Sometimes the basketball world can be so small as the day after the horrible loss to Alba Berlin a week into the new year 2018, I was flying over to the States for my annual visit with my family over the all star break and I remember getting ready to say farewell to my son at the area where one disappears and is on it´s way to the departure gate at Frankfurt airport. I remember having to look twice as I didn´t see an Eintracht Frankfurt jersey or FC Barcelona of a fan, but one of a German easyCredit BBL club. I remember wondering wow nice to see a MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg fan roaming Frankfurt airport. I quickly realized that was no fan wearing the club´s attire, but top American player Thomas Walkup who walked by me not knowing I had interviewed him once on the phone. A little less than a week earlier I had interviewed him before a game in Oldenburg. I had never met him in person, so when finding out who he was came another “wow what a small world” moment. He didn´t hesitate to mention that his parents had adored the question answer session with him. Quickly I saw more players turn up with the likes of Kerron Johnson, Adam Waleskowski, Dwayne Evans and all the rest. Soon I found out, I would be on the same flight to Copenhagen, Denmark before our ways would separate as I would be heading over the big pond to Boston and Walkup and co would be heading to Lithuania for a Basketball Champions League game the next night. With all the players slowly appearing, head coach John Patrick couldn´t be far away I thought. After a short, but as always interesting and entertaining chit chat with Adam Waleskowski on our way to the boarding gate, I soon recognized John Patrick who was relaxing in a corner. As I approached him, I remembered many encounters I had over the years with him the first being in the 2007-2008 season either in the Fraport arena or Lok Halle. He looked more tired than his players as his eyes looked bigger than usual. I had learned the club had traveled to Frankfurt during the last night following the home loss to Alba Berlin so they would have less of a hike in the morning to catch their flight to Lithuania from Frankfurt. I didn´t ask about where the tiredness came from, but a logical explanation surely could have been that he had been up the last hours trying to digest the loss to Alba Berlin via video. After a short talk we flew to Copenhagen. Then when we were in Denmark, our ways crossed again as this time I had some further chit chat with the 2010 Eurochallenge winning coach and as always our topic was basketball and the big German talents Isaac Bonga of Frankfurt and Ariel Hukporti of the MHP Riesen. His eyes had become more normal as the morning was winding down and his body was getting used to the regular day routine that he has had as a coach since entering the BBL in 2007. 48 hours later he was already on his way back to Germany having experienced a solid 87-71 win over Neptunas. This was just another short chapter in the successful basketball coaching career of John Patrick who is a perfectionist that has that first title for the MHP Riesen lurking in his rear view mirror.
The Maryland native played at Stanford(NCAA) In the late 80´s and won the NIT title in 1991 and experienced 13 years as a professional mainly in Japan and Germany and then made a name as a coach in Germany as he won the Eurochallenge in 2010 with BG Goettingen only 2 years after reaching the BBL. At that time, it was only the third international club title won by a German team after Alba Berlin had won the Korac Cup in 1995 and the Mitteldeutscher BC the Fiba Europe Cup in 2004. It really doesn´t matter where the American has given his expertise to players, he has always been successful in the last 10 years. In his four year coaching career with BG Goettingen, he made the playoffs three times in four years and introduced his 40 minutes of hell style where he has his five players on the court playing a full court type of press that could easily have the biggest basketball novice who never saw the game believe that his players were sprinting on hot coals. Or it could have resembled when helpless antelopes are running for their lives as they are being chased by hungry cheetahs. It wasn´t always the most fun basketball to watch in terms of fundamentals, but for the Patrick style it was effective and successful. He coached a season with s Oliver Wurzburg where he took a talented team to the playoffs again and prompt kicked out Alba Berlin from the playoffs which CEO Marco Baldi must sometimes still wonder how that could have happened against his mighty Alba Berlin that were the huge favorites on paper. At that time, it also didn´t surprise anyone anymore that one of his so called no name players John Little would outduel 2011 BBL MVP Dashaun Wood having the kind of game the ex Skyliner should have had steering 20 points in the deciding game 4 while Wood had only 6 points. Another proof that Patrick not only knew where to find players off the radar in college, but also develop them further as professionals something he had made fashionably cool with BG Goettingen. With BG Goettingen and Wurzburg, he arrived from the start of the season so he was able to build the rosters from scratch while with Ludwigsburg, he started his reign there as a fireman mid way through the 2012-2013 season. Almost 5 years ago, he told me if coming to Ludwigsburg had been one of his biggest challenges to that point in his career as a head coach. “No it hasn´t. My first coaching job in Japan where I took over a team that was 0-5 and I ended up having a winning record. No risk no fun? I would not have taken this job if I hadn´t wanted to compete and take it personal. I am not concerned what happened before now, but I am fully motivated here to keep the team in the Beko BBL. It really doesn´t matter if I am coaching the U-12 or the Beko BBL team, I am here to make the team better”, warned John Patrick. Well he was unable to save the team at first as it came down to a last regular season do or die game in Frankfurt losing 77-72 as Zach Peacock was a menace scoring 20 points on 10/15 shooting. It seemed like Patrick had failed as a fireman as dousing this blaze was one too fierce, but the American did have the last laugh. The club was granted a wildcard and remained in the league. Patrick remained with the club and led them to the playoffs the last four seasons. He may only have a 5-12 playoff record in four consecutive quarterfinal loses, but his team´s always played their opponents hard. In his first two seasons, He lost to FC Bayern Munich 3-1 and was swept by Bamberg 3-0, but it was no cake walks for those teams as you can never take off only a few minutes when you play an aggressive and pesky squad like the MHP Riesen with Patrick calling the shots. In the last two playoff series they took FC Bayern Munich and ratiopharm Ulm to five games. With a few breaks here and there, the club could have reached their first semi final under Patrick.
In Patrick´s first four seasons as head coach with the MHP Riesen, he finished eighth three times and fifth once. This season seems to be the real breakthrough for the club as coming into the game with the Fraport Skyliners this weekend the team is currently in third place in the easyCredit BBL standings with a record of 14-4 and belong to the top Basketball Champions League teams with a identical record of 10-2 with Tenerife as only Monaco are better with a 11-0 record. At the rate that the MHP Riesen are going now, they have as good as a chance to bring a title to Ludwigsburg this season. The easyCRedit BBL will be the more difficult as even with Bamberg struggling now, when the real season starts in May, they will have found themselves and FC Bayern Munich are the clear favorites as no club have as deep and talented roster like they do this season. Their best chance will be in the Basketball Champions League where they have gone their path in a disciplined way and with the experienced Patrick barking the signals on the sidelines and mastering the scouting, one has to see the German team has a favorite to reach the Basketball Champions League final 4. After that anything is possible as he witnessed in 2010 when a little known 28 year old 211cm center Chris Mcnaughton had the game of his career helping propel BG Goettingen to the Eurochallenge title with 22 points in 15 minutes over Krasnie Krilya Samara and ex NBA player Ernest Bremer who was denied his second professional title after winning only one in his career with the 2005 ACB cup with Unicaja Malaga.
So what has been the secret of the success of John Patrick and this MHP Riesen team? Clearly their style which brings their athleticism to full throttle and his belief of small ball continues to be in his game plan. The extreme means of 40 minutes of hell isn´t present anymore, but that constant pressure is still there as his players are in constant motion disrupting the opponent until that first frustration moment happens which usually is already in the first few seconds having the first opponents mutter “Ok we really have to deal with this tonight”? The MHP Riesen add a high intensity to their aggressive defense which results in a lot more turnovers from their opponent which in most cases leads to easy transition baskets which is always an easier bucket to attain then having to work extra in the set offense. Their biggest weakness is their shooting as they are only 14th in the league in field goal percentage and a measly 17th in three point accuracy as only his ex team BG Goettingen is worse. So how is a third ranked BBL team able to be where they are when they have problems with shooting accuracy? They make up in other areas to allow them to be able to average 84 points per contest which is actually fourth best in the league. They get many extra chances because they have the word effort and fight plastered in their minds when it comes to rebounding the ball. They get many extra chances to score the ball as they lead the league with 36 boards a game. They also force their opponents to cough up the ball almost 18 times a game while they turnover the ball only 12 times. Being a good defensive team also doesn´t hurt in getting many more possessions then their opponent as they are fifth best In the league giving up only 67 points per contest. It also helps when the scoring gets spread around. There aren´t any real deadly consistent scorers like a Cooley, Brockman or Kennedy this season, but Patrick has many more weapons as eight guys score 8,0ppg or more. This is the kind of depth that will keep the MHP Riesen hanging around in late May into June.
However one of the most important things to understand is that for this style to be successful, Patrick not only needs the right players which have to be athletic, but guys that will not only understand his system, but accept it and want to play it. Over the years he has been very successful of finding the right players that will adapt to his program, but also has had to insert new players as others didn´t come to terms with his system. The other big plus in Patrick´s success has been being able to find the right players. Of course finding that Dorell Wright, Jared Cunningham or Luke Sikma isn´t difficult, but guys like that would laugh at a MHP Riesen offer, but it is finding the correct players that are within the more limited budget that Patrick really excels in. Patrick has proved for years that he is a master of hauling in the best possible players for the price that he has within the budget of the team. He already proved that in Goettingen bringing in lesser known players like a Taylor Rochestie or Trent Meachim that would reach the Euroleague level, or a Jason Boone who he grabbed from the Regionaliga or lesser known college players Chris Oliver or John Little who would go on to have successful careers. He has continued to do this with the MHP Riesen over the years bringing in the absolute best talent reaching as far as the NBA for not necessarily the highest price as guys like Koby Carl, Keaton Grant, John Brockman, Michael Stockton, Shawn Huff, Royce O´Neal, DJ Kennedy, and Jack Cooley have shown. His coaching opponent this weekend Gordon Herbert would foam at the mouth if he could only have had half of that talent In the last years as five of the eight have demonstrated their abilities at the NBA level. This season he had little luxury of keeping up last season´s chemistry as he could only keep Germans David Mccray and Johannes Thiemann. He hauled in 9 new players and didn´t have those NBA type names stocking his roster this season, but moreover brought in BBL experience with Kerron Johnson, Dwayne Evans, Rocky Trice, Justin Sears and Adam Waleskowski. He also brought in D-League player Elgin Cook and Thomas Walkup with the latter being on the radar of NBA teams. Of course it helps when guys like Waleskowski and Johnson have already played under Patrick and know his system. The biggest strength that these new players have is simply they bought into Patrick´s system. So often teams falter with new roster building like the Eisbaeren Bremerhaven or Walter Tigers Tuebingen this season. It isn´t always the talent that is important for having success as the Eisbaeren and Tigers have seen the last years, but something was missing for them. Key for success is the character of the players and also the coaching of course. You have to want to play for coach Patrick and that is what these guys do.
After a learning experience as a rookie in the D-league with the Windy City Bulls where Walkup was simply not ready yet for a NBA chance last year, he came to Germany ready for a new challenge. This season the American has been a delight for Patrick as he has brought his winning mentality that he shared at SF Austin(NCAA) and his unending versatile play as he is averaging in double figures in scoring in both the BBL and BCL, filling up the stat sheet like a Alex Ruoff and shooting 42% from outside in both competitions as he has vastly improved his shooting under Patrick. He might have interesting offers not only in Europe this summer, but also from across the pond. A new NBA Summer League chance coupled with heightened play might see Walkup in a totally new basketball galaxy next fall, but for now he has other goals and that is to bring Ludwigsburg their first title. He loves playing for Patrick and knows the key to success under Patrick. “Coach Patrick has done a great job helping me in the pick and roll and helping me with reads. Also assistant coach Joey Cantens has worked a lot with me on my shot and it has helped. He is a big reason why my shot has been feeling great. John Patrick is a perfectionist. Basketball is a game of inches. He is a great guy to be around and a very demanding guy. A big reason why we are winning is because of him. We work until we get it right”, warned Thomas Walkup. This weekend Patrick goes head to head with an old BBL colleague in Gordon Herbert as they have had their special moments on the sidelines battling each other. At the moment their head to head record stands at 10-10. Herbert had Patrick´s number in their first 5 meetings, but since then Patrick has had more success especially with the MHP Riesen as he is 10-5. Patrick and the MHP Riesen won the first encounter 79-62 as they followed the game plan with a stellar defensive performance, forced Frankfurt to 17 turnovers, outrebounded them and took their top scorer Philip Scrubb out of the game limiting him to 6 points on 1/7 shooting. It will be a tough time for Frankfurt as they are still without Scrubb and have limited bodies in the front court. For the MHP Riesen it will be another big game for jockeying position at the top of the standings as they continue to fight for home court advantage in the playoffs. The next months will be very interesting in how the MHP Riesen continue to develop as a team and if they will peak at the end of April and into the Playoffs. Even if the news and severe blow to the team that Johannes Thiemann had been lost to a season ending injury is tough, the club has enough depth and Patrick will find a replacement. He may not equal what Thiemann brings on the court, but he will have another body and the rest will be up to his expertise scouting and coaching to find success in the next months. This may be the best rounded and most versatile team that Patrick has ever had and like in Goettingen he has enough Mcnaughton type players that can make that special difference in any big game. If the wins continue to pile up in the Basketball Champions League in the next months, the bigger that title will start to look in his rear view mirror.