Is This The Season Where The Artland Dragons Win Their First BBL Title?

Sometimes, you can go miles in the calm Artland country enjoying the scenic and tranquil surroundings without seeing a single person,Artland-Dragons but one place that is always loud and rather hostle for opponents is the Artland arena, the home of The Artland Dragons. The area is beautiful and there is surely a lot that people can do in the region with field trips and visiting historic sights, but when its game time for the Artland Dragons, the small pretty town of Quackenbruck that only has a population of 12,000 people comes to life as if Mike Tyson was boxing a heavy weight championship bout against Evander Holyfield.

Ever since The Artland Dragons entered the BBL in 2003, the town that is also known as frog town has become basketball crazy. The town is so small that you can walk from one end to the other in about five minutes and even catch a frog if you are bored and have adventure on your mind. In what other BEKO BBL city is everything so close that players can get to work so comfortably without having to sit in traffic and go 45 minutes to practice in Berlin. In the past, you could witness ex Dragons Adam Chubb or Lamont Mcintosh coming to the arena on bikes.

“The players all live on the main street in Quackenbruck in apartment buildings. I walk to work and it takes about five minutes”, joked Texas tech alumnist Ronald Ross.

The Artland Dragons arrived in the BBL in the 2003-2004 BBL season and since then have developed into a top club having played international the last few years. Their biggest successes have been reaching the BBL final in 2006-2007 season losing Filiberto Rivera after game one and losing to The Brose Baskets Bamberg and winning the BBL cup in 2008 against ENBW Ludwigsburg in Hamburg. The two masterminds that built the Artland Dragons into a winning tradition have been manager Marko Beens and ex coach Chris Fleming that left in the summer of 2008 to head to Bamberg. Last season, the team got young Thorsten Leibenath who had a rough first season just missing the playoffs. In the first half of the season, the club had biggest problems winning in the BBL, but were rather successful in Eurocup play. The team had a big point guard problem as there were three talented players, but none were really able to lead the team in a winning direction. It wasn´t until February, when the team unleashed some extra money and got ex NBA player Toby Bailey and Ronald Ross and the team prompt finished the season with a 9-3 record, but on the last day missed the playoffs, because Paderborn beat MEG Goettingen by one point to slip into the playoffs.
This season, The Artland Dragons started off hot winning their first four games, but since then have a record of 3-3. Currently they are in first place after the exciting 77-76 win over The Deutsche Bank Skyliners. The Artland Dragons have already showed early that they can win in so many ways. They beat both newly regulated teams MBC and Phoenix Hagen by scoring more than 100 points and right off the bat, they had nerves of steel winning two nail bitters nipping MEG Goettingen by two points and eliminating The Telekom Baskets Bonn on the road 76-75. This past weekend, The Artland Dragons did not have as much luck losing a close game 75-73 in Trier despite controlling the boards 34-23, it is obvious that there are ways to beat them even if they are dominating the boards.

“Yes they crushed us on the boards, but we took care of the ball and played team basketball so that helped us out plus we shot a good percentage so that helped as well”, stressed TBB Trier forward Jamal Shuler.

The Artland Dragons are a team that might have the deepest bench in the whole BEKO BBL. Already last season, the club had a very deep bench, but the team never had any real chemistry until Bailey and Ross came. Young coach Thorsten Leibenath had a learning experience his first year and has kept a good chunk of last years team. This years team is more athletic and will need to play better defense if they want to be successful. Everybody knows that the team can score, but they really need to start playing better defense, because some games have been shooting matches and the team has allowed more than 85 points three times. Their best defensive showing was giving up only 53 points to the weak Paderborn Baskets.

“Their biggest strength this season is their transition offense and then them being successful getting the ball inside”, stressed Derrick Allen.

The Artland Dragons have done a total 180 degree reversal from their slow start last season and have started 7-3 and there are visible differences.

“We are more athletic this season. Getting guys like Folarin Campbell, Nathan Peavy, and Charles Lee will help us to compete with teams like Oldenburg and Bonn. Like most teams, we focus our game on inside/out. Important for us this season will be our ball movement and spacing on offense which is hard to defend”, stressed Artland Dragons assistant coach James Duncan.

The team has let up more than 85 points three times and the defense is not on the same page as the offense quite yet.

“It is still early and it is a process. The team knows that it has to get going on defense. Defense is all about effort and playing with heart. We sometimes play well for 20 minutes, but have not put it together yet. It is a mental thing and playing good defense is not pretty or glamorous, but at the end of the day the only thing that counts are wins”, said James Duncan.

Last season, The Artland Dragons were playing incredibly well in the EuroCup, but were pitiful in the BBL. Can this years team comes to grip with the double grind starting in a few weeks with the EuroChallenge?

“I think that we can. We are very deep this year and many guys are getting minutes. We want to balance it out this year. The team knows that to have success at the end of the day and knowing that you will always be in the position to win, a team has to do three things well. Play defense, rebound well and keep the turnovers down”, stressed Artland Dragons assistant coach Duncan.

Head coach Thorsten Leibenath is another year wiser and it shows so far.

“I think that time has helped him adjust. It was not easy for him to take over after Chris Fleming left. Thorsten is making a stamp and it just took some more time for the players to learn and believe in his system. The team ended last season well and the guys have kept it going this season”, said James Duncan.

A star in the making for the Artland Dragons is 23 year old 190cm guard Folarin Campbell, who played at George Mason and finished with four points, three rebounds and three assists in 20 minutes, but was always dangerous on the court showing his athletic strength.

“He is young and has a lot of potential. He just has to learn to bring it in every game. There are absolutely no easy games in the BEKO BBL. One week, its Aubrey Reese and in the next week, its Bryce Taylor. His biggest challenge is to be good in every game. He has all the tools to be a good player, but he has to be mentally ready to go at all times”, stressed James Duncan.

One player who has already experienced many wonderful things on the basketball court is American Toby Bailey, who played 73 NBA games for the Phoenix Suns, won the 1995 NCAA title with UCLA and has had a successful career in Europe since 2000.

“Toby is just smart, smart, smart. He is so valuable to our team and understands the game so well on the court and is like another point guard”, said James Duncan.

“He knows the game so well and has improved so much on defense. His best asset is stopping guys from getting into the zone. He is so strong and makes you go where you don’t want to be”, warned Charles Lee.

It has been somewhat of a riddle, why Bailey was unable to stick in the NBA?

“The biggest reason is simply that there are so many good players. It always depends on the situation. For example a Dan Dickau didn´t work out in Bamberg and was recently cut in the NBA. Toby had his time and now is not his NBA time anymore. We are happy to have him. He is a good person”, stressed James Duncan.

Bailey said farewell to the NBA years ago and is more than content with his basketball life in Europe:

“For me it was a difficult adjustmust playing 40 minutes in high school and at UCLA coming into the NBA and coming off the bench and playing five minutes here and there. It is a difficult adjustment for any player and it often depends on finding the right coach who will help you develop. I came to Europe and just stayed and had success. I have no more interest to be an NBA cut and then come to Europe and have to play for a last placed team, because all the Euroleague team rosters are full”, stressed Ex Cologne 99er Toby Bailey.

Even though, this years team is as deep as last years team, this roster might be the one that could bring a BEKO BBL title home to Quackenbruck that when going back to ancient times the bridge over a trembling swamp. Against The Deutsche Bank Skyliners (check out the highlights video) , that have belonged to the top teams the last weeks, the Dragons were able to control the game and got production from eight very solid players that knew their roles and played a team. They did have problems at times letting Frankfurt come back, but fighting against the biggest strength of Frankfurt at the moment, their heart and never die attitude, it was not able to find any resistance even in the last 10 seconds as Frankfurt could of won the game, but were denied by the Dragon traffic near the top of the key as Aubrey Reese was unable to shoot or make the winning play. The Artland Dragons have many options in the offense and experienced players that can get the job done in the first quarter or in crunch time.
Ronald Ross did not have his best game with 10 points, five rebounds, four assists and eight turnovers, but like Reese was always looking to slide through the zone like a slick sleigh getting around during winter. Ross is a scoring point guard and will continue to lead his team to wins and will surely be in the top five point guards at the end of the season. Ex Gottingen American Charles Lee is only averaging 22 minutes a game and 5,3ppg, 2,6rpg and 1,6apg, but he is a dangerous defender and gives the team a lot of athletic prowness. If the BEKO BBL ever has a GQ contest, then he might reach the final with Aubrey Reese, because after the game, he was dressed as if he was going to a post game model contest.

Ex Paderborn forward Nathan Peavy is a very important part of the team. He can step outside and shoot and get points in the zone and helps give stability rebounding. He finished with 13 points against Frankfurt and gives some more athletic strength to the club. Darren Fenn is playing his second season with The Artland Dragons and finished with 11 points. He is so difficult to defend, because he is a threat inside with his barrelling into the zone or his precise and deadly three point shooting. He shows little expression on the court, but he is all business on the court and always gives 180%. American
Chad Prewitt who is currently sporting a beard and is very recognizable with his red hair was one of the top players in the 2005-2006 season with The Artland Dragons averaging 11.0ppg, 4.6rpg, 1.8apg, 2FGP: 51.4%, 3PT: 36.7%, but this season is averaging only 2,0ppg in 10 minutes per game. It seems like a total degradation, but he shows no ill feelings going on the court and doing his job. He scored only two points missing all five shots from the field, but was an aggressive defender in the last quarter.

The heart and soul of the Dragons is American Darius Hall who is playing his sixth season in Quackenbruck. He probably will end his career with the Artland Dragons and might still play another season. He is 36, but plays like he is 28.

“He is still an inside threat at his high age”, stressed Giessen 46er center Jannik Freese.

Hall is averaging 6,7ppg and 3,9rpg in 16 minutes, and was more than worth his money scoring nine points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals. Even if the whole Artland arena is quiet and unable to cheer, because of cloths covering the mouths of all the fans, Hall the wall as he is called by the fans would always find a way to bring instant energy to the game from the fans.
The 2009-2010 BEKO BBL season is still only a month old and still has a long way to go, but from the quick start of the Artland Dragons and their deep roster, one does not have to shy away from considering The Artland Dragons as a favourite to win it all. Teams like The EWE Baskets Oldenburg, Alba Berlin and The Telekom Baskets are always seen as title candidates, but The Artland Dragons are not a favourite, but moreover the dark horse candidate and the club is not trying to think about what could be in seven months, but about just winning games now.

“I feel that we have no pressure. We are one of the teams that could do something. But our focus is not on that we could win the title, but concentrating from game to game. The most important thing is doing certain things well in a game in order that we are always capable of being able to win. If we can win enough games, then we may be able to accomplish something at the end of the season”, warned Artland Dragons assistant coach Jamie Duncan.

The Artland Dragons have an experienced team, great fans and a very hungry coach who seems to be developing as a coach.

“They have a lot of fight, play hard and are well coached”, stressed Skyliner Seth Doliboa.

This could be the year for The Artland Dragons.

If they stay injury free, plus the extra experience with Eurochallenge, then this team should end up in the top 4 teams at the end of the season and make a run in the playoffs. If The Artland Dragons are able to win the BEKO BBL title, then there very well might be a special holiday in Quackenbruck and the excited fans might very well drive away the towns trademark the frogs with a never ending championship party.

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