Paul Albrecht (208-PF-1993) is a 30 year old 208 cm forward that just completed his third season with the Dragons Rhondorf. He began his basketball career with the Oldenburger TB team and then played parts of 7 seasons in the Pro a amassing 162 games for teams like Jena, Paderborn, Essen, Hanau and Artland. He spoke to germanhoops about the 2022-2023 Dragons season that ended with the playoff defeat to the Basketball Lowen Erfurt.
Congrats on a solid Dragons Rhondorf season that ended in a sweep against the Basketball Lowen. How tough was losing this series and having Devon Goodman not lay game 2? Of course it was really tough not to have Devon for the most important game of the season. But within one day we made some good adjustments and put up a great fight.
The Dragons Rhondorf gave all they had in game 2. Did fatigue play a role at the end? We had to deal with fatigue all season Long. It never was and never will be an excuse for us.
From the stats how much did the offensive rebounds of Erfurt and your 7 more turnovers play a role in losing the game? Its always hard to win a Ggme where you have less possessions than your opponent, so it did play a big role.
It was a tough season for the Dragons Rhondorf. The untimely and tragic death of Mubarak Salami affected all. How proud are you of how the whole organization stuck together after his death? I’m Beyond proud of everybody who is involved in the Dragons Rhoendorf Organization. The way everybody stood together was just incredible
With all that happened this season, how do you summarize the season of the Dragons Rhondorf? It was their first playoffs in 5 years. I think we had a good season with lots of ups and downs, but to finish fourth is more than decent.
It was a joy to watch the offense of the Dragons Rhondorf, but the inconsistent 1-1 defense plagued the club all season long. Why do you feel could the team never develop a true defensive identity? I wouldn’t say that we did not have a defensive identity, but we were really struggling with stopping opponents one on one.
The club had many big wins like over the Sixers and sweeping Schwelm. What was your personal team highlight of the season? The win against the Sixers was absolute crazy and definitely a season highlight. There Are many moments that come to My mind though.
You played your third season in Rhondorf. Has it become like a second home to you? Rhoendorf absolutely is like a second Home to us. Me and my family are totally happy here.
You averaged 10,9ppg, 6,8rpg and 2,3apg. How content were you with your game this season? It really is not about my numbers within this team, but more about to get everybody on one page and hold everybody accountable
Your points and rebounds were down a bit, but that was expected with more veterans. How did it feel not being the only older guy on the team?
It was great having a good mixture of different aged Ppayers. It made everything much easier for each and everybody
You had many great games like against Herford and Vechta 2. What was your personal favorite game concerning how you played?
I can’t remember what was my favorite personal Game was.
What is the next step for you? Will you remain with the Dragons Rhondorf? We would like to stay Part of the Dragons, but so far there is nothing written in stone.
What was your coolest experience in Germany in Rhondorf off the court? The Nature around Bad Honnef is unique. We enjoy the Environment a lot.
Who will reach the Pro B finals and win it all? Bernau and Koblenz will meet in the Finals and Bernau will take the crown
Who will reach the NBA finals and who will win it all? It would be so great to See Lebron get his fifth Ring. But I think Boston is a really strong contender.
It was Sunday morning in Frankfurt and the Alba Berlin NBBL and JBBL teams were getting ready to embark on playing the 2023 youth finals and it was the calm before the storm. It was a beautiful sunny morning and who would of thought that hours later they would have won the double, but nobody could have predicted that these 2 games would probably go down in German youth history as the 2 greatest finals back to back ever on the same day. The Alba Berlin JBBL (U-16) began with a thrilling win over the underdog Eintracht Frankfurt-Fraport Skyliners that took them to double OT as 2 standout Germans Matthieu Grujicic and Ivan Crnjac combined for an incredible 93 points as Gruijcic scored a mindboggling 52 points and had some carefully thinking the next Doncic. But the Alba Berlin NBBL team took it to another level having a fierce battle against the Young Rasta Dragons who were looking for revenge after losing last years final to them. Last year the Vechta squad was pooped and lost badly after upsetting FC Bayren Munich, but this time took the mighty Berlin team to the wire and lost on a heart breaking buzzer beater with an in your face buzzer beater by Nils Machowski (191-PG-2004) 78-75. How much pain can a club take 2 years in a row? Last season Kaya Bayram celebrated the Alba Berlin win with his team and this season played against his ex team with Vechta and had his hand in Machowski’s face and had to endure his friend making the game winning shot. ‘We had a great season. We wanted to top the Vechta season with a win after the other teams had reached the Pro A and Pro B final. You can lose a game, but losing like this on a buzzer beater is so tough. I know Nils since he is 9 years old. What does he do, he hits the game winner in my face. I’m so proud of my team. The team took me in and gave me trust. It is like a family here. This loss hurts so much’, stressed Kaya Bayram. After getting a shower at the post game interview for sporttotal.tv, the hero Machowski was able to reflect about the historic final. ‘This whole game was back and forth. No team could break free. I though after Rikus Schulte hit the three in the fourth quarter, the game was decided, but no. They always fought back. It was finally a nice final’, smiled Alba Berlin guard Nils Machowski. ‘This was the best final ever. It was such a tight game and a real fight until the end’, added Alba Berlin forward Ellias Rapieque.
Jamal Entezami at the FT line
Both teams began the first quarter finding a smooth offensive rhythm as defense took a back seat. Young Rasta Dragon Killian Brockhof got on fire rapidly getting 7 points showing his inside-out abilities with a turn-around shot, lay in and trey while Alba Berlin got potent support from NBBL MVP Rikus Schulte with 5 points. Alba Berlin had no problems challenging the bigs Grunloh and Brockhof as 2022 NBBL champ Linus Ruff dominated in the paint scoring 3 baskets. But the reigning champion couldn’t get away as the Young Rasta Dragons heart and soul and captain Noah Jannen took over scoring 8 vital points including 2 three’s to give the Young Rasta Dragons the 19-18 advantage. The Young Rasta Dragons had problems takin g care of the ball, but Alba Berlin couldn’t take advantage of it in the scoring department. German Paul Bahn and Brockhof traded baskets and after 10 minutes Alba Berlin had the slim 22-21 advantage. ‘Both teams came out scoring well. No team was able to show their defensive qualities. It took some time for both teams to get rid of their rust’, stated Elias Rapieque. Alba Berlin shot 47% from the field and 40% from outside and had 7 rebounds and 5 turnovers while the Young Rasta Dragons shot 50% from the field and 38% from outside and had 9 rebounds and 8 turnovers.
Jeygor Cymbal at the FT line
In the second quarter, both teams had runs, but at the break Alba Berlin led only by 1 point. Noah Jannen continued to be an offensive menace hitting a three pointer for the 24-22. Jannen had suffered a tough final loss last year and was more than focused this season and understood he had to take on more responsibility as Johan Grunloh was being kept in check by the Alba Berlin big men. But Alba Berlin stayed with their opponent getting an off balance shot by NBBL rookie of the year Jack Kayil and a three by Machowski for the Alba Berlin 28-27 advantage. The Machowski trey sparked Alba Berlin to score 7 more unanswered points and extend their lead to 35-27. In the run Alba Berlin received vital support from Ruff with a lay in while Rikus Schulte continued to score at ease making a tip in and three pointer. The Young Rasta Dragons lost some intensity on defense and on offense rushed their shots too much losing their offensive rhythm. Grunloh was off in that time and had little support inside as Alba Berlin got easier looks. But the Young Rasta Dragons came out of a time out refreshed and hit Alba Berlin with a 5-0 run as Dutch guard Sydnee Bjlisma connected on a trey and role player Emilijus Peleda scored on the back door as Grunloh supplied the dime as Alba Berlin led only 35-32. The Young Rasta Dragons upped their intensity, were calmer on offense and made better decisions while their bench players made big plays. After Bayram and Peleda supplied scoring punch from the free throw line, Amon Doerries took Alba Berlin into half time with a runner and 37-36 advantage. ‘I thought we would get away after that first run, but Vechta showed heart coming back. There were good phases by both teams, but no team could get away. Each team always had an answer’, stated Ellias Rapieque. Alba Berlin shot 40% from the field and 36% from the three point line and had 19 rebounds and 11 turnovers while the Young Rasta Dragons shot 39% from the field and 36% from the three point line and had 20 rebounds and 13 turnovers.
Rikus Schulte to the hole
In the third quarter Alba Berlin broke away getting their highest lead of the game of 10 points, but after 3 quarters were starring at only a 2 point lead. Linus Ruff continued to wreck havoc in the paint making an offensive rebound and putback for the 39-36 lead, but the Young Rasta Dragons always had an answer and needed big time support from their role players and got it by Jegor Cymbal who scored 19 points in the 2022 NBBL final against Alba Berlin making an offensive rebound and put back and three pointer to dead lock the contest at 42-42 after Machowski had dropped a trey. In the NBBL semi-final the day before Alba Berlin guard Jamal Entezami had made the dunk of the weekend flying through the zone, but Noah Jannen gave him a good run for the money with a crushing one handed dunk over Schulte for the 44-42 lead. The game seemed to be an even affair, but Alba Berlin then took control running out on a lethal 14-2 run to lead 56- 64. In the run Alba Berlin showed how dangerous their offense can be getting 2 three’s by Schulte and Kayil while Machowski and Jannis Berger made lay in’s. Anytime you lose a little intensity and concentration, Alba Berlin makes you pay as the Young Rasta Dragons witnessed how quickly a close game can get into the opponent leading by double digits. But as usual the Young Rasta Dragons retaliated and showed immense heart slapping a 10-2 run in the face of Alba Berlin and trailing only 58-56 after 30 minutes. In the run the Young Rasta Dragons let it rain three’s as Noah Jannen took control once again hitting 2 three’s while Mr X-factor Karl Buhner nailed a trey. ‘Noah is so important for us. I can’t imagine how much this loss hurts for him. We all fought, but Noah as captain showed real heart. He has been here so long. He lives for this team. He is such a good leader and person’, commented Kaya Bayram. ‘We have a real good connection to Vechta. We have been a match up for the longest time. I know all the kids from the birth year 2004. Noah played a great game’, expressed Elias Rapieque. Alba Berlin shot 39% from the field and 35% from the parking lot and had 25 rebounds and 14 turnovers while the Young Rasta Dragons shot 40% from the field and 41% from the parking lot and had 35 rebounds and 21 turnovers.
Sydnee Bijlisma with the floater
The first 5 minutes of the fourth quarter must of felt like a nightmare for Young Rasta Dragons head coach Hendrik Gruhn as his teams couldn’t score, but did it feel worse for Alba Berlin head coach Vladimir Bogojevic as his team could only muster 6 points and not more and decide the final earlier? Alba Berlin made 10 consecutive stops, but only got free throws form Entezami and Machowski while Rapieque made a lay in for the 64-56 advantage. The Young Rasta Dragons finally got on the score board at the 5,09 minute mark as Killian Brockhoff made a trey to cut Alba Berlin’s lead to 64-61. Ruff and Grunloh then traded dunks and Schulte made an old school running hook shot as Alba Berlin still led 68-63. Rapieque then stole the ball from Jannen and made a hard 2 handed dunk as Alba Berlin led 70-63 and were threatening to decide the game at the 3,53 minute mark. But as usual the Young Rasta Dragons had an answer and their heart and soul Noah Jannen came through again with a clutch three pointer and three three pointers and suddenly Alba Berlin led only 70-69. With no one noticing the Young Rasta Dragons had escaped on a 9-0 run as Brockhoff added a trey and Alba Berlin trailed 72-70 with 1,29 minutes to play. But Alba Berlin was still wide awake on defense as Rapieque made a key steal and dunk to tie the game 72-72 with 1,01 to play. Alba Berlin made the next punch as Schulte dropped a trey for the 75-72 lead with 23 seconds to play. The Young Rasta Dragons surprised some instead of going for the quick two getting another clutch three by Jannen to dead lock the contest at 75-75 with 17 seconds to play. ‘I always thought we could get away but they always had an answer. But Vechta never gave up. We had to play more physical. They were really giving us problems’, said Ellias Rapieque. ‘We came back played zone and gave them problems. Alba Lives from their energy and we just continued to fight until the end’, said Kaya Bayram. Alba Berlin had the last possession and Nils Machowski became the hero making a breathtaking off balance shot game winner for the title. ‘I looked over at coach, but he didn’t even look at me. I didn’t want to dribble much. I practice that shot a lot and like taking it’, smiled Nils Machowski. ‘It was a tough shot, but I had a good feeling it would go in’, stated Rikus Schulte. ‘I have to be honest at first look, I didn’t think it would go in. But he can make those shots. He practices them all the time’, smiled Ellias Rapieque. Alba Berlin was led by Rikus Schulte with 20 points. Nils Machowski added 17 points and Linus Ruff had 12 points while the Young Rasta Dragons were led by Noah Jannen with 25 points while Killian Brockhoff added 19 points. Alba Berlin shot 39% from the field and 33% from outside and had 38 rebounds and 19 turnovers while the Young Rasta Dragons shot 39% form the field and 38% from outside and had 45 rebounds and 27 turnovers.
Emanuele Berti is originally from Italy and since 2019 with Alba Berlin. He came to Germany in 2018 and was a video scout with Global Sports Analytics. He began as a Video scout with Alba Berlin and JBBL assistant coach. He is the video coordinator of the club and works individually with the BBL team and is an assistant coach with the NBBL team since 2022. He spoke to germanhoops.com before the 2023 NBBL top 4 in Frankfurt, Germany.
How excited are you be at the 2023 NBBL top 4 in Frankfurt? What are you looking forward to most?
The top 4 is where everyone gets together at the end of the season. We really want that everything works out well for the 2004 generation. For some guys it will be the last 2 games of youth basketball. We want them to enjoy it.
Alba Berlin are the defending champions and had the best record in the NBBL. Is their energy and hunger now at a different level then maybe 3 months ago?
There are many stories to this top 4. The 2004 generation played against FC Bayern Munich 5 years ago in the U-14 final and won. Munich wants revenge and we want to prove we are the best. The Alba players lost with Bernau against Vechta while Urspring wants revenge against Bernau. There is a lot of hype building up. We want to prove why we play the way we do. Important for us is too improve each day so we are best prepared on the top 4 weekend.
The team has 7 guys back from last season’s winning team, but also added new faces. You never want to compare teams, but is this team stronger than last years squad?
This team is different. It is hard to replace a guy like Gian Aydinoglu and we also lost Christoph Tilly. The role of Linus Ruff is bigger and Amon Dorries has a different game than Tilly. The positive aspect is that the core of the team remained. We kept the mentality and attitude of last season’s team. The 2004 birth year guys have brought the energy and will to improve each day.
This team has experience, can score, defend with a passion and have hungry young players. What other strengths does this team have?
We have a good group of good guys. All guys are nice and there are no ego’s. All care about each other. It makes our job a lot easier when kids want to improve and understand the meaning of team.
The team allows 59 points per game. What is so special about this team’s defense and do the guys able to heighten it 2 more times?
That is our goal. We want to play aggressive and with energy. Our goal is to work together 5 vs the ball, 5 vs the rebound and 5 vs the pick and roll. Our energy is special. Our goal is to keep improving and fix the little details.
Alba Berlin split this season with other top team Young Dragons Vechta losing by 2 points in the first game and then winning by 23 points. Are the players aware how hungry Vechta will be for revenge?
Yes we are aware of their hunger and revenge. It is hard to compare the 2 games. In both games guys were missing from both teams. We have an extra motivation to play against Kaya Bayram who was with us last season. We love him. This game is also one against friends. We know that Vechta has to prove that they are better than last season.
Alba Berlin and Vechta are the favorites while Urspring and FC Bayern Munchen are also tough. How do you rate these 2 clubs in talent?
Both teams improved a lot this season. Munich had injuries but they have Ivan Khartchenkov back and Luis Wulf will play more. Munich depend a lot on their individual talent, but they are still a good team. Urspring is well coached and use a lot of energy on how they scout other teams. They have a sophisticated way to play and have a good system and know their strengths. They have 3 high quality players with Finn Pook, Jared Grey and Jorke Aav. They peaked against Ludwigsburg. They will be tough. A very promising young player is Jack Kayil. How good is he and what do you appreciate most about his game? His instincts make him special. He still needs to learn to play more adult and reading the game better is a challenge. He is an easy player to coach because he always gives his best. You don’t need to motivate him. I’m proud to have him.
Two new players are Amon Doerries and Dorian Grosber. Talk a little about them and how their games will impact the game in Frankfurt? Both impact the game with their effort and energy. They play defense without stopping. They can impact the game with their energy on transition and defense. They made good steps this season.
The heart and soul of the team are Linus Ruff, Elias Rapiqeue, Nils Machowski, Jamal Entezami and Rikus Schulte. Which guy has turned out to be the ultimate leader on the team?
I don’t think that there is an ultimate leader. All show it in different ways. Rikus isn’t the most vocal off the court, but on the court he plays by example. Elias and Nils have great personalities. Both are always helping others. Linus’s game gives feeling to the team. His play makes others better. Elias is tough and leads by example. All are energetic and focused.
What exactly is your role as an assistant coach and how does your work shine through most? I split time between the BBL and NBBL teams. With the NBBL team I do individual training and watch videos. With the BBL team I am the video coordinator and prepare clips of the Euroleague opponents. I cut videos and prepare stats.
What kind of an experience has it been working with Vladimir Bogojevic ? What have you appreciated most about him?
He is super. He is an example for all youth coaches. He has discipline and has the kids play the game the right way. You can always learn something from him. He isn’t only a basketball teacher, but tries to teach the guys things for life. He is always there for the players on and off the court. He always tries to give advice. He is an educator that also teaches basketball.
How likely will it be that on Sunday night the German basketball community can celebrate 2 titles for Alba Berlin?
It depends on how we play. We have 2 teams and many ideas on how to play and defend. We all want to win. How well we play and if we win will depend how well we prepared and improved in the last 5 weeks.
Miles Schmidt-Scheuber and Hendrik Gruhn in Rhondorf in 2023
Hendrik Gruhn (188-SG-1994) is the youth head coach of the NBBL (U-19) youth team of the Young Rasta Dragons and Pro B head coach. He found experience coaching the Young Rasta Dragons U-12 and U14 teams. Last season by chance became head coach of the Vechta Regionalliga team and helped them win the title and move to the Pro B. This season he led Vechta to the Pro B final against the EPG Baskets Koblenz that will be played after the NBBL top 4 weekend. He led the Young Rasta Dragons to a second consecutive NBBL top 4 and spoke to germanhoops.com before the top 4.
Thanks Hendrik for talking to germanhoops.com. Your Young Rasta Dragons are back in the NBBL top 4. How excited are you to be back in Frankfurt to compete for a title?
I’m really excited to be back again. Our goal this season was to get back, but we really want to annoy Alba Berlin this time. We want to win one game more than last season. We need to win 2 games.
The Young Rasta Dragons still have some unfinished business left in Frankfurt. You have so many players back from last season. How big is the hunger and revenge to finally win it all now? The hunger and revenge is big. I would be lying if I said the motivation wasn’t big. The birth years 2004 and 2005 guys want to beat them so bad. Some of the guys already beat some of the Alba players in the Pro B playoffs against Lok Bernau. We were close once before in 2018. We know that Alba Berlin won’t give us any presents. It will be a real fight.
How do you rate the current regular season? The team was 12-2. How do you rate the development of the team going into the Top 4?
We are a different team now. We began the season losing our first game against Paderborn. We let it slip away. I’m really proud how the team reacted after the loss to Paderborn. That loss was a real reality check. After that they always went into the games with a different mindset. The guys understood that they had to take the games serious. I’m happy with the development. We are close to playing our best basketball. We will give our all on that weekend.
When I look at this roster, I see it stronger than last season. You kept so many guys, got some new potential additions and guys from last season have more experience. Is this the season to win it all? I think so. We don’t have a better chance to win it all than now. The guys are even more motivated. Our roster is really good enough to win it all this time.
How challenging is it as a head coach to come back after losing the final and trying to guide this team to the title? I don’t really see it as so big of a challenge. We all knew in the bus last season after we lost to Alba Berlin that we would come back. We knew it would be a big challenge, but everyone have held together and the motivation is so big.
Does the club have a healthy mix of hunger and self confidence that you feel positive about?
Yes it does. There were some phases this season where the guys were cocky and arrogant. But we were able to get them to shift down some gears. But the guys are ready now. There is no arrogance now, but healthy self-confidence.
The club makes 90 points per game and gives up 67 points. What is the team’s biggest strength this season?
Our biggest strength is our tempo and athleticism. That is how we want to play and there is no change from last season. We play aggressive defense and want to try to score as much as possible on transition. We want to play less set play. We have many different ways to defend because we have so much versatility.
With the additions of Kaya Bayram and Sydnee Bijlisma, the team has received 2 talented guys. Could they be the difference between a title and not?
I think so. Last season we had no real point guard. That was missing and broke our neck against Alba Berlin. Kaya Bayram does a good job as point guard and Sydnee Bijlisma does a good job creating 1-1 and is a good defender. On a good day these 2 guys will help us beat any team.
You split with Alba Berlin winning 77-75 and losing 86-63. How do you rate this team? I don’t see them as strong as last season.
It is hard to compare. I think they are as strong as last season. The older guys made good steps. They have new players, a different dynamic. They are the best program in Germany and the team to beat.
How important is it having Urspring back in the final 4? They were one of Germany’s best addresses for youth development more than a decade ago.
It is cool that Urspring is back on the big stage. Last year they were in the B group and now in the top 4. They have done good work and make German basketball more attractive again. I’m happy for them. This is a big success for them. Let’s see what they can make of it.
Johann Gruenloh (210-C-2005) has made big strides from last season. How have you seen his development and how is he better than last season?
He has 1 year more experience. Last season he played in the Regionalliga and this season played 30 minutes pro game in the Pro B. That is a big difference. His body is stronger and he has made steps with his offensive skill set and has a better IQ. He made the right steps.
Guys like Jegor Cymbal and Darren Aidenojie made big strides, but how have you seen the development of Karl Buehner?
Karl has been great. He is at a totally different level from last season. He hardly played in the Regionalliga last year and this season started in the Pro B playing 20-30 minutes. He needs to develop further on offense, but overall we are happy with his development. He is our X factor and gives us a push from bench. He is a big weapon to have from the bench.
How have you grown as a coach being able to continue to work with these players as well as coaching the Pro B team? I think I have gotten better. I think that I was able to improve my in game coaching and coaching against so many different coaches in different competitions. I’m not tired, but very motivated. I’m thankful for the trust and opportunity that the organization has given me in allowing me be an influence on the players.
How proud are you of your ex player Justin Onyejiaka? He had injury woes, but played well in the Pro B. How did you see his game this season? I didn’t see too much of him because he played in the Pro B south. I’m proud that he averaged 25-30 minutes in the Pro B and saw BBL action. I hope he can stay injury free. If he can stay injury free, then he can go a far way.
How would this title seem to you in June? Vechta win the Pro A, Pro B NBBL and JBBL titles?
That would be a big success. I have been in Vechta since 2012. I know how much work is invested by everyone in the organization. If we win a title great. Our main goal is to try to move up to BBL and Pro A. Then we want to annoy Alba Berlin. We will invest as much as we can in the next weeks.
Paulo Prestes (211-C-1988) is a former player from Brazil that currently is head coach of FC Bayern Munich’s NBBL (U-19 team). He was drafted in 2010 by the Minnesota Timberwolves, but played most of his career in his homeland mainly because he suffered so many injuries in his career. But he also found experience playing in Lithuania and parts of 5 seasons in Spain with Malaga, Murcia, Granada and Gran Canaria. He moved to Germany and began with Ibam and now is in his third season with FC Bayern Munich. He spoke to germanhoops.com before the 2023 NBBL top 4 tournament in Frankfurt, Germany.
Thanks Paulo for talking to germanhoops.com. You had a long professional career playing mostly in Brazil and in Spain and briefly in Lithuania. Why didn’t you have a longer career in Europe? Did you miss your home country Brazil?
I had so many injuries in my career. I had 5 knee surgeries. It affected how I walked. I decided to step down to a lower level and play in Brazil. In Brazil I only played 3 more seasons after my last in Spain. My doctor then said I could never play again and then I retired.
You played for some teams in Spain. How do you remember the ACB 15 years ago? You then played against so many legends. What memories do you have of those days? My first game was against Marc Gasol. That was an amazing experience. The game has changed so much in the last 15 years. The bigs now are so athletic and fast. If you look at Euroleague rosters, only a few have a true big man. A guy like Donatas Motiejunas is a center but plays the 4 for Monaco. I thought I adapted well in the ACB. The practices were tough. I profited a lot playing against Boniface Ndong and Daniel Santiago in practice each day. They helped me a lot. I began to be able to score the ball.
You were teammates with ex North Carolina Tar Heel Shammond Williamas. What memories do you have of him?
It was great having a legend like Shammond as a teammate. He had so much experience. We had a great relationship. He helped me so much that year understanding how the bigs and guard play together. He is coaching high school basketball nowadays.
You were drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2010. You also played NBA Summer League in 2012. Did injuries cost you an NBA career?
I would say so. I was happy I was drafted despite being injured. But at the same time also a little surprised. But I knew I would never have an NBA career at my last Summer League game because my knees were in such bad shape.
You have become a coach and since some years have been in the FC Bayern Munich organization? How did this working cooperation come about?
When I retired, I moved to Munich. My wife had had family in Munich for 20 years. When I was there I also saw a doctor about my knees. I never had had an intention to become a coach when I moved to Munich. The first person I met in Munich that had basketball ties was the coach of IBAM Robie Scheinberg. I began working at IBAM for 1,5 as a player development coach. I worked with guys like Joshua Obiesie and Tristan Da Silva. While at IBAM I got the feeling that I wanted to be a coach for a living. Then came the opportunity with FC Bayern Munich. I felt that I had to give something back to the game. I was so blessed to have Andreas Wagner as coach there. He helped me so much at the beginning. I helped out working with the Bigs of the BBL team and then was an assistant with the Pro B team. I can say that Andreas Wagner was my mentor. Coming to FC Bayern Munich was the right decision.
FC Bayern Munich is like FC Barcelona of Spain and a real basketball brand. What have you enjoyed most about being able to work for them?
What I really like is that 80% of the players with FC Bayern Munich are from Munich. They opened the door for me and have given me freedom. I also think very highly about the communication between the pro and youth sector. I also like the trust that they have given me.
This season your coaching the NBBL team. What do you enjoy most about working with young men?
The biggest thing that I get out of coaching young me is seeing them develop after a long time. But it isn’t only how they develop as players, but also as young men. I have enjoyed seeing how Licina and Dolic have developed. I have helped them control their emotions.
What do you feel are your biggest attributes as a head coach that you can give your players back? You don’t necessarily have the big men where you can give back your center qualities.
I feel one of the biggest attributes is the experience I have gained as a player. Just being teammates with guys like Shammond Williams and Marcus Haislip was important. I think having been teammates with legends like that and having great coaches helped me and the knowledge I gained from them, I want to give further to the kids. I think what also is important is that I didn’t retire so long ago. I still have the player feelings. I understand the players side and am trying to understand the coaching side better. I want to combine both and give clear and clean communication with the players.
This seasons top 4 is an interesting field with FC Bayern Munich, Urspring, Alba Berlin and the Young Rasta Dragons. Is it fair to say that FC Bayern Munich isn’t the top favorite? We are definitely not the favorite. Alba Berlin is the favorite. We went through a lot with injuries. We never had a full roster for a game this season. My main goal is for my guys to compete against anyone. I feel they can compete with anyone.
The Munich NBBL team has a solid scoring attack averaging 80 points per game but the biggest strength is the defense allowing 62 points per game. How much of a challenge is it in general to have young players play defense?
Training defense takes a lot of energy. 80% of practice focuses on defense. I have to keep the quality of our defense high. Obviously at this age, defense isn’t sexy for them, but I have to make them understand that defense can impact the game. Of course offense will help you win some games, but defense makes you win titles. As a coach it is important to give a little of freedom. I don’t want robots. They can make mistakes. That helps their development.
When I look at the bigs of Alba Berlin and the Young Rasta Dragons, one can get scared. FC Bayern Munich don’t have classic big men? How do you see to compensate that when playing teams like that? I think we will compensate that with our intensity. Guys like Alec Anigbata and Desmond Yiamu are super athletic and have huge wing spans. I think what will help us a lot is their experience having played Pro B this season. They faced centers every night and that will help against bigger teams like Alba and Vechta. The best big is Johan Gruenloh. I really like him. We need to apply a lot of pressure on him and make him dribble. We will be ready. My guys will fight against anyone.
What has it been like working with Christian Skladanowski? How have you seen his development? This hasn’t been an easy season for him. He had problems with COVID and missed 5 months. Even when he came back, he had some health issue and there was little continuation. But when he got healthy again, you could see his development. I told him that he is so much more than a role player. I told him to take more responsibility and he accepted the challenge.
I love to watch Ivan Khartchenkov. He was injured for many months. What kind of a player is he now after the long break?
Ivan already has a pro mentality. When practice starts he is 100% focused. He just loves to compete. He was out 4 months, but made a huge recovery. He was in shape when he came back and practiced with the BBL team as well. Nothing changed during his injury. He was the same player when he came back. You need to kick him out of the gym at night, because he has to go to school. If I didn’t he would shoot 2-3 more hours. You need to turn off the lights on him.
How key will be the guard play of Luis Wulf and Amar Licina? Their energy and experience could be the difference between a title and not?
I will say yes. Wulf didn’t play much NBBL this season. When they play together they give so much energy and press very well. They can be the game changers and are our leaders. They deliver and team follows.
Who was the toughest player that you ever faced in your career on the court that made the NBA?
Marc Gasol. I only played 1 game against him. It was his last season before he went to the NBA. He was MVP of the league that season. Ndong and Santiago were injured so I aha to jump in. I had a similar body to him then. It was fun to battle against him.
As a fellow Bostonian, I’m always proud to see guys reach the NBA or playing overseas that come from Massachusetts and the Boston area. I suppose the best known guy that played high school ball in the Boston area was in Cambridge with Patrick Ewing. Some other guys that you can throw into this big Boston pool are guys like Rumeal Robinson, Pat Connaughton or Chris Herren. Not only NBA guys come from the state Massachuseets or the Boston area but also numerous other talented guys including some I have had dealings with interviewing like Evan Smotrycz, Kyle Casey, Dennis Clifford and others. Another one of those highly skilled Boston area guys that is played his rookie season overseas is point guard Jordan Mello-Klein (185-G-1998, college: Bentley). He is one of those special and rare players that tore up division 2 ball, but still found his way overseas which isn’t always self-evident. He was briefly in Israel and finished the game he loves in Germany for third division Pro B team Herford. He is a player that knew right away who Bonzie Colson, Jordan Rezendes, Shabazz Napier and Eric Demers were when I threw them into the Boston pool. ‘Yeah, I have played against most of those guys in summer runs before. There’s a pretty strong network of pickup in the Boston area during the summer and I don’t think the city or state gets enough credit for the amount of talent we produce. We see it because all the college and pros play together during the summers, but nationally it’s not as respected as bigger cities when I think it should be’, stressed Jordan Mello-Klein. He is another division 2 Mass area boy looking to make the Boston area proud.
Miles Schmidt-Scheuber and Eric Demers in Portland, Maine in Nov 2021
Jordan Mello-Klein who lists NBA beast Zion Williamson in AAU being his toughest foe ever was born on April 14th, 1998 in Sharon, Massachuseets. He began his basketball career at prep school Thayer on the south shore. Even if the school is known for being a ice hockey factory that produced NHL legends Jeremy Roenick and Tony Amonte, that legacy wasn’t going to hinder him from playing basketball there.’It was interesting. We definitely saw hockey being prioritized for sure, but they won and produced guys at a high level, so it made sense. I came in during a phase where the school was trying to turn the basketball program around so we did see major progress while I was there. I think we had 3 scholarship players which hadn’t been done in maybe 10 years at the school’, remembered Jordan Klein-Mello. He then attended Bentley College from 2017-2022 winning the Norh east title in 2022 and reaching the division 2 Elite 8 as well. He has so many fond memories of that tough senior season during Covid. ‘Man, too many to name. We really accomplished everything we set out to accomplish, short of a National Championship. I would say my fondest memories were winning the conference championship and the regional championship. We won both at home in front of big crowds and it’s very hard within our region to win both. It kind of capped off a really special season with a really special group of guys’, stressed Jordan Mello-Klein. In his freshman year he reached the Northeast-10 all rookie team. Overal he was able to improve his scoring, rebounding and assist averages each season. Especially in his junior and senior years his game took off as he averaged 12.4ppg, 5.9rpg, 5.5apg, 1.5spg, FGP: 46.7%, 3PT: 46.8%, FT: 79.4% and as a senior averaged 15.0ppg, 8.4rpg, 5.2apg, 2.1spg, FGP: 41.6%, 3PT: 42.8%, FT: 79.6%. ‘I think my game grew tremendously. I think mostly in terms of actually learning and understanding the game. Obviously my numbers increased every year, but that was because I had a bigger role and more confidence, but my knowledge of the game was the thing I saw the biggest strides in from Freshman year to my last year’, stated Jordan Mello-Klein. In his junior year he scored in double figures in 16 of 29 games including scoring 28 points against Assumption and 24 points against St Anselm and New Haven while as a senior he scored in double figures in 25 of 29 games including 26 points against SNHU. He had a rare triple double of 13 points, 11 rebounds and 15 assists against Wilmington. He has shown that versatility could also be his middle name.’Yeah, it was definitely a special achievement. I didn’t know it was the first in program history, but that made it even cooler. I had a few more games where I was one assist, or rebound shy, but couldn’t quite pull it off. We never really stressed stats or individual performances at Bentley, so it was a cool moment, but that’s about it. Versatility is a huge part of my game. I think the more things you can do at a high level on the court, the more valuable you are to the team. If you can only do one thing, you better be really, really good at it. ‘, remembered Jordan Mello-Klein. In his senior year he achieved All-Northeast-10 All-Tournament MVP, All-Northeast-10 First Team, and Northeast-10 All-Tournament Team -2022. His incredible career couldn’t have gone as well without the guidance of head coach Jay Lawson. ‘I don’t have enough time to answer this question properly, but he did a great job. He’s the best coach I have ever, and will ever play for. Not just as a basketball coach, but as a teacher of life; he has been as influential as anyone over the last 5 years and I credit him for everything I’ve learned and accomplished as a basketball player’, warned Jordan Mello-Klein who remembers battling teammate Colton Lawrence at Bentley in 1-1 as whoever got hot that day won.
The flashy guard who lists Kobe, MJ, Lebron and Shaq on his personal NBA Mount Rushmore began his rookie season in Israel. It is very rare for a division 2 player to land not only in a division 1 league in Europe, but even rarer in a top league like the Winner league in Israel. He landed with Elitzur Kiryat Ata and despite his stay was short, it is an experience he won’t forget. ‘It was a really good first experience. I was thrown into a super high level of basketball which for some parts I was ready for and some parts I wasn’t ready for. It showed me what level I want to play at and what things I need to do to work on to get there. It was almost opposite of how I have been playing for the past 5 years, so breaking those habits was really difficult to do in only a couple of months, but those guys over there really looked out for me and helped me get adjusted. I wish I was able to show myself better and I think I would’ve if I had more time, but unfortunately things were held up with my citizenship and I had to leave’, expressed Jordan Mello-Klein. He also was extremely fortunate to be able to train with ex NBA player Diante Garrett who kept him on his toes at all times. ‘Diante was really helpful. He’s a high level player obviously and a high level competitor too. He’s almost always under control, he controls the game and plays at his own pace. He’s also really good in the middle of the court making decision, whether it be a lob or a kick to the corner so I think that is what I took from his game most. He’s been playing for a long time so he’s really experienced off the pick and roll which is what I had to get adjusted to’, stated Jordan Mello-Klein. Having that first experience overseas is never easy, but unlike other guys, he didn’t have a brutal wake up call to being overseas where he knew that he was far away from home. ‘I’m not sure I had like a rude wake up call at all. It’s mostly just the cultural differences; different language, different food and weather, but nothing crazy has happened. The time difference I would say is a struggle as well and being away from family and friends, but I had family in Israel that really took me in and was super helpful with everything so that made the adjustment much easier’, said Jordan Mello-Klein.
Miles Schmidt-Scheuber and Jordan Mello-Klein in Rhondorf, Germany in 2023
The Mass native who surprisingly is a Lakers fan names Tremont Waters, Nick Richards, Jordan Nwora, Jermaine Samuels,Ryan Richmond and Colton Lawrence as his best teammates of all-time then landed in Germany with Pro B (3rd division) team BBG Herford. He joined a struggling team who moved up from the fourth division Regionalliga as they have had coming and goings with players. Even if the weather change is a shock coming form Israel, it isn’t too bad since he knows what tough New England winters are all about. ‘ It’s definitely been a roller coaster. I remember saying in Israel that I couldn’t wait to wear fall clothes, but now I regret saying that. I miss the Israeli sun for sure, but yes I am kind of used to the cold being from Boston. It’s a different kind of winter though, in New England it’s more snow, but also more sunlight too. These winters are very dark which has a different feel to it’, added Jordan Mello-Klein. Despite the team struggles, he felt very comfortable in his new surroundings. ‘I think it’s tough in any organization if there’s not much consistency. It really takes time to build chemistry on the court and learn where everyone fits in the system, but we are figuring it out. It’s only been a few weeks and were already showing a lot of improvement so I think we’ll figure things out. It’s just tough because there’s only a few months left to do so. I think I appreciate most the fact that we have guys now that are willing to work and sacrifice in order to accomplish our goals. It’s tough for guys on the team when new players come in mid-season and play big roles, but these guys have adjusted well on and off the court’, expressed Jordan Mello-Klein. Two guys who have been instrumental in the guard getting adjusted have been German sniper Filmore Beck and head coach David Bunts. ‘Everyone has been good in welcoming me. We have a lot of experience and coming in with a few other guys has made it easier. Filmore has been huge for me because we are both coming from a higher level in a sense, so some of the struggles we’re facing here are similar. Coach David has been huge in helping me getting adjusted to life here on and off the court. He’s also American and played the same position as me which makes it easier when you can really communicate with your coach. He’s shown me around the city and whenever I need something he’s been there’, stressed Jordan Mello-Klein. He has put up solid stats with BBG Herford, but knows it takes time to adjust in every new scenario. ‘The biggest adjustment is just getting used to playing with new players. As a point guard, it’s so much about knowing your teammates; where they can thrive the most. In college, I had 5 years to figure those tendencies out, here I only have 3 months. Also the style of play is much different from anything I’ve ever played in’, expressed Jordan Mello-Klein who finished the season averaging 10,3ppg, 5,5rpg and 5,2apg while shooting 36% from outside.
The 185cm guard who believes that Kobe and MJ are 1a, 1b and Lebron is behind both of them is a player that is an undersized lefty that compares his game to a Mike Conley and Jalen Brunson and is crafty and can shoot the ball. At Bently he demonstrated his scoring and playmaking, but where is he more comfortable? It seems like unselfishness could be part of his middle name. ‘For sure the 1. I like having the ball in my hands to control the game. I think I have a calming presence on the floor that you’d want in your lead guard, and not to mention I think I’m too small to play the 2. I’ve always felt like the point guard position should be to help make everyone else’s life easier on the court. And I think that means doing whatever it takes. Scoring fits in that definition as well, but it might be setting guys up for easy shots, or defending the best player. It’s always been whatever helps the team win, as it should be for all positions,’, said Jordan Mello-Klein. But it isn’t only his versatility as a whole that sparkles, but his shooting and especially his defensive game really standout. ‘I think those are the two most important parts of the game, to be honest. I think if you can shoot, you can play and if you can defend, you can play. So, if you can do both at a high level, then you can play a lot. That started as a freshman in college. You kind of have to do whatever to earn minutes, even if it’s not the pretty stuff. So defending and hitting open shots is how I stayed on the court. In terms of improving, I think there’s always room for improvement in all areas of my game. The better I get at shooting and defending, the more valuable I will be to higher level teams’, warned Jordan Mello-Klein. But he knows that this is only the start and if he wants to make bigger steps, he will need to continue to improve and develop his game further. ‘I would say shooting off the dribble; behind screens, behind the arc mostly. Certainily pick and roll play is such a big part of overseas basketball. It’s something that I haven’t played in much before so just expanding my knowledge on reads and options I think will help take my game up a notch’, stated Jordan Mello-Klein. One thing is for sure, if he continues to make strides then not only will he continue to make the Boston basketball name proud, but also give Thayer the opportunity to boast about a basketball player for once and not always about a ice hockey player.
Marvin Heckel (190-PG-1997) is a 26 year old 190cm guard playing his second season with the EPG Baskets Koblenz. He began his career with the Bayer Giants Leverkusen winning the JBBL (U-16) title in 2013. He also found experience playing with the Bamburg and Wurzburg organizations and played with Baunach and Bremerhaven. He has 8 easyCredit BBL and 68 Pro A games on his resume. He spoke to germanhoops.com after helping lead his team to the Pro A.
Thanks Marvin for talking to germanhoops.com. Congrats on reaching the pro A. How can one really enjoy this now when you still have a final to play?
For me it was important to move up to the Pro A. It was very dramatic how our season ended last year. We are totally focused, because we want the title. It would leave a very bad taste if we didn’t win the championship.
You have 2 weeks to wait. Is there danger the club will be able to focus when it’s time to deliver again on the court?
There is danger for that to happen. But I don’t see it happening. There were enough times during the regular season where we had a weekend off. We didn’t lose the focus then. I know the guys are focused now also.
The team will have long to wait to play something they didn’t have in playoffs. What will be the biggest challenge mentally in staying ready as best possible?
We have to stay in rhythm. I don’t think like we will change much for the final. We have to be mentally ready until the final and not be on vacation already. Dominique Johnson will keep us accountable. He can be a real pain in the butt if we aren’t all on the same page.
The first 2 playoff series went the distance 3 games and now against the BSW Sixers came the sweep. Why did the club have so many problems in the first 2 series?
I have thought about this. I read a comment on social media of someone saying that we made the easy tough and then the tough easy. I feel like we put too much pressure on ourselves during the first 2 series. We came against the Sixers and played with less pressure. We were even more focused against the Sixers and really showed how strong we can be.
Were these 2 games against the Sixers the 2 best games back to back in the season simply in terms of everything coming together in so big games? Yes I would say so. We had very good games during the regular season, but the Sixers games meant more. We showed in game 1 how strong and focused we can be without me and in game 2 had maybe the best first quarter of the season. Making 8 three’s was crazy.
How proud were you of your teammates winning game 1 so easily despite you sitting out with food poisoning?
I watched game 1 and was a bit scared at the break. I didn’t think we defended as tough as we could. They didn’t play great and it was more about our mistakes. We dominated in the second half and I was very happy we won.
In game 2 the EPG Baskets Koblenz simply took care of business. Did you feel like the sense of urgency was at it’s highest this season?
Yes it was huge and our highest this season. That sense of urgency was missing at times during the season, but it is difficult to keep it when you dominate as much as we did. We had that big sense of urgency in the games against the Sixers.
The club hit 18 three’s had 6 guys in double figures and won the rebound duel. Was this team basketball at it’s best? I think for the most part yes. We played team basketball for 40 minutes. I was in awe at times how we made shots. We were simply having fun.
What do you believe did the team finally learn in the Sixers series? The most important things that we learned was playing with a sense of urgency and defending at 100% all the time.
The EPG Baskets Koblenz will play against Vechta 2. They beat the talented and experienced team Wolmirstedt scoring 100 points with 7 youth players from the 12 man roster. How crazy is that?
I know some of the guys. I would never have thought before the season started that they would get so far. I have a lot of respect for the club. They can win 4 titles as the Pro A, NBBL and JBBL can also win. They play great for their age and have shocked many people. We have to play our game and not let them dictate the game. We have the experience advantage and Moses Poelking and Brian Butler have to use their strength advantage over the height of Johan Gruenloh.
This is your second season with the EPG Baskets. Is this the most special team that you have ever played with?
I would have to say this is the most special team that I have ever played with. I have never had this kind of team chemistry before. I had something similar in Baunach, but this in Koblenz is another step higher. We all get along and every guy plays for the other. The chemistry was already good last year, but with many guys staying, it grew some more this season. We are all like brothers. We go to practice to see friends and just play basketball.
How much fun has it been being teammates with Alani Moore. How have each other’s game’s gotten better this season?
We understand each other very well. He lives under me in the same apartment complex. We do a lot together and a special bond has formed. He is a special American. I have never got to know a guy like him before. We understand each other blind. I feel like we are a special 1-2 punch the same way as Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum were in Portland. We are on the same wave length. I’m happy that he came to Koblenz.
Leon Friederici has been the offensive glue guy so many times. Would the team have been where it is without his game?
Leon has been our X-factor in the playoffs. It was difficult integrating him at the start simply because we already had many strong players and a strong chemistry. I think that without him, it would have been difficult to get to the point where we are now. Whenever we needed points, he came through this season. I hope he remains here next season.
Moses Poelking has been the defensive anchor and Niclas Sperber’s has been big the last 3 games. Talk a little about their worth for the team this season? I think Moses is our team MVP. He made big steps this season and came out of his shell. He had something like 100 kick balls this season. He was our anchor on defense and worked hard every day. Niclas stepped up big in the playoffs for us. He wasn’t always consistent, but we always pushed him and never gave up on him. It is also great how he came out of his shell. He had huge games in the playoffs against Erfurt and Sixers.
Dominique Johnson is a work horse. Please say something special about his character that little people know about?
I remember playing against him with Baunach when he was with PS Karlsruhe. I didn’t like him then. If you don’t know him, he can come over as not being a guy you may like. I’m so happy now that I know him. He has that flip switch. One moment he can be laughing and then right away become serious. He is a great vocal leader. Sometimes he is talking too much. He always finds the right words and speaks what he thinks. I lead more by example. We have a good balance. He doesn’t work out, but just looks very buff.
Your playing 2 minutes less this season, but your stats are almost identical. How has your game continued to grow under Pat Elzie?
Pat gives me the maximum freedom. He told me from the start that I have the green light. Even when I had a bad game, he always said to keep going and that he trusts me. Having the maximum confidence from someone is special. 2 things I really worked hard on this season was becoming more of a vocal leader and reading the game better. Pat let me create more and my job is just easier when you have so much talent around you.
What I love about your game is that you can always change a game with your play at any times or better pick the team up again with offense when it’s struggling. Do you feel like you have a special killer instinct that other guys don’t have?
Yes I have that special killer instinct. I play with passion and I just love being in a situation where I have total responsibility. When the team is behind, I get that extra motivation to do all I can for the win. Getting that extra step of getting the job done comes natural to me.
How vital were your early years in Leverkusen where you won the JBBL title? What person do you remember being vital there in your early development?
There wasn’t one specific coach in Leverkusen that helped me. Everyone helped me. I began at position 2 in Uerdingen. After wining the JBBL, I began to play point guard and find a passion for the position. I found that love to share the ball. In Baunach Mario Dugandzic was instrumental in me reading the game better as a point guard.
What memories do you have of winning the 2013 JBBL title? Was there a player you remember as being really difficult to stop then? I remember Leon Kratzer being a beast. He was really tough to handle.
You played a season in Wurzburg and played 2 BBL games. I remember you not playing much of a role in the Pro B. Did you get a fair chance there? I feel like I got a fair chance in Wurzburg. I began with a small role and they had some established guys there like Felix Hoffman and Lukas Wank. It was also my first time away from home and it was tough getting integrated at first. I began to train with the BBL team as well. All I needed was time and my role got bigger than. I remember losing a tough playoff series to Wurzburg. Gaining experience there was very important.
What do you remember from your first BBL game against the EWE Baskets Oldenburg? You played against Rickey Paulding. It was great playing against my ex coach Mladen Drijencic. He had been my coach in the U-12 in Uerdingen. I remember having butterflies on the court. I mean I was young then.
You then played 2 seasons in the Bamberg organization. Your first pro A season with Baunach was solid where you averaged 7,1ppg. But the second season they played Pro B. Do you feel like a second Pro A season would have better for your development?
I think that when I look back that first season in the Pro A, it was too much for me. It was too soon for me. I was put into a big role in the Pro A that I wasn’t ready for. I think if my first season had been Pro B and second season Pro A, it would have been better. But the role as a leader in the Pro B was very important in my development. I was young and got a lot of trust.
You played 6 BBL games with Bamberg. How tough was getting into that Bamberg guard rotation? There were guys like Jordan Crawford, Kam Taylor Retin Obasohan, Paris Lee and a young Nelson Weideman. That is real good competition. Which guy impressed you the most?
Crawford impressed me the most. I have never seen a scorer like him before. It looked like he couldn’t walk, but he could score whenever he wanted to. Another guy that impressed me was Tyrese Rice. He was the quickest and most shifty guard that I ever saw. He could do what he wanted to. Nobody could stop him. I would always ask myself how he did that.
You then played a solid Pro A season with Bremerhaven. What memories do you have of that season. You got a introduction to Moses Poelking and Leon Friederici.
Bremerhaven isn’t the most beautiful city and then there was lock down. I began to form special friendships with Leon and Kevin Yebo. It was a tough adjustment. There was Trey Davis who always had the ball in his hand. Plus we didn’t use our full potential. It was a shame.
Who is the toughest player you ever faced in your career? Peyton Siva and Tyrese Rice.
Please name your 5 best teammates of all-time? Joel Aminu, Leon Friederici, Trey Davis, Alani Moore, Lukas Wank
Please name your personal NBA Mount Rushmore? Jordan, Lebron, Kobe, Hakeem, Allen Iverson
Who is your GOAT?
I was always a Kobe fan and Jordan was my GOAT back in the day. But now it’s Lebron.
Baldur Ragnarsson was head coach of German Pro B team Orange Academy in the 2022-2023 season. He began his coaching career with Thor Thorlakshofn (Dominos League) and then coached U.M.F. Tindastoll Sauoarkrokur (Dominos League) for 3 years. He played professionally from 2006-2017 for Thor Thorl. He spoke to germanhoops.com about basketball.
Thanks Baldur for talking to germanhoops.com. After playing and coaching in your homeland Iceland, you came for first time outside your country to Germany. I can imagine as an ambitious coach, coming to Orange Academy is like a dream come true? Yes for sure, the facility is great and the organization is high level. Working for a good club outside of Iceland has always been my goal
How have you followed German basketball over the years? What has impressed you most about German basketball and how they develop young players? I have mostly followed the Icelandic players who had played over there so I saw Alba Berlin a lot when Martin Hermansson was there and then I follow Jon Axel Gudmundsson games the last two seasons. Now is the first time I can really follow what is going on here and understand it at a higher level. I like what I see so far and look forward to keep on working in this environment
How exciting was it working with ratiopharm Ulm head coach Anton Gavel? What were some of the most important tips that he gave you about coaching his former team Orange Academy? He gave me a lot of tips on how everything worked inside the club around my team organization wise. He told me to be myself and coach the team with the best of my abilities. If I have questions on day to day basis he is always ready to help me which I appreciate a lot
Your coach of the Icelandic U-20 team and also coached the ratiopharm Ulm U-19 team, so you have experience dealing with kids. What do cherish most about working with young players? Their love for the game, Usually at this level they have big goals and are ready to do anything to achieve them. They are also super coachable which is fun as well
Orange Academy are one of the top teams in Germany with Alba Berlin for developing young players. What do you feel is your biggest strength as a coach in being able to help the youth players of today? I think I have good tactical knowledge in basketball, especially on the defensive side. I have been a defensive planner for the senior national team of Iceland for some time now so I have worked a lot in that field. I have also been in Mindset programs for some time now and I can share my knowledge with them in that field as well when guys need it specially with staying focused on the things u can control. Than you need to make sure they got some training in all areas Individual Strength training team offense team defense mindset video work
As a former point guard, you must take much joy to being able to coach young point guards? One player that you will see a lot of in the NBBL and perhaps in the Pro B is Linus Stoll. Talk a little how you see his game as a smaller point guard?
Size doesn’t have to be a decisive factor when you are smart. Linus has been part of the organization for many years and we hope that he continues developing as a player and a person.
One guy who has made big strides is Joel Cwick. He will be looking to make the next jump this season. How do you feel will you be able to help him most in his game with your basketball expertise? We look to help all players to improve in all parts of the game physicality, offense, defense and as persons. Joel is one of the players who has really benefited from this program
You played with Thor Thorl and retired at age 25. Did injuries play a role in you retiring so young?
I basically felt I was a better coach than a player. I thought early on I could help a lot of people on getting better and the joy of playing the game was not there anymore so I focused on One thing coaching
You played with very many different coaches in Iceland seemingly a new one each season. Which coach had the biggest influence on you in your playing career? Perhaps Bendekt Gudmundsson? Ingi Thor Steinorsson, Einar Arni Johannesson and Benedikt Gudmundsson. They coached me the most in my career and for sure had the biggest impact on my playing career
Iceland is a country where many unknown Americans begin their careers. Not all have a long career, but some make the next jump like Vincent Sanford who went from Iceland via the Pro B in Germany to France pro A and Italy Serie A. What memories do you have from your ex guard teammate? I remember he was a quiet guy at the time, super young coming straight out of college, he was for sure a good person, great driver to the basket
Iceland is a very small country and has basketball leagues. What is in general the longest basketball road trip in Iceland? Usually it from Reykjavik to Egillstadir or Reykjavik to Isafjordur but for me last 3 seasons coaching in the north the longest one would be Saudarkrokur to Hofn but thankfully they are not in the same league
You became coach in 2016 and coached Thor Thorl and then U.M.F. Tindastoll Sauoarkrokur (Dominos League) from 2019-2022 winning coach of the year in 2022. How do you believe you develop as a coach in Iceland? I think I was lucky being around good coaches. I started out as a Strength and Conditioning coach for Thor Thorl in 2013 and coaching youth teams as well and of course playing also. I was around the u20 national team as a strength coach and Arnar Gudjonsson coach of Stjarnan Iceland and Finnur Freyr Stefansson coach of Valur Iceland helped me a lot. They taught me how to cut video with sideline video analyzer and from there I got an assistant job in Thor Thorl to work video and defense coordinator for Einar Arni Johannesson. I have stayed with the national teams from that day, worked a lot as an assistant and worked my way up to a head coach job in the u20. At the same time I got the chance 5 years ago to assist Craig Pedersen with the Senior national team and he gave me a lot of responsibility right away. Now we are good friends and we work very good together. So I think all the coaches I have worked with have helped me a lot but at the same time I read a lot on sports physiology and mindset to be better at dealing with persons because you need to be able to connect with a lot of different personalities
Who was the best player that you ever played against that reached the NBA or Euroleague? Kyrie Irving came to Iceland with a high school team from New Jersey and killed us
Ori Garmizo (196-PF-1994) is a 28 year old 194cm guard that has the Israeli/German citizenship and was briefly with the BSW Sixers (Pro B) this season before being released because of ijury. He began his basketball career in Israel with Ironi Nes-Ziona. He then got further experience in Germany the BG Eisbaeren (Regionalliga) and Koblenz (Regionalliga). Soon after he got more experience in Iceland and back in Israel with teams Hapoel Galil Gilboa (Winner League), Hapoel Hevel Modi’in (Israel-National League), Maccabi Sderot (Israel-Artzit), and Hapoel Lod Bat Yam (Israel-Artzit). He came back to Germany last season and played with TTL Basketball Bamberg (Regionalliga). He spoke to germanhoops.com about basketball.
Thanks Ori for talking to germanhoops.com. Your German/Israeli. Talk a little about your family history? Do you feel more like a German or Israeli?
My great grandparents were born in Berlin and Stuttgart, and because of the Holocaust they had to flee from Germany and arrived in Israel. I was born in Israel so this is my home, but I have been told so much about my family history and my German roots so I take pride in being an Israeli and German
You are a guy that has been well traveled having played in Israel, Germany, Iceland. What has been the most difficult challenge for you having difficulty of landing in higher leagues.
At a younger age, it was a challenge to adjust to the highest levels especially in terms of the intensity of the game, but I love challenges and I always practice and play with 100% effort. Along the years, with the experience I have gained, I developed new methods to deal with each new situation at any level – both mentally and physically
In the summer of 2017 you had a try out with then Pro A team Hanau. What do you remember the club telling you then why they couldn’t take you? Has that been like a motivation for you to keep grinding until now and not giving up?
I remember coach Simon Cote well, I think we had a great connection between us. He told me that I have the potential to be a tough player who could move up the ladder. My biggest problem back then was my 3pt shot which is an aspect in my game I have put a big emphasis on it in the last 3 years. I have been improving a lot working out with Afik Nissim, one of the best Israeli scorers in the past 20 years. He was playing in Israel Winner League, France Pro A, Italy and the VTB and I feel that working with him on my shot has rewarded me. I hope that one day I’ll be able to play for Simon as well!
You began your career in Israel with Ironi Nes-Ziona (National League). Why was it difficult for you to find your way in Israel? How was the youth development in 2012 and how is it in 2022?
I started to play basketball only at the age of 16 but had to join the Israeli army as it is mandatory here so it was tough for me to move to higher levels in Israel at that period and I was forbidden to move to Germany and play there until I finished my service at the age of 21. I am a totally different player now – much more athletic and mature, and have a good range on my shot. Better at boxing out for rebounds, passing the ball and in general some of my former coaches were teaching me how to use my body right and played me even as 2/3 so I think my game has grown a lot.
You got your first job in Germany with Regionalliga team BG Eisbaeren (Germany-Regionalliga) averaging 11.5ppg, 8.8rpg, 1.2spg, FGP: 55.2%, 3PT: 16.9%, FT: 71.9%. What do you remember playing in the German 4th league?
It was different from playing in Israel, even the weather was different:) It was my first time playing outside of Israel so I had to make some adjustments. Luckily I speak German so it was a big help, but overall it was a nice experience and the cornerstone to my European career
What really stood out in this season was your rebounding. Has rebounding always been a big weapon in your game?
Definitely, this is my bread and butter. Every season I try to improve my rebounding numbers as I look at it differently than other players. For me it’s all about determination, wanting to get the ball and create another opportunity for my team to score.
If you had to compare your game to an NBA player who would best fit the description?
I would say Boris Diaw. I like the way he played the game even though he wasn’t the most talented scorer and had an incredible athletic ability. He was just smart, a great defender and someone who was always looking to make his team better and get wins.
You have stated that Dwayne Wade is your role model. Do you feel like he is one of those great NBA players where his legacy gets lost a bit with the new wave of stars of the last 10 years?
I hardly watch NBA in the past few years because I think there are almost no players nowadays who combine loyalty and leadership to their clubs
You can score and rebound the ball very well, but what other strengths does your game have?
What I love the most is attacking the basket and playing good defense. I believe that defense gets you wins.
On what area’s of your game are you working on most now so you can continue to get better?
I have been working a lot on my ball handling skills, fakes and dribbling with coach Roie Karsh and I give him the full credit for my improvement in these aspects.
You played against German Regionalliga legend Rickey Easterling of Saarlouis. What memories do you have of his game and did you get sick of his mid distance shot?
Everyone knows that Ricky had a great career. He was just a great player, really an unstoppable scorer. Enter
You then played in Iceland with Haukar Hafnarfjordur (Iceland-Dominos League) averaging 6.3ppg, 6.3rpg, 1.3apg, FGP: 37.5%, 3PT: 25.0%, FT: 45.5%. There you also didn’t play a big role. What memories do you have of these months?
My first memory was on a late December night at 2am when my agent Eyal Grossbard was calling me and told me “pack your bags, you have a flight to Iceland in 2-3 days”. Haukar had an up and down season that year but I had a meaningful role of bringing defense and energy. We were 7:3 since I joined the team and I remember it was a great experience. I had my best game against Njardvik who was the top team back then, I had 17 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists that game. Also, I remember well the switch I made from the Israeli winter of 24 degrees to below zero temperatures in Iceland but I actually liked it.
I’m sure off the court you had some nice memories. With what feelings did you leave Iceland after seeing their beautiful country?
I had some offers in Iceland in recent years and would love to go back at some point as the country is beautiful, the people are so nice and the league has been improving by the year.
After some years away from Israel you returned back in 2019 and even played a Winner league game with Hapoel Galil Gilboa. You played 1 minute. Do you feel like you got a fair chance there?
I think I could have gotten more minutes but playing in Winner League is a different type of level in terms of the players quality and intensity. People could say I played there only for a few minutes, but working out on a daily basis with great coaches like Lior Liubin and Guy Kaplan was what changed the course of my career. I learned a lot from both coaches, they helped me raise my game and understand what I have to do in order to move to the bigger and better leagues
Last season you played with TTL Basketball Bamberg (Regionalliga) and had an amazing season. Did you find love for the game again?
I always love the game and everything about it – regardless of where I play or how many minutes I get. Playing for TTL Bamberg was a great experience and I was also practicing with Brose Bamberg for a while. I found some great people at TTL Bamberg, from management to the coaching staff and players, especially coach Rainer Wolfschmidtt . It is something I cherished.
You had 22/11 stats. Was this your best season as a pro? How did your game grow in Bamberg?
In the last 2 years I finally adjusted my game to be the leader and the go to guy. It’s a totally different mindset day in and day out.
Who was the toughest player that you ever faced in your life that reached the NBA or Euroleague?
When I played in the Israel Winner League with Gilboa/Galil I had the luxury of practicing and playing with and against some great players such as Edgar Sosa, a former BBL player for Ulm and Vechta and a guard who won Italy A1 championship. Justin Tillman who is now with the Atlanta Hawks after being named to the G-League 1st team is another player I benefited from having as my teammate. Defending a guy like Jarmar Gulley, who played in Turkey BSL in the last 2 years, was a huge challenge because he is so strong and in general such a great player
Please name your 5 best teammates of all-time?
Justin Tillman, Jarmar Gulley, Steffan Walde, Tal Dan and Roman Sorkin
Which Israel and German player is the greatest off all-time for you?
Dirk Nowitzki, no other words needed, he was just so special. Omri Casspi is my Israeli choice, a hard working player that paved his way up to the NBA because he was the hardest working player and showed great determination.
What is your favorite movie of all-time?
I love sports movies and action movies. I have a long list of great movies I have watched and enjoyed many times. I’ll go with coach Carter with Samuel Jackson.
George Conditt IV (208-C-2000, college: Iowa St.) is a 22 year old 208cm from Chicago that completed his rookie season in Greece for ASP Promitheas Patras (Greece-GBL) averaging 7.6ppg, 4.2rpg, 2FGP: 63.4%, FT: 61.8%; in the Eurocup and in the GBL averaged: 9.8ppg, 6.3rpg, 1.1bpg, 2FGP: 69.2%, FT: 62.1%, . He began his basketball career at Corliss high school. He then played at Iowa State University from2018.2022 playing a total of 117 NCAA games. In the summer of 2022 he played :NBA Summer League with the Minnesota Timberwolves averaging 2.5ppg, 3.0rpg. He then got his first pro experience with Gigantes de Carolina (BSN) averaging 11.8ppg, 7.3rpg, 1.4apg, Blocks-3 (1.6bpg), FGP: 57.0%, 3PT: 25.5%, FT: 62.3%. He spoke to germanhoops.com during the Eurocup season before a game against the Hamburg Towers.
Thanks George for talking to germanhoops.com. You played a Eurocup against the Hamburg Towers. What do you know in general about Germany and it’s country? Have you had any ex teammates play in Germany?
I don’t know much about Germany. I’ve never been to Germany, so this is my first time entering the country, other than going through its different airports. I do have a few ex-teammates that do play in Germany currently, one being Nick Weiler-Babb and the other being Solomon Young. They both are doing really well with their prospective teams and I root for them and cheer for them every time I can!
You must always have good memories of Germany because you had your breakout game in the Eurocup with 22 points?
I did have a very good game against Hamburg and I guess you can consider it a breakout game for me but I felt like this game was just me going out there and trying to show everyone that I can play!
You played your rookie season overseas for ASP Promitheas Patras (Greece-GBL). What kind of an experience was it playing in Greece? I can imagine it’s the warmest winter that you have had in years?
Playing in this league in Greece I have already learned a lot. This is a very physical league but a very intellectual league as well so I feel like this is really helping me as a rookie overseas learn and develop my game a little bit faster and it definitely is one of the warmest winters I’ve had in a very long time.
What was it like being teammates with so many nationalities? Was there been one player that really helped you out most getting adjusted to overseas ball?
It’s different because everybody has their own background, but I feel like playing fiba international basketball has helped me because I have friends on other national teams and their cultures are completely different from mine. As far as there being one player, I would say the coaches help me the most. They help me understand the game more so watching films and breaking down the game.
What memories will you always have from playing your first game against an Euroleague team with Olympiacos? You lost by 28 points but held your own with 10/9 stats. Did a game like this prove you could play with the best?
I would say I tried my best. That team is a really really good team and that’s why they play Euroleague, but I feel like it was just one step to proving to myself that I can but I still have a lot to learn and get better at before I will play at that level.
Let’s talk a bit about your game. You’re a 208cm center. If you had to compare your game to an NBA player who would it be?
I don’t really like to compare myself to other players, but if you would have to say what similarities do I have to a current NBA player? It would have to be a younger version of Domantas Sabonis! Because now his game is more polished. It’s more crisp, but the younger version of him was still learning a lot and trying to polish those parts of his game!
You can score, rebound and block shots well. What other strengths does your game have?
I can pass the ball. I did quite well at doing that at Iowa State my last year being one of the highest assisting big men in the nation.
Your shot blocking really takes center stage. What kind of defender are you now and what kind of defender do you want to become in the next few years?
I want to be a defender that is able to guard one through five. I want to be able to switch. I want to be able to hold my own on the perimeter. Obviously I need to get stronger so I can be more physically defensively down low but I guess as of right now you can call me a rim protector.
What has been the biggest adjustment for you on the court and what was your wake up call to being a rookie in Greece where you knew that you were far away from home? My biggest adjustment was the style of play. It’s completely different from the way Basketball is played in the states so that is something I really had to adjust to and I’m still learning right now, but I’m gradually getting better at it. And a wake up, call was one of the games I had to sit on the bench because I just wasn’t in tune with the game. So I realize that I needed to learn and develop to this playing style.
What do you believe is a hidden strength in your game that doesn’t get noticed right away?
A big thing that people don’t notice about me is that I can stretch the floor unfortunately I’m not stretching the floor with my team right now and I haven’t been shooting in practice so it’s been more centered around the rim but if you go back and watch any of my time with the Puerto Rican national team you will see I can obviously shoot the ball.
What area of your game are you working on most now as a rookie so you can continue to improve your game?
I could say that spacing the floor is something I’m working on the most but like I said right now I’m not working on that. I am working on becoming comfortable on the court with this playing style.
Last summer you had the experience to play in your home land Puerto Rico for Gigantes de Carolina (BSN, starting five): 25 games: 11.8ppg, 7.3rpg, 1.4apg, Blocks-3 (1.6bpg), FGP: 57.0%, 3PT: 25.5%, FT: 62.3%. What kind of an experience was it? What did you cherish most about this time?
Being able to play, there was an amazing experience, and it kind of helped me adjust to overseas life, living alone, taking care of yourself as a professional athlete, making sure you were eating the right things and doing enough to keep your body healthy.
What kind of an experience was it being teammates with Tremont Waters. I can imagine you guys hooked up on many occasions for buckets?
Having a teammate like Tremont Waters was the best thing I could’ve asked for coming out of college. He is a person that has so much experience within this game at a young age. I consider Tre like one of my brothers. I still check up on him and what he’s doing in Paris and vice versa.
After Puerto Rico, you played NBA Summer League with the Minnesota Timberwolves playing 4 games averaging 2.5ppg, 3.0rpg. How tough was it not playing much? There seems to be huge competition between the guys who aren’t really on the radar of the NBA team for minutes? It definitely was tough not being able to play as much as I wanted to, but I took this as a learning step, and tried to learn as much as I could from this organization. I tried to become a sponge taking in as much knowledge as I could!
You played at Iowa State from 2018-2022. How tough was it coming from Corliss where you had incredible stats to never averaging more than 16 minutes in a season?
I love Iowa State. I will never speak badly of Iowa State unfortunate that I was never able to play to my full potential but man I had some great years some bad years looking back I wish I would’ve been able to play to my full potential!
What memories do you have from that freshman team that won the Big 12 title? You had future NBA players with Tyrese Haliburton, Marial Shayok, Talen Horton -Tucker and Lindell Wiggington not to mention Nick Weiler Babb. What player from this group made the biggest impression on you? My freshman year was amazing. We had a great team and one of the most talented teams at Iowa State. Unfortunately it was cut short. You know we weren’t able to make a good run in the tournament but being around those guys I learned a lot from all of them, and all of those names that you just listed are etched in the memories of cyclone fans for being able to accomplish what we accomplished!
You had many great games in the NCAA but where does your 17 points, 6 rebounds and 5 blocks in the win over Seton Hall rank for you? Seton Hall was definitely one of my favorite games but if I had to say my favorite game it would be my very last game and Iowa State jersey in the sweet 16 in my hometown of Chicago that right there that night it sucked losing but being able to play in front of my family, all of them was an amazing experience.
Who won a 1-1 in practice you or Tristan Enaruna? Who would win one on one between me and him would definitely have to say me. I don’t care what Tristan says. That’s my boy for life but Smoove, (his nickname) knows!!
You also play for the Puerto Rican national team. How is the state of basketball in Puerto Rico? In 2021 you reached the Olympic qualifying tournament
The state of Basketball and Puerto Rico is on an all time high. I personally believe there’s so much Puerto Rican talent that we are going to continue to climb and climb! And yes, I did get the opportunity to compete in the Olympic qualifying tournament in 2021. Unfortunately we fell short at qualifying, but at that time I was 20 years old, playing against some of the best talent in the world learning so much at a young age I felt like that was the best thing for me and I had some of the best games in that tournament!
Who was the toughest player that you battled in the NCAA that reached the NBA?
I would have to say Jericho Sims of the New York Knicks definitely battled with him. I remember my freshman year. I played really really well against him but my sophomore year he got me good so he would have to be the best person matchup wise I played against that is currently in the NBA.
Please name your 5 best teammates of all-time? Tyrese Haliburton , Tremont Waters, Tre Jackson Solomon Young, Talen Horton-Tucker Honorable mention, Sheldon Mac
Please list your personal NBA Mount Rushmore of past or present heads? Jordan Kobe Shaq Kareem
What is your personal opinion of the neverending debate of who is the greatest of all-time Jordan or Lebron and why isn’t Kobe mentioned more? It’s going to forever be a never ending debate, and personally I believe Kobe should be mentioned more but it’s hard to debate about the greatest of all time with a player who is not playing anymore and a player who is currently playing still because the current player still adding more accolades, still adding more stuff while the player that is not playing anymore is already set in stone. So personally, I believe that the debate won’t end until LeBron is done.
Did you see the sequel to the classic Coming To America? Shouldn’t they have left it alone? The sequel to coming to America was more of a comedy sequel. I feel like it was a cool movie! It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t a movie that can live up to its prequel.