Will Key Injuries Severely Hurt The Playoff Chances Of Braunschweig?

The New Yorker Phantoms Braunschweig are seeking to reach the playoffs again after their last appearance was in 2003 with former Bamberg guard Demond Mallet who was just starting to make a name for himself in European basketball. Since then the team has sunk in the middle of The BEKO BBL standings and in the last six seasons averaging a 12th place placing in that time. In the last few years, the club had ex BBL champion with Alba Berlin coach Emir Mutapcic at the helm, but he was unable to lead the team into the playoffs despite having good rosters. He was unable to develop any German players into getting sufficient playing time in Braunschweig. The Germans usually went elsewhere and earned playing time there.

“Braunschweig is doing well. I hope that the team can keep it up. They have a great fan base and the fans deserve the playoffs”, added ex Paderborn guard Steven Wright.

Braunschweig management didn´t see anything really changing for the future and decided to make a giant house cleaning: The first order of business was finding a new coach. Braunschweig sports director Oliver Braun looked east to Poland and found an old friend with German Sebastian Machowski. Both Machowski and Braun won the Korac Cup with 8 time BBL champion Alba Berlin in 1995. The contact never ceased between the two and after a successful rookie coaching season in Poland with Kolobrzeg, it was time to fetch the 37 time German National player Machowski to Germany.

John Allen played for Mutapcic and now has Machowski as coach and sees differences between both coaches.

“The differences are like night and day. Mutaptic was more a coach that was always yelling and in a players face. I loved him very much and will always be grateful that he brought me to Germany. Sebastian is a players coach. He is more loose, lets the players go and gives a player more freedom. He also works more on technical things. He has an American mentality, because he has been around many American players He understands Americans. I actually played against him before some years ago”, stated Braunschweig American John Allen

The club held only two players with Nils Mittman and American Jason Cain all the while keeping their nucleus of young Germans with Philip Friedel, Kevin Wysocki, Tony Granz, Philip Noch, Michael Fleischmann and Jusuf El Domiaty who will also play for their cooperation partner Spot Up Medien Braunschweig. Perhaps, Machowski will develop one or two of these Germans into solid German BBL role players in the future.

The biggest pick up was German Heiko Schaffartzik who is on his way to becoming Germanys number one German point guard. With American Kevin Hamilton, Braunschweig might have the most underrated point guard/shooting guard combo in the league as both compliment each other well. Hamilton only has praise for Schaffartzik.

“We compliment each other well. Heiko is so talented. He is a great shooter and passer. People tend to underestimate him in that he is a great leader, knows how to run a team and always gets us into the right position on the court. He is a very good team player”, stressed Kevin Hamilton.

“Hamilton is one of the best point guards that I have played against this season. Sometimes stats don´t show everything, but his presence is really big on the court”, warned Walter Tigers Tuebingen guard Steven Wright.

The team picked up sharp shooter Michael Hicks and fan favourite John Allen that comes back for his second tour of duty. The loss of Andrew Drevo hurt, but it didn´t faze the club as it took them only 24 hours to get big Nate Fox who has been around the block and can do it all inside. The team also got Yassin Idbihi who is developing into a strong BBL inside player. The team also got Polish player Tomasz Cielebak who is supposed to help inside and with his outside shot. A big pick up has been American Brandon Thomas who has performed very well and above expectations.
The Volkswagon arena in Braunschweig belongs to the type of arenas that not only is there to amaze the fans with spectacular BEKO BBL basketball, but many different kind of big time events are held there like concerts and fairs. The famous German comedian Mario Barth sold out the arena as 8,000 fans came to hear his jokes, but the question remains why the New Yorker Phantoms Braunschweig are unable to fill the beautiful arena that seats a capacity of 6,600 fans for basketball? The two main factors in the last years have been unsuccessfulness on the basketball court and healthy competition from other sporting teams in the region like soccer club Eintract Braunschweig that was Fussball Bundesliga champion in 1967.

Despite not making the playoffs since 2003, nobody was expecting much to happen in this direction despite getting a new young coach and improving the club with new strong players, but for some positive reason, the club didn´t only start the season well, but also have filled area behind the baskets that usually were always empty.

“The team started off quickly and have made basketball very attractive. We have had an increase of 1000 spectators this season”, said Phantoms Braunschweig sport director Oliver Braun.

On paper, The New Yorker Phnatoms Braunschweig are a playoff team. They have a great point guard tandem, athletic wing players and a good inside game. Even though top players from last season Kyle Visser and Andrew Drevo left, the team is stronger than last season. They have all the tools to reach the playoffs and showed quickly what potential they have as they started the season with a five game winning streak as they were able to defeat teams like The Artland Dragons, Eisbaeren Bremerhaven, and TBB Trier.

However since this lightening start, the team has struggled winning only three of their last ten games losing to weaker teams like The Giessen 46ers and Phoenix Hagen.

”We have been missing many shots that we usually would of made and not executing at the end of games. We can´t dwell on that now and just continue to work hard and correct the mistakes”, stressed ex Holy Cross guard Kevin Hamilton.

Even with their misfortune in the last weeks, they have a record of 8-8 and are currently in 10th place in the playoff standings.
It didn´t help the club either, that they lost two key players with Nate Fox and Michael Hicks around Christmas time. The club quietly seems to be shocked at the moment at how the team went from a possible playoff team to a team with many question marks about how they can be successful without two important players. No new player has surfaced yet, but possibly very early in 2010, because otherwise the playoffs could drift away slowly the same way a beach ball does in the ocean.

“We are looking at the market for a replacement. Our goal remains the playoffs, but that will be difficult to accomplish. We have to make a step up from where we are now and play as a team. All the teams in the BEKO BBL are tight. We are missing intensity and our attitude is simply missing at the moment”, stressed Braunschweig sports director Oliver Braun.

I saw The New Yorker Phantoms Braunschweig for the first time this season play against The Deutsche Bank Skyliners losing 81-77. For a team that was without to key players, they sold themselves extremely well and were always in the game. Their biggest attribute at the moment is their fighting mentality. They are weaker than two weeks ago, but they aren´t getting down on themselves, but are trying to make the best out of their situation. They are currently playing with an eight man rotation and cant possibly afford any more injuries. Losing a Heiko Schaffartzik would be a severe blow as if Miley Cyrus suddenly retired leaving little 12 year old girls totally disillusioned. There are teams that can be successful with an eight man rotation, but then again having some quality sitting on the bench doesn´t hurt and fouls can always be a problem for a team. Yassin Idbihi played strong down low with 16 points and 12 rebounds and should continue to carry the bulk in the zone. Jason Cain is a team player that had four points and three assists in 12 minutes that can score if needed.

“Jason has been playing extremely well. He will be fine. He played great in college and now he is in his third season and he always plays hard on each play. He can rebound and play defense and just does his role”, commented Walter Tigers Tuebingen guard Steven Wright.

German National player Heiko Schaffartzik didn´t show his playmaking skills as much, and was pretty one dimensional with his shooting, but his off the dribble bombs from the parking lot not only left memories from the 2009 Euro Championships in Poland, but also increased goose bumps with in the arena for fans. He didn´t always have it easy getting free from Aubrey Reese and Quantez Robertson, but he finished with 14 points saving his best for last with three three pointers in the fourth quarter. Had Braunschweig just been a bit closer in crunch time, then the German might of won the game.

“Heiko is a team player that doesn´t need to score 25 points. His goal are the playoffs no matter what”, warned Oliver Braun.

There is seldom a player in the BEKO BBL that has such a killer instinct like Heiko Schaffartzik. He is the next German basketball super star.
His side kick Kevin Hamilton played at Holy Cross with ex Skyliner Keith Simmons from 2002-2006. He played in Poland the last few years and in the summers in Puerto Rico. He played under coach Sebastian Machowski in Poland and was made into a point guard even though he has been a shooting guard most of his career. He scored 17,9ppg in his last season at Holy Cross and last season he led the Polish league in assists. What makes him so dangerous this season is that he has not started to do what comes natural to him which is scoring. This season, he is averaging 7,5ppg, 6,5apg and 4,3 rpg.

“In college, I averaged almost 18 points per game. I have been a shooting guard for most of my career. Last season, I had to play point guard in Poland. I always thought that I was a good passer. I think passing has come naturally to me. I have enjoyed playing point guard”, stressed Kevin Hamilton.

He didn´t have as much luck in the fourth quarter as he missed two shots in key situations.

“There wasn´t much time left on the shot clock and I was caught in my dribble and instead of getting the set play started, I decided to take the shot. I feel bad about missing the shot, but I had good intensions”, stressed Kevin Hamilton.

“I don’t second guess anything Kevin does. He is our playmaker and has the ability in these kind of situations to make the right plays”, added Nate Fox.

He finished with four points, four rebounds, five assists, five turnovers and two steals. He has a lot of talent and Braunschweig management have a lot of patience with the native from New York.

“Kevin needs to start to play with high intensity. His performance are like light and shade. He needs to show more light”, added Oliver Braun.

The biggest surprise so far this season has been known scorer Brandon Thomas from San Antonio, Texas who is a 25 year old 198 cm shooting guard/small forward who started the season with MEG Goettingen, but left, because he was supposed to play a position that he was not used to playing. Even though, he only played sparingly at UMASS in his senior year averaging 4,0ppg and 1,1rpg in the 2006-2007 season, he came to Europe in 2007 and exploded in the leagues in Norway and Austria. In Norway, he led the league in scoring with Fog Naestved averaging 24,5ppg, 4,6rpg, 3,2apf, 2,0spg and 1,0bpg. He was the Danish player of the year in 2008 and was MVP of the 2008 Allstar game. Last season, in Austria, he played for Kraftwerk Wels averaging 20,2ppg, 3,2rpg, 2,5apg. He has a great basketball IQ, can defend anyone and likes to finish around the rim. This season, he is averaging 10,9ppg, 3,1rpg and 1,2apg. He has scored in double figures in nine games. He started off hot scoring the first seven Braunschweig points showing his shooting touch from outside and his athletic ability with flights to the basket with the ball. He finished with 17 points in 26 minutes and slowly is getting respect in Braunschweig as he continues to show that he can play at the BEKO BBL level.

“Brandon has been so important to us. He is a team player that can play one on one, make the pass and shoot. He is very variable”, commented Oliver Braun.

30 year old German Nils Mittmann will have to perform from the bench if The New Yorker Phantoms Braunschweig want to be successful and despite the loss to Frankfurt, Mittmann came on the court and played above expectations scoring seven points. He made important shots, played aggressive and hustled and played the kind of game where each coach would die to have him as a son. John Allen was injured for a few months and is slowly coming back. He is not the potent scorer like a David Teague, but some of his shot selections in the zone ala fade away jumpers in traffic would have reminded one of the Giessen player. Allen has only been back a short time, but he is on his way back to finding his rhythm. He can create a lot of problems for defenses. He can drive hard to the hoop, but also step outside and hurt you with his jump shot and he did that for the Frankfurt defense.

“I am about at 85% and hope to be the old John Allen soon”, warned John Allen.

He finished the game with eight points, three rebounds and two assists. He will have to continue to step up in the absence of the Michael Hicks injury. Tomasz Cielebak scored 7 points in 25 minutes and besides hitting two three pointers wasn´t able to do much more on offense.
The New Yorker Phantoms Braunschweig are an interesting team to follow in the next weeks since they have lost two players and feel like a wounded fox who are helpless and can attack at anytime. Braunschweig will need a total team effort for 40 minutes in each game which will be more valuable then having Heiko Schaffartzik score 25 points and get little production from many other players. It will be interesting how second year coach Sebastian Machowski will coach in this phase and how his players will respond. Braunschweig are a good team and might have the advantage in one or the other game by getting underestimated, but then again will often have the disadvantage of their stricken roster simply because the teams in the BEKO BBL have so much more depth which will give an added obstacle for the club. A secret advantage just may be American Nate Fox who currently is as helpless as an antelope in Africa that is surrounded by 10 Jaguars on a barren field. Fox can´t do anything at the moment not even rehab and wants to help somehow. One can feel that he is hurt by the injury and he might be a great motivator in the club house or could function as an extra assistant coach. He definitely knows that the team can go in two routes

“The New Yorker Phantoms Braunschweig can do two things. We can either fight or do the opposite and run out of steam”, warned Nate Fox.

If you look into the eyes of Fox, then you instantly know that Fox won´t allow the team to do anything else but fight.

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