For even the most dedicated Mitteldeutscher BC (MBC) fans five years of inactivity from the highest German Basketball league may have felt like five years without your favourite beer, or for a child being able to go into a candy store, but not grab for their favourite candy. How tough must it have been for the organization and fans in 2004 to win the prestigious Fiba Europe Cup against JDA Dijon 84-68 not losing a single game in international play and a short time later have to learn that they would have to stop their successful run in the BBL due to bankruptcy. This was a huge blow to the region and may only have been topped if a severe unusual drought had whipped away the two natural springs, the Leisslinger mineral water and Saskia Quelle where mineral water is bottled in the region.
However the organization never gave up, took up playing in the Regionaliga and eventually moving up to the Second Bundesliga/PRO A and continuing to build up the team financially and through success on the court. Coach Ari Tammivaara was sort of the early architect managing a record of 72-20 until 2007. In 2007-2008 under the watchful eye of ex BG Karlsruhe coach Uwe Sauer, the team reached position five with a 20-10 record and everyone that followed the PRO A last season knows with what kind of a fury the club raced through the season totally dominating the league. The long and laborious five years are finally over as MBC is back at the big show in the BBL.
In the 2008-2009 PRO A season, MBC plowed through the league with a 26-4 record with the same easy as a bull dozer had to get through the sloppy and treacherous roads and drive ways during the New England blizzard of 1978. Even though the team was so commanding at home with a 14-1 record, it simply couldn´t get by Bayreuth that won the season series. The team had better luck against Phoenix Hagen sweeping the season series who they will meet again with changed rosters in the BBL. The team scored 90 points or more nine times and 100 points or more twice. There strongest phase was in the middle of the season going on an 14 game winning streak.
They also showed that they could step it up on defense if they needed to ousting Science City Jena 61-48 and also showing their own nerves of steel grinding out close wins against The Teck Pro Braves 68-67 and 83-81 against Cuxhaven. The only real slip up that the team had was a 95-76 defeat against USC Heidelberg. Without question, MBC was the best team in the PRO A last season and rightfully deserved to return back to the BBL after a five year drought and soon after gave the fans a tasty summer gift as management announced that the club was also prepared to enter the BBL with the minimum allocated budget.
“I believe what made MBC so strong is that everyone knew and ACCEPTED their role. Coach Harmson makes sure they are prepared and its up to the players to do their part. It seemed that everyone was on the same page“, stressed Bayreuth youth coach Sean McCaw.
More times than not, after a team has been together for a season, achieved a lot of success and come together like a happy family, one would think that it would be proper and smart not to change or disrupt the harmony. Why change a winning team was what the EWE Baskets Oldenburg thought too as most players were kept with ten in all which also set a BBL record for the most number of players staying with a club. Many have criticised the BBL since years that too many teams are changing their players each season not bringing enough identity not only to the teams, but also to the BBL.
“I wasnt surprised that he changed almost the whole team. When we moved up in Jena we kept most of team intact but it was obvious that we weren’t talented enough for the BBL. Of course it’s a risk to work with players you dont know, but thats part of the job”, said Sean McCaw.
The changing of players disease has also come apoun Argentina Soccer national coach Diego Maradona who has nominated 67 players in the last nine months including seven goal tenders, but thank god that a BBL team only has 12 players per roster.
The foreigner regulation as well as getting American players cheap has been the biggest problem for the BBL the last years. MBC decided not to go against the usual norm and got rid of most of the players which didn´t sit well with the guys that had to depart.
“After the way we (MBC) dominated through the ProA and I was the captain of that team I would think that they would keep most of the team, but I guess they felt they need to go in a different direction. So I was disappointed more than shocked. I dont think what MBC did was right because we always talked about family and being together, but it taught me a valuable lesson and I wish them luck this season. It’s a great place to play and the fans are great there. A lot of people have always passed on me even though my resume is good, but its really unfortunate as I always have a lot to offer any team. I try to be professional no matter where I am and represent my family, the organization and the community the best way I can. If teams are not interested in that there is nothing I can do about it. I am a humble person so playing in Pro B will be a different kind of challenge then I am used to but, I believe everything happens for a reason”, stressed Franken Hexer guard Will Chavis.
One could argue that MBC is Coach Björn Harmsen‘s team and it could be that he had a new kind of vision of going into the BBL and wanted to go in a new direction.
He changed the face of MBC almost completely getting rid of almost every player except for 28 year old 190cm guard Wayne Bernard who was the 2009 PRO A player of the year averaging 14.4ppg, 2.3rpg, 2.6apg, 1.2spg, FGP: 56.9%, 3PT: 43.2%, FT: 80.4%. It almost would have stayed with only keeping one player, but American Tom Jervis decided to go back to the States and MBC was lucky that they were able to resign 27 year 203 cm forward old new year baby Johnnie Gilbert who recently became a father. He was the man under the boards for MBC averaging 13.2ppg, 9.2rpg, 1.3apg, FGP: 61.9%, FT: 59.8%.
Every other player received a pink slip including captain Will Chavis, who led the club into the BBL. What exactly went wrong will remain the secret of coach Bjorn Harmsen and manager Martin Geissler, because Chavis was never told a reason why he wasn´t returning back at the end of the season. He had a very strong season averaging 10.9ppg, 2.3rpg, 2.7apg, 1.0spg, FGP: 37.0%, 3PT: 43.8%, FT: 86.5%. His highlights included 23 points against Essen and 22 points vs Lich. He also showed his brilliant playmaking skills dishing out 8 assists vs Karlsruhe and Jena. It is simply a pity that MBC decided against retaining this skilled player who has the heart of a lion and the character of a dolphin.
32 year old 192 cm guard Malik Moore also didn´t get resigned after coming during the stretch run and giving added stability to the roster playing 15 games and averaging 10.4ppg, 2.7rpg, 3.3apg, 1.3spg, FGP: 42.1%, 3PT: 30.4%, FT: 77.5%. He was instrumental in the wins against Kirchheim adding 23 points and 22 points vs Karlsruhe. He also exploded against the Bremen Roosters scoring 19 points and adding 10 assists.
The team also separated themselves from 29 year old 175cm point guard Gregory Burks, who was a bit unlucky getting injured in January 2009 and not being able to return missing the rest of the season. For the American from Prairie View A&M (NCAA) getting injured was a pity since he had started the season so well averaging 13.1ppg, 2.5rpg, 3.5apg, FGP: 59.3%, 3PT: 33.3%, FT: 87.2% in 13 games. He was a big part of the MBC success in the first few months playing very solid scoring in double figures in 10 of 13 games. His scoring highlights included 20 points against the Teckpro Braves and 18 points vs Karlsruhe. He also had four games with seven assists and had eight assists vs Chemnitz.
The team also said farewell to 29 year old 217 cm German Martin Ides. He had a solid season playing 29 games and averaging 8.1ppg, 3.8rpg, 1.4apg, FGP: 46.7%, FT: 79.2%. He was never ever really able to become a big inside presence simply because that was not the style of play of MBC. Ides had some big games against Schalke with 21 points or 16 points vs Bremen and was able to score in double figures in 12 games. He simply was not the first or maybe even the second scoring option in the team simply because the team had so many ways to score. In 29 games, Ides only attempted ten or more shots in seven games.
27 year old 200cm forward Robert Cardenas also left for the Saar-Pfalz Braves after averaging 5.0ppg, 3.0rpg in 30 games. His best games were against Heidelberg with 15 points and eight rebounds and ten points and seven rebounds against TV Langen. He was a solid role player from the bench averaging 16 minutes, but if he will get more than 16 minutes in K-town is the question.
29 year old 211 cm German banger Lars Gruebler also had to go after averaging 4.2ppg, 3.2rpg in 14 minutes. His best game was against Essen with 17 points and 11 rebounds. He will bring terror to the boards this season in the black forest in Freiburg.
24 year old 193 cm shooting guard Jorge Schmidt didn´t get a real chance with MBC not getting past the Americans in the rotation averaging 3.7ppg, 1.3rpg in 29 games in 11 minutes per game. He is still looking for his breakthrough after not making it in Goettingen, Braunschweig or MBC taking two steps back and playing in the Regionaliga next season for SCH Wuerzburg Baskets.
Another talented German Frieder Diestelhorst will take the short move to Science City Jena next season after having a productive season averaging nine minutes per game with 4.6ppg, 1.9rpg. He scored in double figures four times including 13 points against USC Heidelberg.
Some critics may not be thrilled about how MBC didn´t retain most of its players from the 2009 PRO A title season, but then again can tip their hats to Harmsen and Geissler for not doing the usual, safe and cowardly act by going out and getting 6-7 new Americans and giving more business to the Mcdonalds and Burger Kings in Weissenfels.
Instead the club did something very untypical, by taking out the globe and finding players from many different countries. The team got only two Americans, but five Germans, a Serb, a Nigerian, Georgian and a player from Mali. This interesting mix will make MBC not your typical BBL team, but a very absorbing and unpredictable team that will be a delight to follow this season.
“Only time will tell if that was the right way to go for his team but obviously he believes it is. It could be that it brings the team closer together or exactly the opposite. I don’t think it is so bad to have different nationalities though. The key is to manage PEOPLE and not nationalities”, warned Sean McCaw.
The most beautiful signing this off season was also the last new player to arrive is 25 year old 210cm center German Peter Fehse. A few months ago, it looked more like Fehse would be watching games in the arenas instead of being on a court after suffering a severe hamstring injury. However through the power of mother nature and the possibility a basketball god, his foot healed and he has gotten the ok to resume his playing career from doctors. This heart felt gesture by MBC showed that the club still has something left in their basketball heart.
Fehse has had a lot of misfortune in his basketball career after being drafted by the Seattle Supersonics some years ago. He is still looking to make his breakthrough on the international basketball scene after suffering many injuries and never being able to develop as a player. In the last two years, he was only able to play two games. With MBC, he will have a double function as player and helping the youth.
After playing only 28 games for Alba Berlin from 2003-2006, 27 year old 202 cm forward Sascha Leutloff will get a second chance in the BBL after playing the last two years with MBC and becoming into a solid role player. Last season, he averaged 9.9ppg, 6.0rpg, 1.9apg, FGP: 54.5%, 3PT: 23.7%, FT: 48.9%. He demonstrated that he was a very reliable scorer scoring in double figures in 17 games. The question will be if he will equal or better his 27 minutes per game average from last season in the BBL?
MBC only got two new Americans with considerable youth as they share only one year of professional experience among them. 22 year old 203 cm Ivan Elliot will add muscle under the boards this season. He is very very versatile on the offensive end, able to shoot the 3-pointer with confidence, slash to the basket, and play underneath the basket with his physical strength and overall skills. He is a great team player who always gives everything he has in every practice and game and is highly motivated and willing to do the extra work to become the best player possible. He already showed signs of his overall strong play last season with SK Valmiera playing in the Latvian League averaging 11.5ppg, Reb-4(8.0rpg), Blocks-4(1.1bpg), FGP: 51.6%, 3PT: 35.1%, FT: 64.% in 30 games and in the Baltic League playing 18 games and averaging 10.1ppg, 5.8rpg, 1.1bpg, FGP: 50.5%, 3PT: 35.1%, FT: 70.3%.
The other American that MBC picked up is 25 year old 198 cm shooting guard Matt Stucki who will be a BBL rookie even though, he has one year less professional experience and is three years older than Ivan Elliot. Stucki played at Idaho State from 2005-2009 playing 31 games last year averaging 12.0ppg, 3.4rpg, 3.8apg, 1.5spg, FGP: 46.8%, 3Pts: 40.0%, FT: 78.3%. He never shot below 43% from the field his last three seasons and shows that he is a sniper.
The most interesting development in the future game of MBC is the point guard position. In a league like the BBL where American point guards are as frequent as apples growing on a tree, the club went against the benchmark by bringing in a classical floor general with Giorgi Gamqrelidze from the country of Georgia. Even though he can put up huge assist numbers, he is also known as an unsavoury defender. He can run without making a sound. When he puts his mind to it, he’s capable of being unstoppable on offense and a stopper on defense. He catches his man like a tick and can squash an offender. He has good court vision and knows how to run a team. He is 183cm and 23 years old, but has already showed his mark in Fiba Eurocup and Eurochallenge games. He played at Energy Invest Rustavi the last two seasons and showed in the Georgian League that he can be a scoring point guard averaging 17.5ppg, and leading the league in assists with 7.6apg, and Steals with 3.0spg. It will be interesting to see if he can be as strong in a more rigid league like the BBL? But he has developed very nicely and now he has deserved a chance in the BBL to make the next step.
Radenko Pilcevic is a 188cm guard from Serbia that will also help out at the point. He had solid stats at KK Borac Cacak last season playing 31 games and averaging 10.7ppg, 2.0rpg, 2.9apg, 1.5spg, FGP: 54.2%, 3PT: 31.9%, FT: 85.1%.
Another reason to watch MBC in 2009-2010 will be to see if German Nikita Khartchenkov will finally break free of the web that somehow has been holding him back for so many years. The 22 year old 201 cm forward that was born in Leningrad, Russia, but grew up in Germany was seen as one of the bigger European prospects for the birth year of 1987. His game is interesting to watch as he is a very fast shooter and his shot is not the easiest one as he uses specific technicalities including a fine vertical leap which makes his shot even more difficult to guard, at the same time is very good in the penetration against both smaller and larger opponents. He is also an athletic guy with a very athletic body. After never getting a shot in Braunschweig, showed last season with BV Chemnitz 99 that he can be a force playing 28 games and averaging 18.3ppg, 2.8rpg, 1.4apg, FGP: 49.3%, 3PT: 41.7%, FT 81.1%. He will get a chance with MBC and get another attempt to show his stuff at the BBL level.
The team also picked up 23 year old 196 cm guard Adeola Dagunduro, who will be a BBL rookie. He hails from Nigeria and grew in Inglewood, California close to the former stomping ground Forum of Magic Johnson. He played at Nebraska playing 31 games: and averaging 12.8ppg, 4.4rpg, 1.4apg, 1.3spg, FGP: 52.0%, 3Pts: 34.4%, FT: 69.7%. He had a solid senior season at Nebraska and one shouldn´t await miracles from him in the first months in the BBL, but just let him expand his skills throughout the season.
The biggest question mark of the team will be the center position. Ivan Elliot can play the center position, but the new center is 24 year old 206 cm Cheick Diakite from Mali. He comes fresh from Virginia Tech (NCAA), but never averaged more than 3,8ppg in four years. In his senior year, he played 32 games averaging 3.8ppg, 3.9rpg, 1.2bpg. He didn´t play much in the NCAA and isn´t really proven yet and now must battle guys like John Bowler, Adam Chubb, Jeff Gibbs and Nate Fox each week. It will be a learning experience for the big man and give opponents a clue where to go to in the early part of the season.
MBC also has young Germans in their roster that will be fighting each day in practice for playing time. 20y ear old 204 cm forward Michael Jost played at RSV Eintracht Stahnsdorf (ProB,) playing 30 games and averaging 8.0ppg, 4.9rpg, 1.2apg, FGP: 51.1%, 3PT: 43.4%, FT: 69.1%. The team roster is also rounded out with 20 year old 193 cm shooting guard Marcus Kruger, 18 year old 198 cm forward Kevin Weber and 18 year old 189 cm guard Florian Konnegen.
“I havent seen them enough to give a real assesment but Gilbert is a tireless worker, Bernard is a fantastic shooter that should be the leader of the team, Elliot and Dagunduro will determine a lot about the teams success, Kharchenkov should develop to a very good player, and the rest of the guys will most likely follow Leutlof and fill their roles as nicely as he does. I think both Elliot and Dagunduro could be very important to their success but the development of Kharchenkov shouldnt be underestimated”, warned Sean McCaw.
PG Pilevic /Gamqrelidze
SG Bernard / Stucki / Konnegen
SF Dagunduro / Khartchenkov
PF Elliot / Leutloff
C Gilbert / Diakite / Fehse / Jost
new players bold
The biggest plus usually for teams coming into the BBL is that they have nothing to lose and come out and play their hearts out. In the last years, teams like Bremerhaven, Paderborn, Ulm and Goettingen have proved that they can survive in the big fish city aquarium and not have to get back to the smaller apartment fish aquarium of the PRO A.
The complete roster of MBC has 121 BBL games experience all coming from German players Peter Fehse, Sascha Leutloff and Nikita Kharchenkov. The team has many talented Americans with PRO A experience as well as some BBL rookies, other guys with European experience and as usual the share of young and unproven German players. It will be interesting too see how this team develops through the season. A good start will be helpful, but a lack of BBL experience will be hurting.
But as been the case so often in the last years, MBC will be a team that will surely make some surprises. The team has many dangerous shooters, but wont be one dimensional as they will play inside/out ball and have an inside presence with Ivan Elliot.
“I have seen them play three times in the preseason and they seem to be very aggressive on defense and with a lot of discipline on offense”, added Sean McCaw.
Another key to the success will be how well coach Bjorn Harmsen does in the BBL in his sophomore attempt. His short tenure with Jena will remain a learning experience and he hopes to do a complete 180 degree turn in the BBL standings this time around with MBC. If there is one guy who knows what Harmsen is going through then it is his former successor at Science City Jena in 2008 Sean McCaw.
“I’ll never bet against a person that works hard and Bjorn has proven that he does that. It will be tough for them, but I am sure he learned a lot through that last BBL season and will try not to make the same mistakes again. It is a different situation for him though because MBC has already been there so the club structure will be easier”, stated Sean McCaw.
I could imagine that MBC could become a team like MEG Goettingen with this non stop fighting qualities that they have possessed in the two seasons in the BBL. The team will not only have to score and play defense, but also understand that there are 12 equal players on the team that have to stick together.
“Coming together as a team and STAYING together through the rough spots will be key for then to being successful”, warned Sean McCaw.
Who would have thought that MEG Goettingen would be leading the BBL standings last season for long periods. MBC surely won’t be doing this. It will be a learning season. They will need a lot of luck on their side during the season if they want to remain in the BBL. I see them between 15-18. Now coach Bjorn Harmsen can show what kind of coach he is by forming a team like MBC into a competitive BBL team.