By Reinaldo Bessa and Eugenio Agostinelli
Born in January 28, 2005 in Halle (Germany), Martin Kalu
is a rising prospect in the European scene. The 6’4 swingman is N.4 in the Eurohopes 2005 generation ranking
, and he had his come-out party at the FIBA U16 European Challenger 2021, where he posted averages of 27.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
We talked with Martin where he revealed a little bit of his past, some of his motivations behind his new FC Bayern adventure, and who Martin Kalu is when he’s not crashing rims and making shots on the court.
Starting the narration with something particular: “I started playing basketball when I was 9 years old. And now, after this summer’s move to Münich, I live in the FC Bayern Campus, the youth centre. It’s something really cool, and everybody is a soccer player, I became the first basketball player to get a place there. This environment it’s a new beginning here for me”
This summer’s move from Rasta Vechta to FC Bayern
shook up almost everything for a guy like him, and the process of translation from a small club to a European powerhouse is still going on. As he admits - smiling big - “This is the start of a new journey for me, because everything is new, it’s a whole another level
Talking about the decision process, it wasn’t that hard to commit to FC Bayern. For many reasons: “The coaches were a key factor in my decision to join Bayern. They have the best coaching staff, and I can learn a lot from every one of them. The team and the organization also played a key factor due to their brand and prestige, starting from the facilities to all the environment that you expect to have in a club like this. It’s a EuroLeague team, and I never played at that high level, so I believe I can learn a lot in Munich
Thinking about the recent past, his mind goes straight to the FIBA U16 European Championship 2021, where he arguably was one of the best prospects to show up in the competition, with a tournament-best 36 points game
“It was a very good tournament for us, we were a really solid team. Before the tournament we lost some scrimmages, but we had so much talent that we knew we could still have a strong showing in the tournament. Everything was going well, but after the loss to Poland, in the last game, it was very disappointing because we missed the chance to go to the next World Cup. It was our shot to go to the next level, and we missed it. I was really sad”
If you ask him, no time to think about points or big numbers, looking back at the tournament. “My biggest accomplishment for sure was my development as a player, and the experience I gained from it. I was able to help my teammates and that’s what matters the most to me
His explosiveness, mixed with his size and skills attacking the rim, make him one of the most interesting swingmen around all Europe in his generation. During the tournament he found good consistency from around the arc, ending the competition with 50% 3P FG (14/28 total, with an incredible 8/10 in the Bulgaria game). He’s a solid catch&shooter, but what makes him really good at this level is his ability to separate from his man and pull up a jumper also after a stepback, keeping his body on balance with a smooth release.
But there are still many areas of his game where he can improve. “I think that what I should work on more is my defense. On offense, running the pick&roll, I need to develop a better ability to create more for my teammates. Sharing the ball better and being able to get more assists is what could make me a more complete player at 360°”
After the U16 tournament, a new adventure was waiting him in Munich. Practicing and living daily a highly professional environment is hands-down something every European kid dreams about from day one. At the beginning of the pre-season, Kalu was involved in the first team training camp, taking part also in some scrimmages. But it’s the daily work the main thing that he has in mind. “At the beginning, I started playing with the U19 team and with Bayern’s second team. But after some time early in the preseason, I had the chance to start taking part to Coach Trinchieri’s team practices. Having individual workout sessions with Coach Emilio Kovacic is something great for me, I have so many things to learn from him and from everybody inside the team. I was out for 2 months with a hand injury
– says Kalu, that just got back on the court after rehab and is expected to play this weekend – and after that period I think that I need a lot of team practices, to get that game rhythm back and to be able to get back inside our teams’ flow
Talking about the EuroLeague team, he gave us a couple of takes on two of their main characters. “Coach Trinchieri is a very good coach, he’s really special, always in a good and positive way. He helps you a lot and gives so many precious details, he cares about your development. And if I must tell you a player that took me under his wing, it’s Vladimir Lucic. Actually, every player is very good to me and they all help me a lot, so it’s hard to focus just on one of them
Going from a youth team to a senior team is not easy at all, a lot of things change suddenly. And for Kalu was pretty much the same. “In the senior team everything is so fast, and you must learn a lot quicker, you need to adapt to a different rhythm on the court, both your body and mind. And you can learn so much from the veterans, every day is a chance to get more knowledge here
We already got to know who Martin Kalu is on the court, but what kind of guy is he once he gets outside of the gym? “I’m a very fun guy off the court, a person you can easily talk to and have a good laugh. But on the court, I’m very serious and focused on the game, I just want to win. There are no jokes to me when it’s game time, it’s all serious business”.
With German influence on the rise in NBA basketball (6 of the 7 german players currently in the NBA were drafted/signed in the last five years), there’s one player that Kalu wants to follow his steps. “The player I look up to the most is Dennis Schröder. Since I was a little kid I have been watching him play, and I instantly fell in love with his energy, his speed, his defense and in general the way he approaches the game
With that being said, we get to Kalu’s main goal. “I have many things to improve: you can expect me to work on my game, my shooting, my defense and especially my offensive skillset. I will do everything it takes to step on a new league, and I’ll make sure to try to be ready some day even to play BBL or EuroLeague, if I’ll ever be called. I will work out every day, take every practice at 100% and learn from everybody here, from the coaches to the older guys. I must develop myself as a player and as a person. The biggest goal is to go to the NBA, obviously, and currently I plan to enter the Draft in four years, being 19 years old. But this is very far away, and today I want to escalate the ladder of Bayern Münich and build my way up until the Big Stage