The 2009-2010 BEKO BBL season is less than a month old, but already the league has seen some spectacular games from players like David Teague showing that he could become the next Tommy Adams with consistency, Jared Mr pass Jordan dazzling in the Ulm win with 14 assists, or Bremerhaven American guard Louis Campbell continuing to amaze fans with his all around play and is on course of being the first player to achieve a triple double in the new season, but the biggest surprise has been new team MBC Wolves that have returned to the BEKO BBL after having vanished from the German basketball world in 2004 after winning the FIBA Eurocup and then all of a sudden as if some cruel basketball god had stabbed them with absolute no mercy in the back as they became bankrupt and had to depart from the German league. It took the club five long hard years of landing in the low Regionaliga, reaching the second Bundesliga and then showing exceptional poise and strength by dominating the PRO A the last two years and finally reaching the promised land again in the top German league in 2009.
In the 2008-2009 PRO A season, MBC ploughed through the league with a 26-4 record and 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 coach Björn Harmsen and manager Martin 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 Russian, a Nigerian and a Georgian. 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 dont think it is so bad to have different nationalities though. The key is to manage PEOPLE and not nationalities. Some do it well, some not so well. Its always a gamble no matter what nationality a coach has to bring in new players.”, warned Sean McCaw.
What the club has done so far in the new season has been refreshing posting a 4-2 record, scoring more than 90 points in the first four games, winning on the road three times and showing extreme confidence so early in the new season playing in foreign arenas as if they had blocked everything out and seen their own wolf mascot running on the court and bringing a positive vibe from their real den and seeing the opponent fans as their own fans and not getting distracted.
They could easily be 5-1, had they not lost their nerves and allowed their inexperience to take The Deutsche Bank Skyliners on a 16-3 run in the last six minutes and win a nail bitter 76-74. They took apart The Telekom Baskets Bonn 91-71 in the Telekom Dome and showed nerves of steel winning a close game in Tuebingen 95-91. They are the big surprise of the season thus far bringing back memories not only to the start of the Nordlingen Giants last season, but also to the playing style of MEG Goettingen, where 10-11 guys contribute equally.
“I wouldnt say I am totally surprised but of course as the new team on the block it is pretty difficult. Their coach is EXTREMELY ambitious and works hard to make sure his team is prepared. The rest is on them to perform. I am not sure what their secret is, but coach stresses team. Yes I agree about that comparison to Goettingen. I think Coach Harmsen has built a very deep team and if you have it, you should use it”, warned Sean McCaw.
Even ex MBC guard Will Chavis is not surprised by the quick start of his ex team. “They have one loss courtesy of my man Ronald Ross. I am not surprised at all, because Björn prepares well, and they only beat one good team in Bonn who obviously took them for granted”, added Will Chavis.
Coach Bjorn Harmsen really has to take a lot of credit for the current success of the team and with his young age of 27 and his slicked back hairdo last season, comparisons to legend coach Pat Riley seem only a matter of time. Not only does the ex Science Jena skipper bring back comparisons to the legendary ex Los Angeles Lakers coach, but also especially to German actor Ralf Richter. In the game against The Deutsche Bank Skyliners, he was sporting big black glasses, that looked so similar to an Episode “Morgen bist du tod” of Germanys longest running crime show “Ein fall fuer zwei”, where Richter disguised himself with big black glasses. The ex Jena skipper has showed early that he can get everyone on the same page, but something must of changed in his coaching style since his unlucky start in the BBL with Science City Jena in 2007-2008? .
“I wouldnt say that his coaching style has changed so much. I am sure his basic philosophies have stayed the same. As a coach you have to be able to adjust to your team and I think he does that pretty well. I think he learned a lot from the season he was with Jena in the first league. I believe it is not so much the coach getting all 12 players on the same page, but the players themselves. The coach can lay the groundwork according to his philosophy, but the players have to accept and be willing to fullfill their roles. Although it may not look like it from the outside, I am willing to bet that their team has one or two leaders that help the process along”, stressed Sean McCaw.
“Young coach Harmsen has created a nice team with chemistry on and off the court. They are playing for each other and are the new Goettingen style with the smiliar behaviour, just technically a bit different”, warned Murat Didin.
Even though the MBC Wolves have been absent form the BEKO BBL for five years, when experiencing the Stadthalle Weissenfels, it seemed like the team had never left the league. The arena was packed with 2,700 boisterous fans with 20 drums making nonstop noise during the game against The Deutsche Bank Skyliners in the fan area and they had the most professional service for the media people as well. The atmosphere was stunning and if it continues every home game will be a very big struggle for opposing teams just trying to focus on the game on the court and not getting distracted.
So far The MBC Wolves have been able to score so many points mainly with a very structured offense that likes to play fast on the transition, but also shine in the set play with very quick and precise ball movement that can get any defense into problems. The team also will get even stronger in the future as they continue to expand their inside game and get new big men Guido Grünheid and Anatoly Kashirov more integrated. They will continue to be able to score many points with their style and their good team play. The other big strength is their fast, aggressive and quick handed defense which they often disturbed Frankfurt with especially not allowing them to get their game rhythm at the start and often disallowed them to get a god shot selection. This style could last the whole season, because they don’t play it as extremely as MEG Goetingen last year, and everyone remembers how burned out John Patrick and co were during the playoffs against Bamberg.
The player who holds the whole team together on offense is 23 year old Georgian Giorgi Gamqrelidze who was MVP in the Georgian league in 2007 and so far has really adjusted quickly to the German league averaging 11,7ppg, 6,0apg and 1,2rpg. He is always dangerous on the set play or on the transition weaving in and around the defense into the zone and setting up his big men with easy layups or kicking the ball out for the open three pointer. He also was a constant pest on defense against Skyliner Aubrey Reese. He could easily win the assist title getting the most competition from Jared Jordan of Bonn and Louis Campbell from Bremerhaven.
The leading scorer for MBC is American Ivan Elliott who is averaging 14,3pg, 4,3rpg and is averaging 60% form the field and 62% from the parking lot. Against Frankfurt, he showed his coolness from outside making four three pointers and crashing the offensive boards with such zeal that he seemed like a little kid who had just discovered basketball. 23 year old Ade Dagunduro, who is a BBL rookie played a strong game against The Deutsche Bank Skyliners scoring 10 points, grabbing six rebounds and dishing out two assists and going into the zone time in and time out showcasing spin moves and making baskets in the zone. This season, he is averaging 10,5ppg, 5,2rpg and 2,2apg. He migt be the most versatile player on the MBC roster.
Last season, Americans Wayne Bernard (7,3ppg, 1,0rpg, 1,2apg), who was 2009 PRO A player of the year and world traveller Johnnie Gilbert (7,3ppg, 2,5rpg) who played in Chille and Ireland before coming to MBC were big pats of the success of the team, but this season are only role players currently resting in 7th and 8th in team scoring. Gilbert didn´t play much against Frankfurt, but had a monster block against Derrick Allen and might have moved more into a defensive role then offense role this season for coach Bjorn Harmsen. Wayne Bernard was very solid against Frankfurt making the game fast, being aggressive on defense, but just had a cold shooting day at 2/9 from the field.
22 year old 215cm Russian giant Anatoly Kashirov who has only been in MBC a few weeks, has already made an impact on the court and off the court has a real glow in his eyes that shows that he just loves the whole basketball experience when talking with media ended the game in fine fashion with 16 points and four rebounds. He gave Frankfurt problems all night long with his aggressive play. He was a bit sad about the narrow loss and couldn´t enjoy his own performance:
“I didn´t play bad, but if I could, I would have exchanged my points with a win. I am unhappy that we lost”, signalized Russian Anatoly Kashirov.
Despite leaving Top European club CSKA Moscow, he is happy to have landed in the BEKO BBL.
“I came to MBC, because I knew that I would become playing time. It is not the strongest league, but not to far behind the Spanish and Italian leagues. This league has many Americans and is fast and physical”, stated Anatoly Kasharov.
At CSKA Moscow, the Russian big man had a mentor with current Houston Rocket David Anderson:
“David was the best. He helped me a lot especially mentally and was like a coach on the court. He showed me moves and fakes and just taught me the basketball language. I hope that we can play together again some day”, added Anatoly Kashirov.
The 215 cm new MBC center also has big goals for the next years:
“I want to develop into a player that can decide games in the next 1-2 years. I have to become more stable, stronger and work on rebounds”, stressed Anatoly Kasharov.
At CSKA, Kasharov looked up to American Trajan Langdon and at MBC its Wayne Bernard:
“Wayne is the leader of our team and always knows what to say on the court at key times”, stressed Anatoly Kashirov.
“Anatoly is a big body that learns quick and has a great attitude”, said Wayne Bernard.
“Kashirov is very good. He sealed up the paint well and his team always looked for him in the zone”, stressed Greg Jenkins.
In six games, he is averaging 11,7pg, 3,7rpg and 1,3apg.
Nikita Khartchenkov is playing his first season in MBC and is averaging 7,8ppg, 1,5rpg and shooting 58,8% form three point land , who officially is not property of Frankfurt anymore after settling the termination of his contract in court with his former club who had had his rights since he was 15 years old.
“The Frankfurt case is a closed issue for me. This was a regular game for me and nothing else”, stated Nikita Khartchenkov.
The thought of playing in Frankfurt was always high on his priority list, but he never received the confidence that he was seeking:
“If I would have been guaranteed playing time then I would have liked to have played in Frankfurt. I got a contract with 15 and then went to Russia, but Frankfurt continued not to show interest so I went to Braunschweig. Frankfurt had told me that I could of played with Kronberg, but I would never have done that”, expressed Nikita Khartchenkov.
After some wasted years in Braunschweig, he now seems to have found the right situation:
“Emir Mutapcic showed little confidence in me even though I think that I could of played more in Braunschweig. I am happy that MBC has shown confidence in me and now I will show them that I deserve to play”, said Nikita Khartchenkov.
He could have lifted the MBC den into an ultimate Friday night frenzy, but missed the last shot which could of given his team the victory.
“As a player, you always feel like the shot will go in otherwise you wouldn´t attempt it. I wanted it to go in, but that is basketball. Some go in and some do not”, added Nikita Khartchenkov.
Ex German National player Guido Grünheid, who won three BBL titles with Alba Berlin and two cup titles will give MBC a lot of experience and a player that can help the younger guys especially Russian Anatoly Kahirov. He scored seven points and three rebounds including a spectacular alley-op from Gamqrelidze. Grünheid also came late to the club and is still a bit rusty, but showed against Frankfurt that he had little problems getting into the zone. He is that added presence inside that will give MBC even more options on offense especially for point guard Gamqrelidze.
22 year old Serb Radenko Pilcevic who is averaging 5,3ppg and 3,2apg is a solid back up for Gamqrelidze, but was limited by the difficult Frankfurt defense and couldn´t show his strengthes as he often was unable to bring any fear on offense with his play making. Ex Alba Berlin German Sascha Leutloff (2,7ppg, 1,7rpg) is not seen more than a role layer from the bench, but was strong scoring on a nice dunk from the wing and grabbing two rebounds in five minutes. BBL rookie Matt Stucki seems to have big difficulties getting into the rotation averaging only 4,21 minutes per game.
The 2009-2010 BEKO BBL season is still very young, but MBC is playing with a lot of heart, no fear and showing team basketball. The Nordlingen Giants also started last season hot winning the first three games including in the difficult Jako Arena, but then faded due to a thin bench as they only had four scorers that made more than 2/3 of the points. The difference with MBC is that they have 10-11 good players that will do anything to win including putting the egos into the trashcan. MBC is a lot deeper than Nordlingen and should continue to be able to play with any team in the BEKO BBL. If they can play strong enough for a whole season and reach the playoffs is probably more a reach than becoming reality mainly since injuries are never planned. Not only does the team work hard, but also coach Björn Harmsen. He is known as a relentless scouter and might win 1-2 games more this season just by scouting the opponent to death. In MBC, everything seems to be working from the play on the court all the way down to the organization in the arena. MBC will play hard for 40 minutes in each game and if they don’t loose the focus to want to win then this team should have a chance to win in most games.