Sometimes basking in the glory of victory is something that should be cherished and done without a pause especially when some teams haven´t sipped champagne again for a long time like the Portland Trailblazers last winning the NBA title in 1977 with hulk Bill Walton, North Carolina State last raising the NCAA trophy in 1983 with Jim Valvano at the helm, but no organization has suffered as badly as The Chicago Cubs who last won the World Series before World War 1 in 1908, but The Artland Dragons might not have enjoyed the 2008 BEKO BBL Cup win long enough, because since then the team has had little to cheer about.
The Artland Dragons are still seeking their first BEKO BBL Championship, but were able to win the BEKO BBL cup in 2008 against EnBW Ludwigsburg. Who could forget the tear jerking moment of the heart and soul of the Dragons Darius Hall taking the BBL Cup to the fans and going wild as if he had just recently been introduced to partying at the Playboy mansion on a trip back to the States.
But since that joyous moment in May 2008, The Artland Dragons have not been making steady and consistent progress in the last 22 months, but the club seems to have gone backwards not reaching the playoffs last season and this season going a similar course as the club is currently in ninth place. It seems like the only positive thing remaining from the Cup win is the smile and humour of Darius Hall and the less positive things are the more and more disillusioned fans that have grown about as much as the frog population in Quakenbrück, a perplexed manager Marko Beens, and possibly mascot Toby the dragon losing his fire in his mouth.
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 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 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 really been an up and down team. The team is currently only in ninth place with a record of 14-13 and have exhibited a record of 5-9 on the road. 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 more than 100 points and right off the bat, they had nerves of steel winning two nail bitters nipping BG Goettingen by two points and eliminating The Telekom Baskets Bonn on the road 76-75. Through the course of the season, they have never had a longer two game winning streak, had three three game losing streaks and now seem to be starting a run with a new three game winning streak. They are definitely a team that can put up points having scored 80 points or more 10 times, but also have allowed more than 80 points eight times.
“The Artland Dragons have been a little inconsistent this season. At times, they fail to finish off games. They seem to struggle against better teams mainly due to the lack of a go to guy”, stressed Quentin Pryor.
There only success this season against title candidates was sweeping the season series with The Telekom Baskets Bonn.
“I think that Artland is on a good way to solving their inconsistency with bringing in Hollis Price. He is a veteran that has been around that can hit the big shot or create for others. I think that Price can be that go to guy that the team ahs been looking for”, said Pryor.
“Maybe their chemistry is not there yet. Sometimes it can take longer when a lot of new players are added. I think that Price could be that go to guy that they were looking for”, expressed Giordan Watson.
Assistant coach of the Artland Dragons Jamie Duncan knows the problem of the Artland Dragons and is slowly growing tired that nothing is changing for the better.
“Consistency is clearly our biggest problem this season. The competition this season is so strong that teams can easily go on a three game winning streak, but then also go on a three game losing streak. Winning at home becomes so important and you have to be consistent at home all the time. We know that we can put points on the board and our defense has gotten better, but now we have to do it consistently for 40 minutes. Too often, we are playing consistent for 30 or 35 minutes and then suffering lapses”, stressed Artland Dragons assistant coach Jamie Duncan.
A big plus now in the stretch run will be that the team doesn´t have the weekly grind of two games as the team got knocked out of the Eurochallenge recently.
“Players always like to play more games, but if a team doesn´t get to practice enough then it will have less time to make adjustments. With one game week per week now, we will have more time to practice and work on things. Teams will always go on runs in games and now it is important to limit runs. If you don´t consistently play defense and rebound, it will be hard to win games. We really have to focus on these two things down the stretch”, warned Jamie Duncan.
“They have to find their rhythm, but saying that is easier said then done”, commented BBC Bayreuth youth coach Sean McCaw.
“The main problem isn´t being consistent. We are unable to all play together at one time in a game. One night it will be Ronald Ross, another night Toby Bailey or another night Darren Fenn or me. We have to learn to come together as a team and play together”, stressed Artland Dragons guard Folarin Campbell.
It was the third game that Americans Ronald Ross and Hollis Price have played together when they played against The Deutsche Bank Skyliners last weekend. Price started the game and Ross came from the bench. They also played together on the court for a while at the position one and two. The two played a combined 44 minutes scoring 14 points, registering six assists and having two turnovers. It was a solid showing, but not their best performance.
“I watched both guys in college and over seas. Price has played with top teams in Europe and has always been impressive. The addition of Price will really help them. We played great defense and they simply couldn´t do what they normally like to do on the court”, stressed Skyliner guard Aubrey Reese.
Despite Price coming to Artland so late, it seems like the team will have that extra spark in the stretch run of the season and in the playoffs and the team might be even stronger with both playing together on the court for long stretches.
“Price is a good guy and it is great to have him on the court. We have not played together too much, but I think that we will do good things together in the future”, added Ronald Ross.
Price released a huge smile which could give Michael Jordan from Phoenix Hagen some competition as biggest smile when he talked about teammate Roanld Ross.
“Ross is a good player and knows the system since a year and a half. He liked to push the ball forward, always brings positive energy and is great to have on the team”, stressed Hollis Price.
“For us now all that matters is to win. It doesn´t matter which guy has the most playing time, because both will help the team. Ron can push it and create, while Hollis is a big time player and his Euro record speaks for itself. He is great in the set play, big shot, big pass and can make the big play. We brought him in to get us over the hump and hope it will happen”, stressed Jamie Duncan.
Ross played for the legendary coach Bobby Knight and Duncan is sure that Ross would not be the player he is today without the guidance he got from the ex Indiana coach who loved to hurl chairs across the floor with ease the same way Lionel Messi has scored at ease in 2009-2010 scoring 27 times in 33 games.
“Bobby Knight was known for being pretty hard on his players and usually his negative incidents seem to come to mind, but he is a very knowledgeable coach. Knight was not the easiest coach to play for and was very intense and Ron took from this. Knight is always in your face and Ron took it all in and that helped him because he can play for any coach in Europe”, added Jamie Duncan.
Five years ago, a team like the Artland Dragons could very well have been in the top 3 of the BEKO BBL standings with this roster now simply because the league was just starting to make a gradual swing to becoming more competitive. This season, you have extremely talented teams like TBB Trier and The Duesseldorf Giants who are resting at position 15 and 16 and slowly wondering if the curse of the Bambino which plagued the Boston Red Sox for 86 years might have left some offspring to these two teams as both are not only looking for their first title, but also for a win again as they have gone months without getting a victory. The BEKO BBL might secretly have become the most competitive league in Europe and that may have rubbed off on the Artland Dragons a little postponing the winning a little more than they would have liked.
“The expectations are really high for so many teams this season which is putting a lot of added pressure on many teams. Some years ago, you had 8 or 9 teams that were competitive and you knew which teams would reach the playoffs. Now you have teams from 1-13 that can all make the playoffs. Any one can beat anyone and you have to bring it each weekend. The BEKO BBL has really stepped up and is very competitive now. If you look at how competitive Alba Berlin, BG Goettingen, Bamberg and we were in Europe, one sees how strong the German teams really are. The BEKO BBL might not be as strong as Spain, but I think that there are 8 very competitive teams in Germany. We can only focus on ourselves now. We have to stay together and if we can play consistent at a high level then the wins will come”, added Jamie Duncan.
Deutsche Bank Skyliner Seth Doliboa stated before the Artland Dragons game last weekend that this was the game of the year and Frankfurt came to play dismissing The Artland Dragons 77-65. It was another chance for the Artland Dragons to show how strong of a roster they have, but instead they gave a very disappointing performance as they were totally outclassed under the boards and defended as if their bodies had been put into the bodies of inexperienced youth players. It was a very poor performance and at times it seemed like the coach Thorsten Leibenath and his players were not on the same page and getting the idea that some players might not be taking him seriously could have crossed ones mind. However Folarin Campbell quickly rebuked this idea.
“No, we are totally behind our coach. He is our boss and we do anything he says. He will get us on the right page and I am sure he will lead us into the playoffs”, expressed Folarin Campbell.
In the 77-65 loss to The Deutsche Bank Skyliners, it also seemed like The Artland Dragons had a lack of fighters on the court. Guys that really fought as if it was their last game ever were American Nathan Peavy and German Alexander Seggelke, but the rest seemed like they were just followers, but maybe I was blinded by something during the game?
“We have many fighters and many scorers. Like I said earlier the biggest problem is our consistency. We have to play with a sense of urgency and turn it around now in the next game”, added Folarin Campbell.
The faithful Artland Dragons fans have been having a lot of patience, but the questions about the lack of success seems to be growing as rapidly each day the same way the question as to if the Bayer Giants Leverkusen will finally win the German Bundesliga soccer title this May. The fans started the Thorsten Leibenath debate last season when the team failed to reach the playoffs about wheather he is the right man for the job. One thing is for sure, many people forget exactly what difficult situation that Leibenath got into when he took the head coaching job with The Artland Dragons in 2008.
“The lack of success is a combination of the coach and players. I think that Thorsten has done a good job. I think that the expectations were too high. He already had two strikes as he took the job. He had to fill the job of Chris Fleming who had a lot of success and second a lot of pressure with having money and bringing in top players and then expecting success. It is really tough for Thorsten, because fans are impatient by nature. In Artland that is all that they have. They live and breathe basketball. Chris Fleming wasn´t able to get success right away. It took him many years to win the BBL cup. He also was able to grow as a coach in the second league. It usually takes 2-3 years for a new coach to put a stamp on a team. It is very difficult to fill the shoes of Chris and fans forget that it is very tough to make a winner quickly. The fans just don´t know all the details that happen behind the scenes. Teams have gotten better, so it seems like the Artland Dragons have been underachieving. I am confident that Thorsten will get the job done. Money don´t buy championships”, warned ex Science City coach Sean McCaw.
The Artland Dragons have seven games remaining with four home games, four winnable games and three tough games against Alba Berlin and The Eisbaeren Bremerhaven on the road and at home against 2009 BEKO BBL champion EWE Baskets Oldenburg. The stretch run will be very interesting and the team will not be allowed to have any slipups, but finish the season consistently and in style. The Artland Dragons finished the last seven games last season with a 6-1 record with Toby Bailey and Ronald Ross that they still have on board now plus a rejuvenated Hollis Price. The Artland Dragons now have to clench their fists and forget everything else and breath and live basketball like their faithful fans do and get into the playoffs, because any thing else would be a huge disappointment. Even if The Artland Dragons miss the playoffs, the fans might get over their gloating soon, because some big changes might happen that might not only force some fans to jump for the sky for joy like the Artland frogs, but could bring some added excitement to The BEKO BBL next season.