For some years the EWE Baskets Oldenburg had been known around the league for having a nice budget, signing big names, but still they could never win a single play-off series. No matter how promising the teams looked after the quarterfinals the season was over.
Under the guidance of American head coach Don Beck Oldenburg was like a sleeping giant. Without a doubt everyone could easily see that his teams had a lot of potential, but somehow all those big names never made a decent team and the northern german team was a disappointment in that period.
After years without making it to the semi-finals, Oldenburg decided to replace unlucky Beck in 2007.
Only one option in Doug Spradley’s contract with Paderborn made Predrag Krunic the new head coach of EWE Baskets Oldenburg. Allegedly Spradley had already signed with Oldenburg but then he had to find out that he could not leave Paderborn. So Oldenburg’s management had to find a new solution and decided to go for their plan b: Predrag Krunic.
The 41-year old Bosnian had been working in Bonn for many years, at first as an assistant coach and from 2001 to 2005 as a headcoach. His excellent contacts in the world of basketball brought a lot of brilliant players in germany’s first division: Alexander Nadjfeji, Terrence Rencher, Brad Traina, Rimantas Kaukenas or Branko Milisavljevic all wore a magenta jersey and played for Krunic.
In 2005 Bonn missed the Play-offs for the first time in several years and Predrag Krunic had to go. The name of Krunic had been mentioned now and then when other BBL coaches were released, but in general it remained quiet around Bonn’s former headcoach.
After a two year break he returned to Oldenburg and his first actions were crucial. After six years with the club franchise player Tyron McCoy had to leave and with the exception of Daniel Strauch all other players of last year’s season had to go as well.
Krunic seemed to know exactly what he wanted. His first signings in the summer of 2007 were decisive for the team’s first championship ever in 2009.
At Court-Side Camp in Frankfurt Krunic had found versatile Croatian forward Jasmin Perkovic (video) and signed him. He also decided to ink sharpshooter Miladin Pekovic (video) and talented Serbian forward Milan Majstorovic (video). Later that season Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje (video) was added to the roster to replace injured Dan McClintock.
These six players were the core of Oldenburg’s 2009 championship team.
But Oldenburg had also been quite successful in the first year with Krunic. Finally – what a relief – the team survived the quarterfinals: Oldenburg had eliminated Bamberg in the first round of the 2008 play-offs and ended the era of Dirk Bauermann in Franconia. In the semi-finals they challenged Alba Berlin. Krunic’s team did a good job, but in the end lost 1-3 against a much more experienced team from Berlin.
Right from the start of the 2008/2009 campaign Oldenburg showed that they matured as a team and that one should expect them to be one of the best teams in the league. Just injury-troubles and lack of focus resulted in an unexpected collapse in the last few regular season games. But as the play-offs started Oldenburg was in top form. After eliminating Frankfurt (3-1) and Bamberg easily (3-0) the team was able to win a hard fought 5 game series over Bonn and crown itself the champion of 2009!
With Oldenburg winning their first national championship they claimed the right to start as the only german team in Euroleague next season.
One of Oldenburg’s secrets of success certainly was consistency. Bringing back most of last season’s roster helped a lot in terms of team chemistry and understanding the coach’s philosophy.
With the increase of the club’s budget (one has to praise the management that made that happen in times of a big economic crisis!) many experts and fans hoped for some upgrades on the roster as well as keeping the key-players.
Two things of course had to be changed in order of a new situation: From the upcoming season on every BBL team needs to have at least four germans on the 12-man rotation. So it was clear that one more german player needs to be added to the roster.
And with making it to the Euroleague the slim rotation would as well need more depth.
Oldenburg’s management decided to concentrate on bringing back almost the whole championship team – and they succeeded in that. But what about signing the fourth german?
Of course the fans would have liked to see a german nationalplayer like Demond Greene, Konrad Wysocki or Philip Schwethelm in Oldenburg. But with Acha Njei the new domestic player is someone who spent last season in ProA (germany’s second division) and will not get a lot of minutes. With the signing of Njei a player from the championship team had to go and Oldenburg parted ways with Miladin Pekovic.
What about adding quality to get more depth and production from the bench?
Oldenburg decided to sign a versatile wingman in order to give Paulding and Foster more breaks. Their choice is Josh Carter, who had a nice college career with Texas A&M.
With just two additions to the roster, the team looks like an updated version of last year’s team. It is all about never change a winning team and Krunic will probably also stick to the concept that made Oldenburg a champion.
His team was and is a mixture out of athletic Americans, very versatile and intelligent frontcourt Bosman-players and some germans, who need to sit on the bench.
Krunic’s quarterback on the field is a man, who had an outstanding college career with Arizona (his jersey even got retired), but did not get drafted by any NBA team (perhaps because he is undersized with 178 cm or 5’10’’ for NBA standards).
In 2003 Jason Gardner started to play in Europe, but could not really fulfil expectations in Belgium and Israel (although his stats looked nice). At this stage of his career many people questioned Gardner’s decision-making and he was still too inconsistent.
For the 2006/2007 season Gardner signed with Bonn for allegedly 90.000 €uros per year. According to rumours spread around the internet and from what I was told by people with insight view Oldenburg doubled that amount to secure Gardner’s services.
It certainly did pay off to sign Gardner. The 29-year old really did a great job during the season and was the team’s brain. There were just few voices at the end of the regular season that doubted that he deserved being named the MVP of the season.
But during the play-offs Jason Gardner showed some weaknesses e.g. as he lost the direct comparison to Frankfurt’s Pascal Roller. Especially in the finals Gardner had major problems against Bonn’s EJ Rowland. Athletic Rowland could penetrate by will and Gardner simply could not stop him. Of course Gardner had some problems with his back at the end of the season. That could be an explanation for some rather weak performances during the play-offs, but he I tend to think that this just emphasized weaknesses he already had shown during the regular season.
But if one mentions all the troubles Gardner had in the post season, one has to say that he was able to step up in crunch time. More than on one occasion he gave the critics the right answer with clutch three pointers and good decisions that proved his high basketball IQ. Gardner might be shooting just around 40% for the third consecutive BBL season, but when the game is on the line the former Arizona standout is able to step up and sink decisive shots.
That ability makes him a serious thread in tight games. On BBL level Gardner certainly in among the top 5 point guard. It will be interesting to see how he will perform in Euroleague.
It is very likely that Gardner will play 30+ minutes again this season.
His backup with minor minutes will be Daniel Hain. The 24-year old german did a solid job and is a able to give Gardner a rest for some minutes. Especially his commited defense really helps the team. One should just ask Pascal Roller about Hain’s aggressive defense as the former nationalplayer really had a tough time against Oldenburg’s backup Point Guard last season.
When people talk about Oldenburg everyone mentions Gardner and Paulding at first – and so did I. But one should really not forget about Je’Kel Foster who is something like an unsung hero for this team. The 191cm combo guard can do it all: play tough defense, create his own shot on offense and his nice ball handling skills allow him to bring the ball and play as a point guard. In 2006 Foster started his overseas career in Ludwigsburg and was named the Newcomer of the Year. After one season in France with Paris, he returned to Germany and was a great signing for Oldenburg. His stats say a lot about his versatility: 13.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.7 steals per game.
Whoever doubted Foster’s quality knows better now. Because it was him who made the decisive free throw and got the steal in the last seconds of game 5 of the BBL Finals last season. If Foster increases his shot selection and learns that he should not force shots he will even become more valuable for his team.
Croatian-german Marco Buljevic is a product of Erdgas Ehingen/Urspringschule. Around 2005, 2006 he had been one of the big talents in Germany, but after a promising year with Giessen he did not get too many chances to show his talent. It is highly doubtful if Oldenburg is the best place for a talented player who needs playing time more than anything else to develop. With just 10 games and an average of 3.3 minutes last season Buljevic spent most of the time on the bench. Maybe the departure of sharpshooter Milan Pekovic can help the 22-year old to get a few more minutes. But with the addition of another quality player like Carter minutes are rare for a player like Buljevic.
With the signing of Josh Carter Oldenburg joins the college lottery draft for the first time since Krunic took over as a head coach. The last player with a big name who joined Oldenburg right after college was a guy called Carl Krauser. Krauser had a nice college career with Pittsburgh but the transition to European basketball was not that easy for him. In the middle of the season Oldenburg signed Doron Perkins and made Krauser a benchplayer. Project collapsed!
As a wingman Carter plays a position that is not that important in terms of adjusting to European basketball. German Hoops NCAA expert Mario is optimistic about Josh Carter:
“Josh Carter, fresh off a very good career at Texas A&M, is a lanky swingman who will provide coach Krunic with a whole lot of new opportunities. At 6-7, Carter possesses the versatility that Oldenburg needs badly to compete on a European level. He is a long-armed, lanky defender who can take some of the pressure off Je’Kel Foster and Ricky Paulding. Carter has the ability to cover the opponent’s best swingman, although he will still need to become stronger. However, he is not a one-trick pony by any means. Carter is a terrific shooter who can hit the three-pointer with a very high percentage (.418 for his college career, topped off by a .500 year as a sophomore) and fits in perfectly with the coach’s system. He will likely be Oldenburg’s sixth man, but would be a starter and go-to guy for just about any other team in the league.”
Rickey Paulding turned out to be the best player of this league. He had a nice regular season, but during the play-offs he was simply unstoppable. Against Frankfurt in the quarterfinals he could score at will. No matter who guarded the former Missouri star, he always found a way to produce and shot incredible 51% from the three point line during that series.
On german BBL level Paulding seems to be the perfect type of player: he has got the athleticism to defend tough and go hard to the basket, has a nice touch from downtown and can pull up a jump shot off the dribble even if he’s well contested.
The 26-year old American is an excellent one-on-one player but he can as well fit in a team oriented offense. Even with the uttermost attention of the opponent’s defense Paulding was able to find a way to score and help his team. It will be very interesting to see how he will perform on Euroleague level.
Behind Paulding there won’t be too much minutes for new acquired german Acha Njei as Josh Carter will get some minutes on that position as well. 24-year old Njei is a familiar face in the basketball scene of northern germany. He spent last season with ProA (2nd division) team Bremen Roosters and averaged 11.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game.
With Paulding and Carter ahead of him it will be very difficult for him to get playing time, but I see him in a better position than Buljevic.
On the Power Forward position Oldenburg has two very intelligent and versatile big man. Jasmin Perkovic and Milan Majstorovic are very valid for the team and battled hard for the starter spot. Perkovic was out for the play-offs and Majstorovic did a great job of filling that gap as he had to play 40 minutes in some games. Both players are versatile enough to play another position besides the 4: Perkovic can also play as a mobile center and Majstorovic can play on the wing for some minutes. Majstorovic had his breakthrough during the play-offs and I would not be surprised if he is a little ahead of Perkovic. But no matter who starts, both will get their minutes for sure.
Daniel Strauch will probably have to waive the towel for most of the season.
Boumtje-Boumtje is a player everyone has heard of. I think I knew and remembered his name even before I had seen him play. The Cameroonian had spent some years in the NBA and is especially known for his nice defense. When Boumtje-Boumtje signed with Alba Berlin in 2006 coaches were surprised about his rudimental offensive skills. But on BBL level the 31-year old has really improved his offense since his Berlin season. During the play-offs he was able to produce double doubles and was a serious threat for the opponent. For sure he will not become a topscorer, but his repertoire is good enough to make some damage under the boards. And defensively his shot blocking and rebounding skills are beyond reasonable doubt.
Marko Scekic is a player who plays with a lot of energy and aggressiveness. On a good day you see him make use of this energy. That’s when he is able to score easy points after nice pick-and-roll moves with Gardner or shows some of his post skills. Sometimes he even shows that he has shooting range and makes a three now and then. But then there are games when Scekic comes in and gets more fouls than minutes. These up-and-down phases do not really harm the team since Perkovic will be back to play some minutes on the 5.
New Players bold
Outlook: Now what is right? “Never change a winning team” or “if you don’t go forwards you go backwards”? I tend to say that Oldenburg was right to rely on almost their entire championship team. They cannot build a roster strictly for Euroleague. There first priority has to be the Bundesliga. With keeping most of last year’s roster and the addition of promising Josh Carter Oldenburg has the strongest team right now (let’s see what Alba will do in the next few weeks…). Most of the budget increase was spent to resign key-players and to fulfil Euroleague standards.
With Gardner – Foster – Carter – Paulding – Perkovic – Majstorovic – Boumtje-Boumtje – Scekic Oldenburg has a nice 8-man rotation. Maybe one can add Hain and Njei to that from time to time. But I expect Krunic to rely mostly on his athletic Americans and the versatile bosmans (plus African Boumtje-Boumtje).
Many fans were not happy about Krunic not giving german players more playing time. But as long as there is a 8-4 rule in BBL Krunic’s success justifies his actions. And one should not forget that Oldenburg plays a kind of Basketball that can be called much more “European” than what any other BBL team has shown us last season. There Americans are quality players, not what Dirk Bauermann called “Kistenschlepper” (Bauermann said that many Americans that play BBL nowadays would have to carry crates in supermarkets if they were not paid to play Basketball in Germany). Oldenburg’s style to play reminds me of those years before BBL abolished the foreigner rule and many average American players stormed into the league.
Krunic’s team will be the haunted one next season, but with this potential and quality on the roster they should be among the top 3 and possibly the team to beat for everyone who wants to become BBL champion 2010.