Even if the EasyCredit BBL season has been one to forget for the Oettinger Rockets, there most likely have been times when Ekene Ibekwe made the trouble times just a tad easier being able to sprout some of his worldly basketball experiences with his teammates in the quaint city of 46,000 persons. Ebekwe is a 32 year old 207 center that is playing his 11th season and his basketball resume looks like a fine delicate mess simply with all the places he has discovered and played at in his stellar career. In his 11 year career he has played in 11 countries and laced up his sneakers for 19 different clubs. In Germany he has worn the jersey of five clubs with Artland, Bayreuth, Giessen, Frankfurt and currently with the Oettinger Rockets and last season for the first time played with four teams experiencing highs and lows like no other which has been transported into this season. With so many stations and teams, one can debate if he was even around enough to win titles, but he has racked up his titles over the years starting before he was a professional with Maryland(NCAA) winning the tough ACC tournament in 2004 and collected a Bronze medal at the 2005 African championships. As a professional he has done most damage in France winning the Pro B title in 2008 as a rookie with Besancon Basket Comte Doubs and was Pro A champion last season with Chalon. He also won the 2015 NBL title in Australia with the New Zealand Breakers and has had no problems living the nomadic basketball life. “I just will go there where a team wants me and where I fit in best”, warned Ekene Ibekwe. The Nigerian/American who has played with the Nigerian national team for ages also had very fond memories balling for the African Nation playing at the 2006 World championships and losing to Germany on a Dirk Nowitzki buzzer beater and priceless memories of taking part at the 2012 Olympics in London and 2016 Olympics in Rio where he led the tournament in blocks. His exciting basketball career just continues as he keeps chugging along past the ripe age of 30 as last season he encountered a period of ups and downs that has carried over into this season. Last season he played a total of 55 games in 6 competitions in four countries Czech Republic, Germany, Turkey and France. Even if he moved around as much a Russell Westbrook seemingly does on the court in each game his season ended with a happy experience e. He began in the Czech Republic playing seven games, but the club had a stacked roster and he quickly found himself with the Fraport Skyliners where he played very well averaging .9,3ppg, 4.2rpg, FGP: 65.6%, 3PT: 50.0%, FT: 90.0% in the Basketball Champions League and in the German BBL 7.9ppg, 4.6rpg, 2FGP: 56.3%, 3FGP: 35.3%, FT: 69.2%. However in Frankfurt he also got lost in the shuffle and then had a very short stay in Turkey with Muratbey Usak Sportlif Basketbol where he didn´t get the desired minutes averaging 5.6ppg, 4.5rpg, 1.5bpg, 2FGP: 50.9%, FT: 52.8% in the Turkish BSL. With spring time having arrived, he was ready to pack up and go home to Los Angeles for the summer, but instead the big man that can hurt you from outside on any given night landed in France with Chalon as they needed an experienced player in their stretch run and playoff hopes. With Chalon he played 15 games averaging 5.2ppg, 3.2rpg, FGP: 51.2%, 3PT: 34.8%, FT: 70.6%. He averaged 15 minutes per game, but was an important player from the bench giving energy on both ends of the floor. He witnessed two very exciting playoffs series beating Paris in four games and overcoming Strasburg in five games to win the Pro A title as he powered 7 points in game five. Even if he could entertain a crowded Lantica Trattoria restaurant in Gotha with his basketball experience and wisdom for an evening, just reliving what had happened last season would have lasted a whole night into the wee hours of the morning. He finished off last season with a high and this season is currently encountering a low as he and the Oettinger Rockets are near the end of the EasyCredit BBL standings in 16th place as their biggest misfortune has been seemingly unending injuries. Despite the hardships, he is holding his own averaging 13,6ppg, 7,1rpg, 1,0spg and 2,4bpg while shooting 44,4% from outside and leading the league in blocks. He hasn´t lost his touch and is just as good as a player as when he was 25 or 26 years old. He has done the best he could and continues to prove that he can fit in anyway and takes losing like a professional. He may not win a title this year, but just being able to produce a wonder and somehow keep the Oettinger Rockets in the EasyCredit BBL for another season will be like winning a title.
The goals and expectations with the Oettinger Rockets have been huge for years as their rise from Regionalliga also has been huge. In 2009, they were still playing in the Regionalliga until they moved up to the Pro B in 2010 and in only two short seasons won the Pro B crown in 2012 and moved to the Pro A. They reached the Pro A playoffs in their second season and in their sixth season got to the EasyCredit BBL. A lot of the success and growth of the club had to do with the successful management of Wolgang Heyder who had been successful in Bamberg and had a new vision with Gotha. Also the coaching duo of Chris Ensminger and Steve Esterkamp was key, but they were unable to fullend their goal of the BBL as they were dismissed last season in a down period last where they weren´t winning and in a way were unjustly left out in the cold to freeze losing their jobs. Gotha finished the season with Ivan Pavic. They gave their fans an unforgettable playoff run beating Crailsheim in four and then doing the unexpected somehow overcoming Chemnitz winning three do or die games in a row as they had been down 2-0 early and won the last three games by a combined total of not more than 11 points.
The Oettinger Rockets came into their inaugural BBL season going with a very risky plan by Wolfgang Heyder where he put a big focus on developing Germans, but as the summer wore on less and less imports were signed which got many to think how this club would survive a BBL season and not return back to the Pro A. A big problem is that the club brought in unproven Germans like Johannes Richter(7,0ppg, 4,0rpg) and Andreas Obst(11,3ppg, 2,4rpg, 1,3apg 49% from outside), but were very hungry to develop further and prove to their ex clubs that they have the talent to become very good BBL players. Both have had a good start and their confidence will carry them to good seasons. Robert Oehle(4,3ppg, 2,4rpg) is an experienced BBL player, but a player that would need to take a lot more responsibility here then he would anywhere else and putting up consistent solid stats with Gotha is rather unrealistic. The ex Bamberg players Daniel Schmidt(6,3ppg, 1,1rpg, 3,5apg) and Dino Dizdarevic(4,4ppg, 1,4rpg) are talented guys yearning for a chance and getting it, but also unproven that also need to take responsibility. All have shown flashes this season, but being consistent is a goal that is seemingly impossible for these players to be able to accomplish. On top of needing production from their Germans, Gotha has been hit with a massive injury bug as planned key players Dane Watts and Sava Lesic were lost to injuries putting a dent into their team chemistry. It also didn´t help the club that main club sponsor decided to turn off the clash flow fountain. The club has some talented Imports. Ekene Ibekwe is the leader and keeping Darrell Mitchell(6,0ppg, 3,5rpg) was a plus as his experience having played in the top leagues like France and Turkey has shown in the BBL as he has needed no time to adjust. Belgium national player Retin Obasohin also has done a fine job taking responsibility in his second season after coming from Scandone Avellino (Italy-Serie A) is taking the scoring load for Gotha averaging 14,5ppg, 4,6rpg and 3,4apg. Another bright spot has been Serban Nemanja Jaramaz(12,3ppg, 3,3rpg, 2,8apg, 42,9% from outside) who also adds Euroleague/VTB experience. But the club didn´t extend his short term contract as he moved to the Basketball Lowen Braunschweig.
At first glance on paper the Oettinger Rockets might seem like a team not deep enough for generating sufficient scoring power, but they are averaging a surprising 82 points per game and can light up teams on any night as they have scored 80 points four times, but there biggest problem is defense as they give up 89 points on average. They have allowed 90 points or more four times and even if they did win their last game against Tuebingen 90-83, there seems to be no cure for their defensive woes. They are also the worst rebounding team in the league getting only 25 rebounds per game. Granted the loss of Sava Lesic and Dane Watts has put a void into their rebounding core, but still they have big bodies with Richter, Ibekwe and Ohle that just need to be more physical and show more presence in the paint as well as the guards who need to help out more. Gotha isn´t a bad team as they have talent and can score on any night, but they simply need more effort and heart on the defensive end. If they could find some kind of chemistry on the defensive end then there might be some hope in saving their season, but at the moment they have some fortune and breathing room as seemingly way better stocked teams like Tuebingen and Bremerhaven are underachieving and worse than the Oettinger Rocekts. However the Oettinger Rockets are still one of the main favorites to move down. It is only a matter of time before Bremerhaven finds a groove and Tuebingen has the talent, but need the right coach now to save them. This coming weekend surprise team Fraport Skyliners come to Gotha with the sixth best defense in the league. Frankfurt have prided themselves on always defending well for 40 minutes as their defense hasn´t peaked yet and maybe Gotha should take some notes how well Frankfurt communicate, switch and clog the paint area to make life very uncomfortable for their opponents. The Fraport Skyliners have a slim rotation, but Niklas is back, but still needs time to adjust after his concussion that kept him out for six weeks. Both teams will be rested after the World Cup qualifying period and have the needed energy for a 40 minute battle. But the Fraport Skyliners will grind it out on the road without problems as Philip Scrubb will be very motivated to get back on the winning track as he and Canada were upset by the Dominican Republic earlier in the week and with their combination of aggressive defense and well molded offense that continues to get better over time.