If one had dared to combine the word Walter Tigers Tuebingen and playoffs before the 2009-2010 BEKO BBL season, it may have received the same response as Dieter Bohlen does as juror of Germanys version of Super idol when he puts money into his piggy bank after hearing a horrible musical performance, but with the season half way done, Tuebingen is one of the big surprises currently as they are on playoff course riding a six game winning streak and proving all critics wrong as they are playing solid basketball.
The Walter Tigers Tuebingen won their sixth game in a row against The Deutsche Bank Skyliners 91-70 and are slowly starting to raise eye brows in the BEKO BBL as a team that could annoy the more established playoff teams. The slow start and very humbling 98-66 loss in Frankfurt in October seemed about as far away as Pluto is to earth.
“This win and winning streak feels very good right now. Our team is playing very good basketball at the moment and our main goal are the playoffs. Everybody contributed to this win. We hit our shots on a consistent level in the second half and our offense was running very well. Branislav Rathkovica did a great job with his passing. All in all, we almost played a complete game. We had some lapses, but it was very close to a perfect game”, stressed ex Paderborn basket Steven Wright.
“We are really jelling as a team now. We lost four close games early in the season and could easily be 15-6 now”, warned Michael Jenkins.
Since coming into the BBL in 2004-2005, the Walter Tigers Tuebingen have been treading water in the BBL middle standings and at times scrapping the deregulation area. The best finish of the club was 2006-2007 as they finished in 10th place. The Tigers have been more a harmless creature that seems to have their mouth sealed with little power escaping instead of showing their absolute unconquerable qualities of a tiger on the court. The team has been known for developing a healthy fan base and letting guys like Rasko Katic and AJ Moye (his first year) develop into top BBL players, but then again also have gone the usual BBL route of signing an abundance of Americans and closing an eye for further developing German players and the organization also has been prone to getting involved with minor scandals like in 2006 with Tamien Trent and Mike Moten who were banned by the German basketball federation following a drug test. Making the jump to the BBL is not easy and if one were to ask experts in the Tuebingen surrounding, one would always here three things. A lack of management know how, a slim budget and not getting the right mix of players.
Ex coach Tolga Öngören came in the middle of the 2007-2008 season and started getting the team on the right path saving the team from stepping to the PRO A. Last season the team struggled again landing at 13th place. It was never able to go on a big run being able to only go on a three game winning streak. The six game losing streak in the middle of the season hurt their chances considerably for reaching the playoffs and finishing the season losing five of their last six games didn´t necessarily speak for the nerves or stability in the team either. Despite not winning much, they had some highlights including beating the 2009 BBL champions EWE Baskets Oldenburg on Eurosport, sweeping the Artland Dragons season series as well as the TBB Trier season series including a exciting 102-100 win in Trier as well as a 98-95 nail bitter in Ulm. Their 5-12 road record was miserable and their knack for losing five close games by a combined total of only 13 points didn´t speak positive of displaying nerves of steal in crunch time. The team had talent, but may not have had the right ingredients in the game plan in the offense to be successful on a consistent basis which is needed in the BBL.
“It seemed like Ongoren liked to hype the big man play which didn´t really allow any of the guard play to be featured in scoring. The team had Katic and Haynes in the top ten scoring of the league. The team also didn´t have a deep bench”, stressed Ratiopharm Ulm German Jerome Bridgwater.
With the last years being anything close to being rosy, how have The Walter Tigers Tuebingen been able to turn it around this season after not having a good start into the 2009-2010 BEKO BBL season. They did´t start off like a possible Cinderella team as they had a 2-7 record despite beating 8 time BEKO BBL champion Alba Berlin at home. Then came a solid stretch where the club won three of four games and the team was proving more and more that they had a lot of potential. However then came a small dry spell as they lost against top clubs Oldenburg and Bonn, but since then they are riding on a five game winning streak having beaten Bamberg and Artland at home and MBC on the road.
“Tuebingen is jelling at the right time, because for me they have one of the talented teams on paper. They have very skilled players at each position and from the bench. They are long and athletic and create match up problems on offense and defense”, stressed ex Nordlingen forward Omari Westley.
Tuebingen has a 7-3 record at home and Phoenix Hagen got an early dose of the Tiger grit early in the season in a 84-72 loss.
“I knew that they were a solid team, but right now everything is clicking for them. They are a very tough team now, because they are playing with a lot of confidence. The key is that they are thinking that they are a better team when they step on the court and they are proving it. The key for them currently is point guard Branislav Ratkoviva who is leading the team and creating for all”, warned Quentin Pryor.
A big reason for the rise of The Walter Tigers Tuebingen has been that players have not been fighting individually for the ball, but rather have been sharing it like a team.
“Tuebingen is so strong, because they have found together as a team. All the players have found their roles. At the start, Rathkovica wanted to do all, Travis was inconsistent, but now Nadjfeji has found his role, Rathkovica is hitting the three pointer and William the mid range jumper and both have improved a lot, Travis is using his strength, Watts fits into the team well and the team lives from Jenkins scoring. Hudson didn´t find his role and had to go. Coach Igor Perovic is doing a good job”, stressed Jerome Bridgewater.
Every so often in sports you have Cinderella stories where teams gain unexpected success after a period of obscurity like the 2001 New England Patriots losing Drew Bledsoe after the second game and unknown Quarterback Tom Brady leading the team to the Superbowl win, the 2003 Florida Marlins coming from hibernation and silencing The New York Yankees in the World Series or the 1983 North Carolina State Wolf pack upsetting the highly favored phi slama jama Houston Cougars with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler in the NCAA final 54-52,but The Deutsche Bank Skyliners want to set a road block for a potential Cinderella team with The Walter Tigers Tuebingen in their quest for making the playoffs before the gong of midnight.
“It is important to close the light at 12:00, otherwise they could find the slipper and make the playoffs”, joked Skyliners coach Murat Didin.
The current Tuebingen season may not be as drastic a story like from the classic film Caddyshack where actor Bill Murray pretends to be an announcer for his own golf fantasy where he is a former grounds keeper winning the masters golf tournament, but more a tale of a team that could be a Cinderella story like the 2009 -2010 New York Jets(9-7) that beat Cincinnati and San Diego and had a 17-14 lead at halftime against the favourite Indianapolis, but running out of gas in the second half losing 30-17.
“I didn´t think that the Jets could beat the Chargers, but they had a lot of momentum going into the playoffs. I think that Tuebingen could look at the Jets situation for inspiration and have momentum and confidence down the stretch”, stressed Phoenix Hagen American Quentin Pryor.
Even in Kuwait, one knows exactly how Tuebingen is doing:
“I think that Tuebingen could become a tough team come the end of February and be a type of Jets sensation team”, warned Omari Westley who is playing for Kazma in Kuwait.
But then again not every one sees eye to eye with both the Jets and Tuebingen.
“The Jets had a good team and a tremendous coaching staff. They had a good hand with rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez and Thomas Jones has always been a fighter. However I think that the Tuebingen Cinderella season will end before the playoffs”, warned Ratiopharm Ulm German Jerome Bridgewater.
BG Goettingen American Jason Boone might be the biggest New York Jets fan and has a lot of pride about the success of his football team.
“It’s all about exceeding expectations. No one expected us to be a good rushing team, but we led the NFL in rushing with 172 yards per game, our passing game wasn´t supposed to be good, but Sanchez did a great job and basicly when the team leads in passing and total defense, there is no wonder that you will be successful”, stated Jason Boone.
So the question remains how long this Cinderella fairy tale will hold for The Walter Tigers Tuebingen or will the ominous gong of midnight from Big Ben come before the playoffs?
I had only seen The Walter Tigers Tuebingen once this season and that was in the Ballsporthalle in the crushing 98-66 defeat against The Deutsche Bank Skyliners. I also couldn´t resist watching on You Tube the in bound ally-oop pass to Romeo Travis with under a second to play as Tuebingen surprised the Brose Baskets Bamberg 73-71 setting the Paul Horn arena in Tuebingen into a tiger frenzy. When entering the Paul Horn arena the first thing that really catches the eye is the pink, pink, pink and pink that is visible throughout the area. The only thing missing are a few lost pigs that escaped from their stalls from the local farm down the street. The Walter Tigers Tuebingen have always been known for having a very loyal fan base and they definitely would deserve a trip to the playoffs. The atmosphere was not as spectacular as in the Kuhberg Halle, Jako arena or Lokhalle since one often could hear the circa 20 Skybembels making more noise with their four drums. The only time where it was really loud was at the end of the second quarter and at the end of the fourth quarter where Tuebingen was clearly going to leave the floor as the victors.
The game against The Deutsche Bank Skyliners was a pretty even game in the first twenty minutes as The Walter Tigers Tuebingen had a slim 39-38 lead. However in the second half, The fortunes of The Deutsche Bank Skyliners sunk in the Necker river near the arena as The Walter Tigers Tuebingen were able to go up 2-3 gears and easily win the game. Tuebingen killed Frankfurt inside as they scored 42 points in the zone. Tuebingen was clever by not trying to be fancy, but just stuck to getting the ball inside and hurting Frankfurt under the boards. It also didn´t hamper the team that they got very efficient shooting from Dane Watts from outside as the only thing missing was a blond wig ala Larry Bird and extremely timely shooting from Michael Jenkins from the parking lot. Aleksandar Nadjfeji and Romeo Travis were an angry duo inside nearly always getting the position inside and just putting everything into the basketball the same way a garbage disposal sucks in trash with ease. But the X-factor before, during and after the game remained Branislav Ratkovica as he was the organizer displaying the pick and role play as if he had invented it finishing with eight points and dishing out 14 assists. Ratkovica looked like an inexperienced rookie in his six point and four assist game in Frankfurt and in the return game looked like a mini Chris Paul clone.
Kenny Wiliams and Steven Wright were perfect pieces to the successful puzzle as they were more than convincing from the bench. Wiliams has improved dramatically this season as he has scored in double figures eight times. He isn´t only a rebounder this season, but a viable scoring option. Steven Wright was a BBL starter in Braunschweig and Paderborn the last two seasons, but in Tuebingen was told right from the start that Ratkovica is the 100% starter.
“After being a starter for two years, it is tough to come from the bench. But I am just focussing on what is best for the team. It has not been easy for me to adjust as I came in November. I am still just trying to flow into the team. I want to play better and hope my average goes up”, stressed Steven Wright.
Wright had a great game making big hoops scoring 13 points, four rebounds and two assists in 24 minutes.
A big reason for the current success of The Walter Tigers Tuebingen and their development this season has been coach Igor Perovic. He was a rookie coach coming into the season and if one remembers his demeanour during the loss in Frankfurt, one may of not have forecasted a bright future mainly because he was very quiet and lacked emotion. He still seems to be a somewhat taciturn coach, but he seems to have molded the roles into the players and they seem to know what they are doing on the court.
“Coach works so hard watching film and getting a good game plan ready against each opponent. He is very confident in his players and gives players the freedom to play their game as long as its within our offense and defense”, stressed Tuebingen guard Steven Wright.
Skyliner coach Murat Didin already had positive words for Perovic before the game and after the game reinforced his favorable opinion following the 91-70 loss.
“Tuebingen is a good team with a good character that play the right basketball. His orgainization is very good. What he has produced has been working in a positive way. I am happy to be able to watch his team play successful”, stressed Murat Didin.
Of course the winning streak has given the self confidence of the team a huge boost. However if The Walter Tigers Tuebingen can carry their momentary Cinderella season into the playoffs is more than suspect. The team is playing with a seven man rotation and have been injury free. It is no secret that the club has not had much money in the budget, but if there is some money available then they should think of getting another player. There are too many teams that have deeper rosters than Tuebingen Like EnBW Ludwigsburg or New Yorker Phantoms Braunschweig. The Walter Tigers Tuebingen are on a big run at the moment and everything is going well, but there will be many obstacles along the way that could help make the infamous midnight hour come a lot quicker than expected. It would be wonderful to have some new wind in the playoffs this season, but the most realistic goal of Tuebingen remains between no mans land and the deregulation spots. If Tuebingen can find a way to steer on a straight path towards playoffs and midnight will depend how well the seven man rotation performs each week. The Walter Tigers Tuebingen are not a team that would deserve for Dieter Bohlen to feed his piggy bank, but more a team to get a recall card, but if their performances will be enough for the Motto shows and playoffs is less than likely.