Arriba impresses with melting pot of international talent

| Stan Waning

The times are good for Arriba's basketball players. The first men's squad - more international than ever - is competing in the national first division, the third level of the Netherlands. Shooting guard and UT student Berk Yilmaz (22) believes there is still room for improvement in the selection, despite the success.

Photo by: Hung Nguyen

Arsen Ordokov from Kazakhstan, Dmytro Politov from Ukraine, Nikola Gladovic from Croatia, Kristupas Kersanska from Lithuania. And then also players from Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia and three Dutchmen. And this is not even counting Yilmaz, from the Turkish capital of Ankara, himself. It's extraordinary how many cultures in a squad of just 12 players are coming together again this Saturday night at the Sports Centre, for a game of Arriba 1.

According to Yilmaz, that was different in 2018, when he started at Arriba. 'I saw the selection change from a Dutch team to an international squad,' says the master's student Industrial Design and Engineering. That Arriba has risen to the third tier in the Netherlands in that relatively short time, he says, cannot be separated from the international aspect. 'Basketball is relatively small in the Netherlands, especially in Twente. Many international players come from countries where the sport is much bigger. Most, including myself, played at a high level in their own country and in national youth selections. Some had to choose between studying or continuing to play professional basketball.'

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Injury wave

Because many current Arriba players chose the first option, the club is currently doing incredibly well. Due to a poor start, Arriba missed out on promotion last season, but a request by the club to play higher was granted by the league. After twelve matches Arriba is neatly placed ninth. Yilmaz: ‘ Especially our start was good. At the end of 2023, we had to deal with several injuries. I also had to watch four games. In terms of squad width, we cannot compete with opponents, then we will have a tough time.'

Arriba starts 2024 with a complete offday

Arriba kicked off 2024 on Saturday with a home game against Crackerjacks from Amersfoort. In September, the students from Enschede won the away game, but this weekend Arriba disappointed. Despite fanatical cheers from dozens of students, Han Kraijenveld's selection failed to impress.

In the first ten minutes, the teams were evenly matched: 12-13. In the second quarter, Arriba even gained some distance from Crackerjacks, as Arsen Ordokov, in particular, scored some fine points, but the home team could not maintain this level for long. Arriba faced a 26-37 deficit at half-time. After half-time, Crackerjacks proved much more determined at decisive moments, resulting in a resounding 62-85 defeat for the students.

Playing at the national level also has challenges for the selection. Every two weeks an away game awaits that is not necessarily next door. Haarlem, Beverwijk, Zandvoort, Amstelveen: the distances Arriba has to make are substantial. According to Yilmaz, that is not the biggest problem. 'Those are the limitations in training hours. We can only train for an hour and a half twice a week. That is actually far too little for this level. We should train more, we deserve that, but we just don't have the space. A real shame’, thinks the shooting guard (one of the five standard positions in basketball, ed.), who did not reach his normal level on Saturday.

Trainers' saga

Despite what he sees as a lack of training hours, Yilmaz is enjoying himself at Arriba. He loves the competition in the league, the click with trainer Han Krajenveld is good and the results are excellent at times. ‘It is special that Han is still our coach. He was supposed to retire after last year. We already had a replacement, but he got an offer from the United States just before the start of the season and chose the adventure in Orlando. Fortunately, Han wanted to add another year.'

Bizarre goal difference

It is not the ninth spot in the rankings that is remarkable for Arriba, but the very striking goal difference is. Of the 12 teams, the number nine - that is, Arriba - recorded by far the most scores: 966. That success logically has a downside in the knowledge that Arriba is not among the best teams: the team also received by far the most scores against. Over a thousand, after Saturday.

Twelve players, nine nationalities and only three Dutch. The differences in Arriba's selection may seem great, but according to Yilmaz, it is the similarities that write the club's success story. 'For all of us, we play basketball because we like it and because we are good at it. That similarity makes us strong. I was also in teams where players were paid, but at Arriba it's all about the love of the game and each other. That gives a totally different dynamic.'

The goal for Arriba is clear this season: the selection does not want to be relegated, but Yilmaz says he is not afraid of that. 'We are too good for that. At the same time, we are not going to make the Final Four either, but if we keep up we will do well. Some key players are leaving after this season, so it will be difficult to keep playing in the first division in the long run. Hence we try to enjoy playing every game at this level.'

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