The Eisbaeren Bremerhaven have had some luck this season in games, but nothing equals the luck that they had last summer as they were about as good as with both feet in the PRO A after a disastrous season in 2008-2009, but then as if they had found a box with four leaf clovers on their door step, the team was saved and was able to stay in the BEKO BBL, because The Cologne 99ers had declined the last Wild Card paving the way for Bremerhaven to stay in the league. After a road win to start the season in Braunschweig last season, the tide turned for the worst as if the club has been hit by a huge wave crippling them for months as they suffered a 16 game losing streak and didn´t win again until January 25th 2009. Sarunas Sakalauskas was fired and after the big losing streak, the team finished the season with a 6-11 record. The team was very talented, but the two biggest problems were not being able to escape the cellar after the miserable start and that the team was unable to come together and create a team chemistry despite so many scoring options.
“Last season, I think that they had great players, great coaches and great management, but the pieces just didn´t fit together”, stressed ex Ulm American Jeff Gibbs.
This season, The Eisbaeren Bremerhaven have formed a roster that could be able to copy the 2007-2008 Boston Celtics and go from worst to best and win the BEKO BBL title. The competition is tight, but what manager Jan Rathjen and coach Doug Spradley brewed together on basketball talent last summer was absolutely brilliant. They showed that they want to win and try to erase the embarrassing 2008-2009 season. And what was even more surprising was how the duo was able to sign so much incredible talent and stay within their budget. There was so much speculation and joking about how they might have done it with robbing a bank, getting a silent money giver with Donald Trump or simply out duelling player and agent at the bargaining table. In any result, they got ex NBA player and teammate of Allen Iverson Rodney Buford, one of the BBL´s best and most popular players with Jeff Gibbs, sharp shooter Steven Esterkamp, big bashers and veteran players Kevin Lyde and Bryan Lucas, possibly the leagues best all around point guard with Louis Campbell, athletic titans Adrian Moss who won the NCAA tournament with Florida in 2006 and Torrell Martin and very talented rookie Brandon Brooks.
The inside trio of Gibbs, Lyde and Lucas will do a lot of damage this season.
“We all have different parts of our games that work well with one another. With Kevin you have power and shot blocking ability. With Bryan, he has the ability to stretch out the defense and hurt you with his slippery eel post moves. And with myself, I take the defender outside and use my quickness to get to the basket. We compliment each other well”, added Ohio native Jeff Gibbs.
Bremerhaven has a deep bench and a great mix of young and experienced players and the goal can only be to make the playoffs. 43 year old new coach Douglas Spradley crowned his successful tenor with The Paderborn Baskets with their first ever playoff appearance and dragging 8 time BEKO BBL champion Alba Berlin to five games in the 2009 playoff quarterfinal series. After three seasons in the BEKO BBL with The Paderborn Baskets, Spradley wanted to take the next step and moved to Bremerhaven. He sort of has the same kind of strong roster to work with that Sakalauskas had last season, but with this seasons team even deeper. The biggest hurdle for Spradley will be to get this talented team on the same page and keep the egos healthy.
After a little more than one third of the 2009-2010 BEKO BBL season played, The Eisbaeren Bremerhaven have a 7-6 record and rest in fifth place. A goal of the club was too reach the playoffs and if the playoffs started tomorrow, the team would face off against the Artland Dragons, but a real confident Doug Spradley would be hard to find. Despite the strong roster, he still has a long road ahead of him and sees two big factors that have held back the team so far.
“After three months, we are still very far from having reached our potential. We have a lot of guys that are able to show their offensive skills every night, but don´t understand what it means to play defense every night. Until all the players are on the same page, we will not be able to develop the way I want to into a potential playoff team. We showed a fine defensive effort against MBC, but then showed nothing against Phoenix Hagen. Our success will be based upon how quickly the team understands how to play defesne. It is a question of willingness. I think that effort is there, but it just depends how you use it. I understand that it is more fun to play offense, but if we want to be really successful, then we will have to be willing to play defense each night”, stressed ex Paderborn coach Doug Spradley.
Another big change for Doug Spradley is the magnitude of difference that his old team The Paderborn Baskets had with his new team The Eisbaeren Bremerhaven. Just because a team has seemly unending talent doesn´t necessarily mean that long term success is guaranteed.
“We have a nice talented roster, but there is always a reason why players are available. In Paderborn, we didn´t have a big budget and I went for average players. Just because a player makes more money doesn´t mean that he works harder than other guys. Talent doesn´t always make a great player. Money doesn´t always guarantee the best player. The biggest problem with my new team is that we do much well, but not the same well.
We had money to get good players, but to be successful a team has to come together. I think that a team with less superstars can gel quicker than teams with more”, stated Doug Spradley.
An hour before the clash between The Deutsche Bank Skyliners and The Eisbaeren Bremerhaven, Marius Nolte and ex coach Doug Spradley had a comfortable chat in the stands. Both are doing a new job, but still have a tight relationship.
“We have an open relationship. I always wish him the best. It was no secret that I would have liked to have taken him with me to Bremerhaven. I think that coming to Frankfurt was good for him. He has a new surrounding and new coach. I hope he does well in Frankfurt and does well and not so well against us”, joked Doug Spradley.
It is no secret that no center has flourished under the Didin regime and Spradley has some advice for his ex player.
“Marius should do what Didin tells him to. He should do his job, learn from mistakes and just do his role if it means playing five, ten or twenty minutes. He is a hard worker and has a lot of potential. The question is if he can reach it. If he wants he can score and play defense. He just has to continue to play hard and let the chips fall into place. You will never be able to change the way Didin coaches. Marius just has to continue to improve and gain confidence and hopefully increase his minutes”, commented Doug Spradley.
In Paderborn, Doug Spradley had many talented players like Louis Campbell from 2002-2004 who moved to Giessen and Japan before returning back to him, Teddy Gipson who had played at Arkansas and In Holland and probably the most talented player with Tim Black who led the BBL in scoring in 2008 and moved to Antwerpen, but he now has most likely the most talented guy with Rodney Buford. A guy that had to defend 10 time NBA Allstar Allen Iverson each day in practice in 2001 in their run to the NBA final. A real test will be to see how Spradley can curb his ego. Buford came to Bremerhaven as a guy who isn´t the easiest ego to form, but so far Spradley has no complaints.
“He is a player that might have the best offensive skills in the league and stays motivated on defense. He has understood that Bremerhaven is an opportunity to get his career jump started again. I think that this is a good situation where other European coaches might have had their limitations, but everything has worked out well here. We have not had any problems with him”, added Doug Spradley.
Another interesting player is Jan Lipke, who would be a starter in some other BBL teams, but has limited minutes due to the deep Bremerhaven roster. His talent seems unending as he is a extremely athletic combo guard who can score in bunches but also knows when and how to let the game come to him. At 193 centimeters, combined with his athleticism, he poses a tough match up at both guard positions. He has strong legs and good leaping ability which allows him to penetrate and finish strong to, and above, the rim. He is a well schooled player with an arsenal of offensive moves. Jan can start his penetration and pull up for the mid ranged jumper, play the pick and roll, come off picks for the shot, and when left open he’ll hit the three pointer also. At the defensive end Jan already has the skills to make a difference. When asked, he can put preassure on opposing guards full court but also knows how to control his player in the half court set. The area where Jan is especially dangerous is in fast break situation. Whether bringing up the ball or sprinting the lane, Jan is very good at getting to the rim for the finish in the up-tempo part of the game. So what is missing from his game? He has all the tools, but has one flaw which seems to have been holding him back a bit.
“He is very talented and very athletic, but he has to control himself. He has to learn that he doesn´t always have to do something right away when he touches the ball, but get in a flow first. He needs to bring defense and intensity when he gets on the court. He has to learn to get into the game before he starts shooting. Sometimes he is too motivated. In Hagen, we played Philip Schwethelm in the first half and Jan in the second. He got two quick fouls, but played well. He gave us the spark to turn the corner and win in Hagen”, stressed Doug Spradley.
In the 70-69 loss against The Deutsche Bank Skyliners, Lipke finished with two points and four fouls in 9:53 minutes. After his fourth foul, Lipke stormed off the court and took him a moment to cool down as he was not happy with the referee call. Lipke understands what he has to work on.
“I give a lot of energy. I give the team a lot of emotion, but at times get down and I know that I need to work on this”, stressed Jan Lipke.
Last summer, came the big house cleaning in The German National team as many players stepped down like Skyliner captain Pascal Roller and German coach Dirk Bauermann started at scratch adding many new players like Robin Benzing, Elias Harris and Tibor Pleiss, but no 26 year old Jan Lipke. From his talent level, he deserves to be on the team, but Spradley sees a kind of trend with Lipke and the hottest German player at the moment.
“I think if Jan learns to control himself and doesn´t always think that he has to do something right away, then he has a chance to play for Germany. I see a similarity with Heiko Scharffartzik. He learned to control himself and look where he is now”, stressed Doug Spradley.
If Lipke will ever wear the German jersey with so little playing time in Bremerhaven is less likely, but he wouldn´t be unmotivated to play for Germany.
“My main goal in Bremerhaven is to win games and play. If coach Bauermann ever calls then I would like to play”, said Jan Lipke.
His teammates have the utmost respect for him.
“He comes into games and lifts our play and plays aggressive defense. He can score any day, but what is most important that he always plays with energy and good defense. I think that he could compete at a higher level, if its enough for the German National team, I am not sure since I am not sure what they are looking for”, expressed Bremerhaven guard Louis Campbell.
Spradley sees a healthy route in finding the common ground in his game.
“Jan is starting to understand what I want from him. He has accepted it and now he needs to develop it more”, added Doug Spradley.