Teamcheck: Phoenix Hagen

For fans it is always horrible to see their team leave the league. When a team is even doing a good job in sports terms but has to withdrawhagen from competiton due to financial terms it hurts even more.

Head coach Armin Andres had formed a nice team including Todor Gecevski, a young, uprising Bernd Kruel, playmaker Chuck Evans and Americans Adrian Autry and Chris Carrawell. But Brandt Hagen, who were on 7th place in the ranking and a serious play-off had to face bankruptcy in December 2003. Soon Chuck Evans found a new club and played some Euroleague games with Alba Berlin, Bernd Kruel joined the Opel Skyliners and won the german championship this season and Hagen? Brandt Hagen becomes BBV Hagen and played Regionalleague, while second division team BG Hagen is named Phoenix Hagen.
At least there was still pro Basketball in Hagen, but it was a long way to go until the city finaly returned on the BBL map.

Hagen had always been a big basketball city. And similar to Gießen one could have hardly imagined a Basketball Bundesliga (BBL) without Hagen. But one always gets used to things when they appear durable.

To stay durable in BBL is what Hagen wants to achieve after six years absence from germany’s elite league.

Unlike the other newcomer Mitteldeutscher BC (MBC) Phoenix Hagen relies on most of its players form the last season. A core of 8 players remained with the team but just Bernd Kruel, the local hero who had returned to his hometown in 2008, calls on many years of BBL experience.

Kruel is one of those players that don’t get the attention they would deserve. He had been a member of the German U22 National Team in 1998, but then he stood in the shadow of other centers of his generation like Patrick Femerling, Stephen Arigbabu or Robert Maras.

But the 33-year old Big Man has always been a player every competent coach would want to have on his team. He is not a typical center, who crashes the boards, but he has some nice post moves, good shot-range, can pass the ball pretty well and always does those little things that help the team.

Last season the veteran showed that he is still able to make an impact. Kruel, who was nicknamed “Storch” (stork) because of his long legs, played a keyrole for Hagen’s successful season. Especially in the second round of last season’s ProA competition he was outstanding for his team. It is no wonder he got honoured with the Eurobasket.com All-German 2. Bundesliga ProA Domestic Player of the Year and the ProA Center of the Year award. He had his season-highs in the last couple of games with 30 points in a win over Cuxhaven and 16 rebounds against Chemnitz.

With Chase Griffin and Quentin Pryor Hagen had a complementary backcourt that was supported by the Schwarz brothers Malte and Kristof. 26-year old Griffin is one of those players that should do well in BBL. He had an imressive college career with Pepperdine and turned out to be a great help for Phoenix Hagen right from the beginning. Griffin shot over 40% three point percentage in 2008 and 2009 and I always wondered why no BBL club made serious efforts to sign him. He’s got killer instinct, great court vision and should do well on BBL level.

Quentin Pryor could be a decent player as well. Unlike Griffin he’s not that stable form outside, but his great defense and his versatility make him a very important player. After his college days with Morehead State, he joined a rather weak ProA club Schalke 04 and had some very impressive stats. E.g. he led the whole league in steals per game with 2.5. Some critics stated that his nice numbers were just a result from playing for a rather poor team. But Pryor could settle his stats on a stable level and averaged 14.7 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.7 steals per game with Hagen last season.

When the team offered him a new contract he only signed in case the team would play in germany’s first division. Pryor is confident that he is ready for BBL: “I think its just time to compete at the top level. You never know how good you are until you are tested and I feel that it’s my time to see.”

With his athleticism, his quickness and his nice defense Pryor’s impact on BBL could in best case what Goettingen’s Rocky Trice has shown last season.

Hagen will mainly play with a three man rotation on the guard positions. Next to Griffin and Pryor rookie Andre McGee will get his chance. The 178cm guard has spent the last four years with the NCAA team University of Louisville. He is a true playmaker who’s been starting for a team that made it to last season’s elite eight. Coach Ingo Freyer was especially thrilled by McGee’s defense, his discipline and his fundamentals. It will be interesting to see how fast McGee can adapt his game to the European style, but he certainly could turn out to be a big surprise. Pryor is not afraid of possibly losing his starter spot and sees McGee as a nice addition to the roster: “I think we have a very nice rotation. I feel comfortable doing whatever the team needs me to do. It doesn’t matter to me as long we win.”

Malte and Kristof Schwarz will complete the guard rotation and should only get minor minutes now and then. But Quentin Pryor praises their attitude and talent: “The Schwarz brothers are good. They are improving everyday. They work hard, play hard, and compete at a high level. I think that they will play some minutes for us this season. They are very solid players with a lot of potential.”

On the Small Forward position Hagen has resigned with belgian sharpshooter Thomas Dreesen. The 21-year old is not among the fastest on defense, but with his excellent shot from downtown he can be a solid role-player. Last season I witnessed how Dreesen’s threes could turn around a game against TV Langen as he sunk 6 of his 7 attempts from outside.

Dreesen will come from the bench and backup new aquired Marcel Jones. The 23-year old is a tweener, who can play on both forward spots, but will mainly get time on position 3. Hagen signed Jones (check out his highlight video) to score a lot and coach Freyer describes him as a real scorer. After his college days with Oregon State Jones spent the last season in New Zealand where he dominated at will producing 28 points and 10 rebounds per game.

At the Power Forward position did not set any changes: American Aaron Fleetwood will be the starter and his backup is german veteran Matthias Grothe. While one knows what Grothe is able to do, Fleetwood had been everything from sensational to mediocre last season. His talent is undoubted, but he still needs to become more consistent. 31-year old Grothe had been in Hagen ever since 1997 and is next to Kruel the second local hero on the team. I think he should be a solid backup and give the team 10 minutes of energy.

I praised Bernd Kruel a lot, but as I already mentioned, he is not a typical center. Sometimes he is not aggressive enough under the boards and tends to commit some silly fouls.

Hagen made a nice move to add American-comgolese Bambale Osby, who is a hard worker and good rebounder. Not only his haircut is outstanding: He played with Romanian team Cluj last season and had a great game against Oldenburg in EuroChallenge . If you see the video of how he competes against guys, who won the championship a couple of months later, it seems quite clear that he should do well in BBL.

Line-Up:

PG Quentin Pryor/Andre McGee

SG Chase Griffin/ Kristof Schwarz/Malte Schwarz

SF Marcel Jones/Thomas Dreesen/Dominik Spohr

PF Aaron Fleetwood /Matthias Grothe

C Bambale Osby/Bernd Kruel

New Players Bold

Germans italic

Outlook: Goettingen and Nördlingen showed last season how competitive ProA players can be in germany’s first division. I think Pryor, Griffin and Kruel should do well in BBL. That the team kept many players from last season could turn out to be a big advantage especially at the beginning of the season. Asked about preferring to resign the players instead of hiring a completely new squad, Quentin Pryor answered: “I think it’s a big advantage. We lack experience but we all know what to expect from each other.”

Hagen certainly has the potential to be a solid mid-fielder. If they stay out of injury trouble and the additions of McGee, Jones and Osby turn out to be good decisions, Hagen should be able to remain in BBL and not worry about deregulation.

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