Last season the Telekom Baskets Bonn missed the Play-Offs for the first time in seven years. It has been just for the second time since 1996 that the post season started without the magenta colored jerseys.
It was clear that everything had to be questioned this summer and almost every player seemed to be replaceable.
The one big exception was Bundesliga veteran Chris Ensminger. The 37-year old center, who has spend almost his entire pro career in Germany was signed for two more years – and with good reason. Ensminger has always been one of these players you love to have on your team and you easily start to hate on the opponent’s team. Of course his style sometimes seems questionable and he did his best to be called Mr. Elbow or the league’s elbow among fans. But even in his late 30s Ensminger is simply one of the best big men in the BBL. He still knows all those old school center moves (that slowly disappear from the game), works hard under the baskets and is always a team-first player. What else could you wish for? And I think there could not be a better teacher for german youngster Jonas Wohlfahrt-Bottermann, who should finally get some more minutes in Germany’s elite league. The 21-year old prospect averaged 12.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game for ProA club Rhöndorf Dragons last season and has to get more quality minutes to take the next step in his career.
Another promising player who remains with Bonn is Fabian Thülig. The 21-year old Small Forward has already become a part of Mike Koch’s rotation throughout last season and with the departure of Alex King he should be the number one backup for position 3 now.
Apart from these three players (one starter, two youngsters) Bonn parted ways with the entire squad from last season.
If last season’s signings were kind of a return to the more athletic and fast game that brought Bonn to the BBL Finals in 2009, this season clearly looks like the return to a more structured and less fast break oriented style.
The team’s first new signing brought a familiar face back to the Baskets: American playmaker Jared Jordan returned to Bonn after one season in Greece. During his first time with the Telekom Baskets Bonn the 27-year old turned out to be a player who makes his team mates better but lacks good defense. During the 2009/10 play-offs he showed that he can be a scorer, but Jordan’s big strength is to make his team mates look good and organize the offense.
Next to Jordan Bonn signed the versatile Lithuanian Benas Veikalas. A starting Shooting Guard from Lithuania in a magenta jersey. I guess every BBL fan will soon come up with the name Rimantas Kaukenas who played for Bonn in 2003/04. Veikalas spent last season with Czech club BK Prostejov and averaged 15.7 points in international games in the EuroChallenge. He is especially known for his great shooting range.
Another Lithuanian will be the starter on position 3: Simonas Serapinas will give the club a lot of experience and quality as he has won two national championships with Zalgiris Kaunas and even played 64 Euroleague games in his career. The 29-year old has been a member of the Lithuanian national team and is well known for his big basketball IQ and versatile game.
Another European player with lots of potential was signed by Bonn to play on the Power Forward position and replace german national player Tim Ohlbrecht. Zvonko Buljan is a 24-year old Croatian who can play with his back to the basket as well as he can make shots from outside. With his combination of size and quickness he is able to play the positions 3-5. Last season his team mate in Cyprus was Miah Davis who has already played for Bonn in 2007/08. Davis only had good words for Buljan as he averaged 11.3 points and 7.3 rebounds for his club while shooting 45.8% from outside.
It is interesting to see that Mike Koch no longer sticks to his old strategy that mainly brought athletic Americans to Bonn. For the first time ever he signed players from other European countries to be in the starting five. If one combines these three players with Ensminger’s classical center play and Jordan’s old-school playmaking abilities you have a very uncommon team for BBL standards.
A player who fits much more to the usual Mike Koch strategy is the 26-year old Tony Gaffney. He will probably come from the bench and be Bonn’s sixth man. Gaffney is a great worker under the baskets with a nice work ethic. I always thought that he could fit well in the style of basketball that is played in the BBL. I think he has all it takes to become a fan favorite as he brings in a lot of energy and enthusiasm.
Apart from Gaffney Bonn’s bench looks not really competitive. Next to Wohlfahrt-Bottermann and Thülig two other germans were signed. Daniel Hain who has spent the last five years with EWE Baskets Oldenburg is a very good defender with mediocre offensive potential. He looks like a great addition to the defensively rather poor Jared Jordan but don’t expect him to contribute offensively. 24-year old Andrej Mangold is also a good defender but just like Hain he is not exactly the scorer the team would desperately need.
PG Jordan / Hain
SG Veikalas / Mangold
SF Serapinas / Thülig
PF Buljan / Gaffney
C Ensminger / Wohlfahrt-Bottermann
New players bold
As I mentioned before the Telekom Baskets Bonn should be a very interesting team this season as they are not your typical BBL team. I really like the idea of bringing in foreign players with a European background but still I don’t exactly know how they will fit in with Mike Koch’s idea of fast break basketball. With this starting five Koch’s playbook needs a lot more systems for set plays. As uncommon and risky as the roster may seem at first sight I think that this team should be successful. The starting five looks strong enough for a play-off team, but the bench lacks quality and apart from Gaffney I don’t see a lot of offensive power.
With this roster I expect Bonn to fight for the places 8-12. Only if everything works from the beginning and the team stays healthy magenta jerseys will be seen in the post season. To be a stronger competitor in the play-off race the team would really need another SG/SF who can score from the bench and give the team some more depth. Let’s hope for the Telekom Baskets fans that the management still has some money left to add this kind of player to the roster. Otherwise it will be a very tough fight for a play-off ticket this year.