After eight games the Wiha Panthers Schwenningen and the Fraport Skyliners Juniors may have had an identical 6-2 record in this year’s Pro B competition. But apart from the record Schwenningen and Frankfurt don’t have much in common. While Frankfurt has a roster full of german talents and primilary uses the Pro B as a platform to develop players for their first division team, Schwenningen mainly counts on experienced players and tries to establish basketball in the Black Forest. On Gameday 8 Schwenningen hosted Frankfurt at the Deutenberghalle and 850 spectators witnessed a commanding 68-48 start-finish victory of the home team.
In Schwenningen the fans are used to see their team winning. Since 2015 the club has won the vast majority of its home games and established a growing fan basis. After winning the Regionalliga title in 2016/17 the Wiha Panthers became one of the main talking points in german basketball. The club was not happy about the foreigner rules in Germany’s third-tier level league and threatened to initiate legal actions. In Pro B competition at least three german or so called local players have to be on the court at anytime. Schwenningen did not want to part ways with some of their european top performers and declared that the practiced rules may not be in accordance with european regulations. A process that could have dramatically changed the foreigner rules in german basketball ended abruptly before it even started. Due to a procedural error in their application documents the Wiha Panthers could not make the jump from the Regionalliga to the Pro B. Schwenningen’s head coach Alen Velčić still believes the decision of the Zweite Basketball-Bundesliga was mainly politically motivated to keep his club out of the competition. But Schwenningen did what they do best, competed for another year in the Regionalliga Südwest and could again win the championship with just one loss in 28 games. This time the club declared to play by the rules and accepted the existing foreigner regulations.
Still the Pro B is a league full of teams with different interests and approaches. If you have a closer look at the clubs in the southern section of Germany’s Pro B league, it becomes obvious that a lot of teams are basically just juniorteams or associated farmteams of BBL clubs. Frankfurt, Gießen, Munich and Würzburg have got junior teams in the competition. Rhöndorf is associated with BBL team Telekom Baskets Bonn and Orange Academy is connected to Ratiopharm Ulm. So a total of six out of twelve participating teams have a direct link to first division clubs and clearly look to develop young players for their first division team. What sounds good for german basketball and the development of talents has its downside as well. With so called „Doppellizenzspieler“ (young players who are eligible to play for the first and second team) on their roster, farmteams are not always able to compete with their absolute best players. If the first division team needs the talents to play for them, the farm team has to deal with the absence of the players. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors started with a perfect 6-0 record, but since then had to deal with the sudden departure of playmaker Jules Akodo and Richard Freudenberg getting major minutes for the first division team. Ever since the team does not look as stable as before.
After a career-high 21 points against the Gießen 46ers on Saturday and 29 minutes against Unicaja Malaga in EuroCup action, Richard Freudenberg did not make the trip to the Black Forest on Sunday. Frankfurt alsocarrived in Schwenningen without center Armin Trtovac and american sniper T.J. Roach. With three key-players missing it was clear that Frankfurt would have a hard time in Schwenningen. The Panthers were without injured Hannes Osterwalder and Bill Borekambi is still having problems with his back.
Even though Head Coach Alen Velčić also faced injury trouble in recent weeks, the promoted team had a surprisingly good start and remained unbeaten at home. It was interesting to see how Alen Velčić managed to built a new team under the Pro B regulations this summer. Schwenningen brought back four players from the Regionalliga championship team with former BBL player and identity figure Kosta Karamatskos, american Regionalliga MVP Rasheed Moore, lithuanian veteran Darius Pakamanis and bulgarian forward Sergey Tsvetkov. Head coach Velčić, who was born in Villingen, lured experienced germans Leon Friederici and Bill Borekambi to the Black Forest and signed two german talents with 22-year old Abdulai Abaker and 19-year old Dion Braimoh. With an average of 28 years the Wiha Panthers have got the oldest team in this year’s Pro B competition. Especially if you look at Frankfurt’s roster the difference compared to other teams of the league becomes obvious. When Wiha Panthers player Darius Pakamanis signed his first pro deal with BC Siauli back in 2001 Frankfurt’s young talent Len Schoormann was not even born. On gameday 8 the 37-year old Pakamanis, who had played in the spanish ACB, faced the 16-year old talent Schoormann, who easily could be his son. Just like Schwenningen’s quick transition basketball is an enrichment for the league it should be a valuable lesson for a talent like Schoormann to not only compete against other german youngsters, but test his strenghth against a player like Pakamanis, who has seen it all.
Schwenningen started the game with a 9-0 run and was led by german Leon Friederici and american Rasheed Moore. The 23-year old Regionalliga MVP dominated last season in Germany’s fourth division and continues to be Schwenningen’s most important offensive player. Frankfurt’s head-coach Sebastian Gleim did not wait long to react and brought in an entire new line-up after a few minutes. But still Schwenningen’s lead started to grow to 14-3. After the game Sebastian Gleim was very honest: „After three minutes I realized that we would probably not win anything today.“
Gleim should be right about that as his team never recovered from the bad start. After 10 minutes the Skyliners Juniors had scored just 7 points and already trailed by 11 at the end of the quarter (18-7).
Things could only get better for Frankfurt after the disasterous start. After Schwenningen’s Pakamanis missed a three pointer, swedish talent Elijah Clarance found his way through Schwenningen’s defence and dunked with force. Just some moments later Clarance and Panthers forward Sergey Tsvetkov would accidently bang their heads and both men had to sit out for some minutes. Tsvetkov came back with a head-band that looked like a turban and Clarance returned with a small cut on his left eyebrow – and a lot of anger. The leading scorer of the 2018 FIBA Under-20 championship had scored 11 of Frankfurt’s 25 points at the half. Offensively Clarance carried Frankfurt and defensively the Skyliners Junios benefited from a press and zone defense that confused Schwenningen for several possessions. Rasheed Moore was Schwenningen‘s topscorer at the half (11 points) and the home team led by 9 after 20 minutes (34-25).
With the start of the third quarter the Panthers started to take full control of the game. Leon Friederici had four quick points that forced Frankfurt to call for an early time-out. But with Schwenningen now playing a matchup zone, the Skyliners failed to find any solutions. They were forced to take contested long distance shots and never found a rhythm offensively. On the other side of the court Rasheed Moore demonstrated why he should be considered an early Pro B-MVP candidate. He scored 11 of his 31 points in the third quarter and often could only be stopped by fouls. With a 19 point margin at the end of the quarter (55-36) the game seemed already lost for Frankfurt.
But with the game almost out of reach for Frankfurt the Panthers lost some intensity and commited a couple of unnecessary turnovers. Frankfurt was able to cut the deficit to 13, but their weak three point percentage (3/24 = 13%) should cost them any chance to come back into this game. Again it was Rasheed Moore who took over and secured the lead with a number of made free throws and a nasty dunk. After 40 minutes Schwenningen could celebrate a comvincing 68-48 homewin.
Schwenningen’s head-coach Alen Velčić was happy after the game: „I told you that our goal was to win at least three out of the last four games to have a good chance to make it to the play-offs. With today’s victory we accomplished that!“ Still Velčić did not want to get too enthousiastic and stressed: „We expected Frankfurt to play with center Trtovac and american Roach. Without them they lost a big part of their offensive production. Maybe exactly those 20 points we were up at the end.“ Both teams will meet again in January. But first Schwenningen will face current Pro B South leader Bayer Giants Leverkusen, who has a perfect 9-0 record. One should not be surprised if Schwenningen manages to be the first team to defeat the German record title holders. The Wiha Panthers are not an ordinary promoted team and did not take long to acclimatise tot he Pro B competition. With a full roster they can be a threat for any team in the league and it will be interesting to see if they can develop into a serious title contender.