Are the Dragons Rhondorf Really A Pro B Title Team Or Just A Playoff Team?

Sometimes one has to wonder how much added fun there would be in Germany in the Christmas time if there was the same amount of opportunities for kids to meet Santa Claus at the local mall as in the States, because that amazing experience is always a high light for any kid before the real game starts with opening presents. One also has to wonder if a Viktor Frankl-Maus could be as exciting playing a Santa Claus for kids as he is making breathtaking passes that makes him a kind of passing magician in the German Pro B. Either way with the great passing ability, positive character and sense of humor, he could easily attempt to a play a Santa Claus if asked.  Not only is it fun for any kid to sit on Santa´s lap and wish for that special present, but it has been extra fun again this season coming into the always boisterous Dragon Dome and watching the Dragons Rhondorf play basketball again with you trying to predict for how many points a Kameron Taylor will go for and watching the grand leadership of Viktor Frankl-Maus and his Rajon Rondo type passes that he always good for. But most important the Dragons Rhondorf are winning again something they hadn´t been doing on a regular basis since their spectacular Pro B run in the 2014-2015 season that led them into the Pro A. Are the Dragons Rhondorf back on course  good and ripe enough for a title again or will the playoffs be a certain reality, but nothing more?

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Miles Schmidt-Scheuber interviewing Dragons Rhondorf guard Kameron Taylor after dropping 24 points and a buzzer beater against the Fraport Skyliners Juniors in 82-80 win

Last season was a season to forget as the club had seemingly a competitive roster, but with the talent that they had underachieved.

The three imports were all talented, but with the exception of the big dawg Aaron Nelson who tore up the league and is now continuing to do that in his other stomping ground Chile just weren´t consistent enough as rookie Mike Lucier and Will Trawick just couldn´t give the team the needed boost. Also the German role players weren´t as deep as this season as with the exception of Thomas Michel also couldn´t give the team the needed consistency on a regular basis. It also didn´t help the success in the early going that Germans Valentin Blass and Yannik Kneesch came in the stretch run. Rhondorf were fortunate that they had them around during the playdown phase because without them, the club may have been just as successful as now, but down a step in the Regionalliga. All in all last season was a disaster, but they did have that much needed happy end as they escaped the playdown time getting big wins against Nordlingen and Lich to save their season.

 

This season has been a total turn around and been like night and day and despite having possibly a bit less total input from their input players and a coming and going of a few, but that hasn´t effected their season at all. The big secret to their success has been the consistent production of their German players who have stepped on the floor and demonstrated a very unselfish attitude as they have come to paly for the good of the team and less for their ego. But before we get to the Germans, one has to summarize the first half ups and downs of the import players situation. Halfway through last season one probably felt the club would never bring in a player like Aaron Nelson ever again as he was tearing up the  league with 23 and 12 stats, but then left the team nonchalantly near the end of the season as the team was battling for their lives to stay in the league. This season the club got an upgrade with Kameron Taylor who is an early candidate for Pro B MVP. He clearly is too good for the Pro B level as he already demonstrated last season averaging 10,8ppg and shooting 43% from outside with Pro A team Ehingen. He took a step back looking to make two steps next season in a higher league. His weeks of training with the BBL team Telekom Baskets Bonn helped his IQ and experience with Josh Mayo and a number of the players like Julian Gamble had claimed that Taylor could play at the BBL level. This season the ex Seton Hill(NCAA) standout has been superman like averaging 23,3ppg, 7,4rpg, 5,1apg and 2,6spg and shooting a respectable 34% from the parking lot as he lives and dies with his mid distance jumper. He has scored in double figures in every game, 20 points or more in 10 games and 30 points or more three times. His highlights include a 37 point explosion against Schwelm, 32 points against Coburg and 31 points against the Bayer Giants Leverkusen. Other highlights included flirting with a triple double in the unexpected loss to Giessen where he had 23 points, nine rebounds and 12 assists and fired home a buzzer beater against the Fraport Skyliners Juniors. It´s only a matter of time when he will achieve his first triple double of the season. He has bee a quiet leader at both ends of the court and just carried the team over the whole season and makes his teammates better. Rhondorf could clearly have lost three other games without his top game and the team would now be 7-7 and in seventh place. The key fact to Taylor though is that despite his consistent scoring games, he is and remains an unselfish player. He does a good job trying not to force up shots, but takes what the defense gives him. He likes to score, but at the same time enjoys making the extra pass giving a teammate a great shot instead of a good shot.

Not all import players have panned out as American KJ Sherril who had been signed for the season couldn´t come to terms with the fitness and took a step back and moved to the Telekom Baskets Regionaliga team. For him, the club reeled in talented Canadian Kevin Thomas who played nine games averaging 9,1ppg, 7,8rpg, 2,7apg, 2,6spg and 1,2bpg. He was clearly a huge force that gave energy at both ends of the floor, but was in the shadow of Kameron Taylor, but accepted his role without problems. He was vital in the crunch-time wins in Dresden and Coburg as he filled the stat sheet and was that defensive stopper in key situations. But suddenly his dad got ill and he returned home and never returned as his father died. Losing his services was a huge blow, but the club compensated his loss in the 5 games he didn´t play getting sufficient input from their German players and posting a 3-2 record. In a way the club was playing only with one and half imports as third import player Ronalds Elknis has been a disappointment. He came to Germany having won the Latvian second division title with  BK Jelgava/BJSS (LBL2) where he averaged 25 minutes averaging 11.7ppg, 6.4rpg, 2.3apg, 1.0spg, FGP-3(63.2%), 3PT: 45.0%, FT: 82.0%. With Rhondorf the positive Latvian lion has averaged only 13,2 minutes per game, 3,2ppg, 2,0rpg and is shooting only 11,8% from outside. Head coach Thomas Adelt stressed he wanted him to play his game and influence the game in his way, but so far it hasn´t happened. It looked like he was starting to come out of his shell as he scored six points against Schwelm and eight points in Coburg in the wins and four points in eight minutes in the loss in Frankfurt, but against Giessen had only two points in 27 minutes. Maybe the expectations were to high, but so far he just hasn´t been able to adjust to the Pro B, but he is a very hard worker that just needs that one breakout game. Perhaps doesn´t have the total trust from Adelt either. A heightening of his play would be more than beneficial for the club´s success. But that won´t happen as when Rhondorf return back to the court January 6th against Coburg, Elksnis will be home in Latvia as he had asked for his release and gotten it from the club. With the departure of Thomas, the club reacted bringing in Brandon Watkins who seems to be a carbon copy of Thomas. He had similar stats at Enosis in Cyprus where Thomas played last season and is also looking for his breakthrough. He played at the well known West Virginia(NCAA) and has three inches on Thomas with 206cm. The question will be not only if he will be able to make an impact right away, but be as potent a player as Thomas was?

However the biggest strength of the Dragons Rhondorf has been the play of the German role players. As always captain Viktor Frankl-Maus has been the German leader and a capable side kick to Taylor. Last season he led the Pro B in assists with 7,0, but is a bit down this season with 5,2 only, but has improved his rebounding and steals over last season while his scoring average is the same. He also has better range from outside improving his 21% from last season to 32% at the moment. He keeps the German players happy and does a fine job with his keen playmaking making them look good and putting them in good positions to score. He also is a fine duo on the defensive end with Taylor and could be the best defensive duo in the Pro B south and he does a great job pushing the ball in transition. Thomas Michel may have made the biggest jump as he is averaging one minute less than last season, but has upped his scoring to 8,2ppg and plays with so much energy and is a weapon with his scoring inside and out which always keeps the defense guessing. Last season Valentin Blass and Yannik Kneesch came in the playdowns from the Telekom Baskets Bonn 2 team to help save the season and this season both have been key role players from the start. Blass has given that feared three point touch as he is shooting 45% from outside while Yannik Kneesch has been that added inside presence giving stability in the paint having had some key games and scoring in double figures in four games. From the two kids Alexander Moeller and Anton Geretzki, Moeller has made the biggest jump coming form the NBBL(U-19) league averaging 14 and 7 stats and also played with the Telekom Baskets Bonn Regionalliga team averaging 10 and 4 stats. With Rhondorf he has averaged 20 minutes averaging 7,1ppg and 4,4rpg. The 19 year old 208cm center has had his ups and downs as any young player would, but showed flashes of excellence scoring 18 points and grabbing 10 rebounds against Dresden and had 18 points and nine rebounds against Wurzburg. He needs to keep getting the trust of the coaching staff and should be able to continue to produce and with experience comes consistency. 19 year old Anton Geretzki who had a stellar NBBL season last season averaging 12,0ppg, 9,0rpg and 5,0apg continues to develop and is an energetic help from the bench with his shooting and transition game. After having a tough injury, Patrick Reusch has slowly found his groove after his amazing 18 point masterpiece in 18 minutes in the win against Karlsruhe where he took the bulk of the responsibility from Kameron Taylor who was in early foul trouble in the first half. Reusch is that reliable and durable player from the bench that can score in bunches and ignites the defense with big plays.

This season the Dragons Rhondorf had a bit of everything with blow out wins against the Bayer Giants Leverkusen, FC Bayern Munich, EN Baskets Schwelm and KIT SC Karlsruhe. They had two blowout losses against Giessen and Elchingen, a buzzer beater win against Frankfurt, two crunch-time victories against Dresden and Coburg on the road and two bad loses, one  in Frankfurt that they let slip away and were distracted by the Giessen seven man rotation with three NBBL players losing their first game at home very uncharacteristically. The club averaged 80 points per game eighth in the league and give up 74 points which is sixth in the league and belong to the top rebounding teams averaging 36 which is third in the league. The club prides defense and one can be sure the team will be working on that area and should be able to keep that consistency that they have had this season except for the two bad loses in Elchingen and Giessen where they gave up 96 points on average. The club is a potent offensive force and will continue to be with the stellar play of Taylor leading the charge. Their strong rebounding has been refreshing that they don´t have that dominant big man, but everyone helps out from the first to 12th man as effort is something that has been present in the paint on the defensive end. The biggest compliment to the coaching staff has been the hard work developing the roles of the German players. There are no ego´s and everyone plays for each other a mentality that is very important when a team is looking to play deep into the season. The club has a 10-4 record with an uncomplete cast of import players. The question will be how well will Brandon Watkins get integrated and will he be able to fill the void of Kevin Thomas and how much of an advantage will the team take with his presence? The club is on a super way, but should a Kameron Taylor get injured then that could be disastrous. Is this team a title candidate? The club has shown this season that it knows how to play team basketball, have a defined  defensive philosophy, Top MVP candidate with unselfish Kameron Taylor and most important have character. The atmosphere is very good within the team and all they have to do is execute on the court. The last two loses were tough, but in a way maybe a blessing in disguise in that they see they aren´t invincible. The club will make the playoffs and play a big role leading up to the title. The club simply has something special and a lot of character and that is already half the rent. Now they just need to continue to execute and take it game by game and the rest will take care of it´s self.

 

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