league with only one defeat. Nobody seems really able to beat Olympic when it comes to winning the title this season again.
Benetton Fribourg is known for its basketball school. Can you point out how this school works and who are the biggest talents that came out of it?
Before the year 2000, the basketball school of Fribourg Olympic was essentially recruiting local talent from the Canton if they wanted to play for the youth teams of the club. Since then, the Academie de Basket has been created. This academy is based on the principle of "sport-études" (which means that the players are also integrated in a local school to combine at best practices and scholar duties) and Mehdy Mary has been signed to be the head coach of the youth teams.
The biggest name of Fribourg basketball is of course Harold Mrazek. With him, the club won 2 double-crowns before he left for the French powerhouse ASVEL. And immediately after his return to Fribourg, the team made the triple.
But there are actually some young players coming out of the newly created academy like Stefan Petkovic (1992) who played already 2 minutes in the ULEB Cup against Hapoel Galil Elyon. Other players that can be named are the Belgian born Senno Hounhanou, Jonathan Kazadi and the Savoi brothers who regularly see playing time in the national league.
When you talk about Switzerland and basketball, you first think on … Harold Mrazek. No seriously, of course you think on Thabo Sefolosha. How popular is he in Switzerland? Is he a common star like the skiers or the soccer players? What is the status of Basketball in Switzerland in general?
Thabo Sefolosha is a real star in Switzerland. In the newspapers, you read a lot more about the games of the Chicago Bulls than about the national Swiss league. The teams try to catch the wave to motivate a bigger number of kids to start playing basketball but also to attract more people to the games of the local league. Unfortunately, this has not been a big success so far with a average of 1690 spectators per game. (2nd best is Monthey with 980 and last one Geneva Devils with 244). The advantage is of course that the players a really accessible and like to talk to the fans after the games.
One of the problems for the Swiss basketball is that it is a sports that is nearly only present in the Romande and Italian part of Switzerland. In the German part, Handball and Volleyball are way more popular. And the biggest companies and biggest sponsors have their headquarters mainly in Zurich, Bern or Basel (i.e. German part of Switzerland).
Basketball is behind Football and Ice Hockey in terms of popularity, in relation to Skiing or tennis, I really don’t know… but I guess it may be equal or a little behind.
Thank you Emmanuel for this inside to Swiss basketball and I wish you all the best for the upcoming game against Antwerp.