Alexander Blessig (Bayer Giants Leverkusen) We Want To Develop A Winning Mentality Knowing That It Is Important To Stay Humble And Keep Improving

Alexander Blessig is a 25 year old 188cm guard from Berlin playing his third professional season with the Bayer Giants Leverkusen(ProB). Currently he has been a vital part in the 10-0 start of the team averaging 10,1ppg, 2,4rpg and 2,4apg while shooting a massive 60% from outside. He began his basketball career with FC Bayern Muenchen (ProA) and also played with Alba Berlin 2. He then played a season with Florida Gulf Coast(NCAA) helping the team win the A-Sun tournament and reaching the NCAA Sweet16. He then moved to Rollins (NCAA2) and played three seasons totaling 66 games. He spoke to about his basketball career.

Alex thanks for talkingto Where are you at the moment and how is basketball life treating you at the moment?

HeyMiles, thank you for interviewing me. I currently live in Cologne, finishing up my Master’s degree, working part time as a working student in Venture Capital and of course, playing ball in Leverkusen. I am just enjoying every second I can be on the court with my team – it’s a blessing every single day!

Congrats on the amazing quick start as your10-0 with the Bayer Giants Leverkusen. If somebody had told you in pre-season that the team would have begun at 10-0 what would you have said?

I knew from the start that we had a special group of guys together, but I did not expect this kind of a run. If somebody had told me we would go 10-0, I surely would not have believed them.

Have you ever registered a start like this inyour career? How does it feel reeling off so many wins in a row?

I never had a start like this in my career – it feels great. However, the games that really count are still to come (Play-Offs). We appreciate the wins but at the same time we know that we have not achieved anything yet. We have to stay humble and keep improving to play our best basketball at the end of the season. Next up, we play Elchingen twice, which will be two really tough games for us!

Congrats on the big 97-75 win against new team Schwenningen. It was a tight game in the first half, but you pulled away in the second half. What was key for getting the win?

I think the key for our win against Schwenningen was our depth and sticking to the gameplan. We knew that they had a short rotation, especially with their startingpoint guard not playing. Hence, we wanted to put pressure on them for 40 minutes while containing their three main scorers, particularly Moore. While we struggled a bit in the first half, executing on those key factors paid off in the second.

How is basketball life different from you when you start each new week having won one game more? How is this success affecting your mentality? How do you think and go about your business now when you have constant success?

Our approach and attitude to each game should not and has not changed. We respect every opponent to the fullest and prepare accordingly. We want to develop awinning mentality, knowing that it is important to stay humble and keep improving. The fact that we are winning games doesn’t always mean that we play great basketball – there are many aspects, which we still need to improve on.

The Bayer Giants Leverkusen have won 8 of the10 games by at least 10 points or more. Has playing basketball just become more easy playing with this team?

I think the big strength of this team is its depth. This season, we have an extremely capable roster from spot one through twelve, which takes a lot of pressure fromguys. We know that if somebody has an off-night, others will step up. Offensively, our scoring is extremely balanced, so we are hard to predict forthe opposing defense. Defensively, our mindset is to guard as a unit andrebound the ball well. It is our Coaches’ philosophy that is well in sync withthe style of players we recruited.

You won a thrilling game against Giessen. Howthrilling was this win and where do you rank it up with your biggest wins inyour career?

Fromthe start, we knew that the game against Giessen would not be easy for usbecause they have a young, athletic team, which has some BBL-caliber players.It turned out to be a close game as expected and we were able to get the roadwin, which was huge for us since we were missing a key player in Nino Celebicand Nick and Marian were playing against their former team.

The team is doing everything right as it isthe best offensive and rebounding team and third best defensive team. What hasbeen the secret to the success?

Firstof all, we are definitely not doing everything right; there are many aspects westill need to improve. Generally, we are a defensive-minded team, whichtranslates into easy offense. Therefore, we try to play intense defense andrebound well so we can run the floor and generate easy baskets – leading to ahigh scoring output.

The team chemistry also seems to be spot on.How easy has it been for you playing in Hansi Gnad´s system this season?

Themood in the team is great. We are laughing a lot and are having fun together onand off the court. Our team chemistry is one of our biggest strengths rightnow. Nonetheless, a team’s character is really tested when things are not goingthe way they are supposed to, and we have not really faced that kind ofadversity yet. There will surely be some serious tests for us this season.Hansi’s system feeds well into my style of play: I like to be aggressive on defenseand play for the team on offense. I think as a team we really feed of hiswinning mentality as a player.

I think a big reason for the success of theteam has been the acquisition of Serb Nino Celebic. He just gives the team somuch energy at both ends of the court. Where would the team be without him?

Ninoplays an instrumental role on our team. He enriches our team spirit not only onthe court but also off the court. His tenacity on defense combined with hishuge offensive skill arsenal are very unique for a Pro B player. He isextremely talented and surely fun to play with for everyone, especially our bigguys!

Also having Celebic and you on the court for40 minutes always bringing energy and pressure is key. What special attributesdo you give the Pro B that no other team has?

We areboth aggressive point guards who put the team first. Nino and I try to set thetone for the team on defense and push the ball on offense to generate easyshots for our shooters as well as layups for the big guys. The depth of ourroster allows us to maintain that aggressiveness for 40 minutes.

Talk a little how important Nick Hornsby hasbeen for the success? Has he been a type of glue guy for the team?

To me,if there is one player standing out of this conglomerate of players, it isNick. His versatility is unique: He rebounds extremely well, posts up, findsthe open team mate like a point guard, finishes around the rim, and can hit theoccasional three-pointer. I enjoy playing with Nick to the fullest.

You have played three seasons now withco-captain Tim Schönborn. How has his leadership qualities continued to improvein the last years?

Tim andI have a special relationship as we both joined Leverkusen two and a half yearsago. Ever since, he has continued to work hard on his game and improved eachseason – this season is by far his best for Leverkusen. He is a great rolemodel for our young players, because of his energy, discipline, and attitude. Iam very pleased that we can both share the role of team captain now.

How scary and dangerous will the Bayer GiantsLeverkusen be when a Ron Mvouika finds his consistency again?

Ron isa tremendous weapon on our team, he can catch fire at any point and completelytake over a game with his skill. He reads the defense well, makes plays, alwayscheers for his teammates and leads us emotionally – he is the heart and soul ofthis team. His performance gives us a great lift.

Please talk a little about the coachingphilosophy of Hansi Gnad and how he has been the mastermind of the success. Hehas been an assistant coach for the longest time and this season has his firsthead coaching job. It seems like he should have had a chance like this a longtime ago, because obviously he knows what he is doing

Hansilikes to play all of his players, giving everyone a chance if they practicewell. He simulates game intensity in practice by getting us to work hard everyday. As players, we sense his spirit of winning; oftentimes, it seems a lotlike he is one of us, he is a player’s coach for sure. He has been waiting forthis opportunity for a long time and has taken full advantage of it now.Together with talented Jacques Schneider and Nick Brüwer, they form acomplementary coaching staff.

How much of a pleasure has it been playing withMarian Schick this season? What do you appreciate about his game most and hischaracter?

Marianhas given this team a huge uplift. He can look back at years of experience inthe Pro B and Pro A, which you can really feel on the court. Marian knows exactlywhat it takes to win and will provide that effort night in and night out. Offthe court Marian is a funny guy, who can be thoughtful and quiet at the sametime. Smart and experienced players like him give our team a good balance bykeeping us grounded and humble.

The next game is against the ScanPlus Basketswho won the Pro B last season. They have been struggling a bit this season.What will be key to getting the win on the road?

I thinkthat their current record does not reflect their potential at all. Elchingenhas a deep team, which can hurt you inside and from the three-point line. Thegame coming up on the road will be the toughest challenge for us this season.We are looking forward to playing against reigning ProB champion as well asformer teammate C.J. Oldham.

Let´s talk about your game. You’re a comboguard that brings a lot of energy and can finish or find his teammates at ease.If you had to compare your game to an NBA player who would best fit thatdescription?

I wouldnot want to compare my game to an NBA player. Rather, I would say that I play asimilar style to Joshiko Saibou, who plays in the Bundesliga for Alba Berlin.

You have vastly improved your three-pointshooting each season with Leverkusen and currently shooting an astronomical61%. Has the rise this season been with the success of the team, putting upmore reps or better shot selection?

Firstof all, the season has just started, we will have to see how the percentageturns out to be at the end of the year. My improvement so far is due to a mixof all three factors. During the summer, Jacob Engelhardt and I have beenshooting a lot with our Dr. Dish machine, which is a great way for me to findmy shooting rhythm. At the same time, the shots I am taking this year are a lotbetter because of our ball movement and incredible team play – open shots are alot easier to make than contested ones.

You have had a solid Pro B season, but I feelyou still have a lot of potential. On what things do you continue to work on tohelp you become the best player that you can be?

Iconstantly try to work on every aspect of my game – defense, ballhandling,shooting, passing, and hitting the weight room. Most recently, I have beenfocused on the mental part of basketball, reading many books and looking at thegame from a different angle.

You can do so many things on the court, butwhat do you feel is a hidden strength in your game that doesn´t get noticedright away on the court?

Leadershipand positivity – I try to encourage my teammates all the time and keep themhappy.

Let´s look back at your career. Early in yourcareer you played with FC Bayern München (ProA). You once stated that you haveto thank head coach Mauro Parra for very much. How did he help you best inthose early years?

Mauro was the first coach who really supportedme and pushed me to the next level. He gave me the chance to play in the NBBLat the age of 15, because he saw talent in me. Today, I still benefit fromendless hours of skill work and training with him. He is the reason why I playprofessional basketball.

You saw a lot in the NCAA playing with FloridaGulf Coast and Rollins in the NCAA 2. It seems like less and less German kidsare going this route. If you would choose today to do it again would you do it?

Personally,I would choose this route again. I believe that going abroad and expanding yourhorizon is a vital aspect of life. Also, I have always had a strong focus onacademics so combining basketball and university in the States was the perfectscenario for me. Generally, I can’t stress the importance of planning for acareer after basketball enough. For young players aspiring to playprofessionally in Europe however, I would always recommend staying here. Thetraining conditions in Germany have improved significantly over the past decadeand there is nothing that will prepare you for a prosperous career in Europelike playing against seasoned veterans on a weekly basis.

You played one year with Florida Gulf Coast(NCAA) reaching the NCAA Sweet 16. How tough was this season not playing much?What did you learn about yourself and how did you battle through adversarybest?

The year at FGCU was a very hard year for mepersonally as I did not get the playing time I expected. However, I continuedto work hard and managed to improve my game significantly just throughpractice. For any player it is essential to keep their heads up, even if thingsare not going their way. The key is to stay patient and relentlessly preparefor the right moment, everyone will get their deserved chance when it’s time.

I recently interviewed your ex-teammate ChaseFieler. He has very fond memories of that special season with Florida GulfCoast. What memories do you have of the NCAA run?

Iremember us coming out of nowhere and winning the conference championship tomake it to the NCAA tournament – at the time I didn’t really know what it is,let alone its magnitude. I vividly remember beating Georgetown and San DiegoState with insane dunks in Philadelphia, while our entire campus in Fort Myersalmost burned down. For the Sweet16 we played in the Dallas Cowboys stadium infront of 60,000 people to eventually watch ourselves on TV on our charteredplane ride back to Florida – a surreal feeling. I guess basketball is justdifferent in the States! I still get goosebumps today just thinking of our run.I mean, look at these crazy dunks:

You then moved to Rollins (NCAA 2). What kindof experience was it changing schools and playing in the NCAA 2? How did yourgame grow in these three years?

Indivision two, basketball is less significant than in D1. The gyms are smaller,the crowds consist mostly of family and friends and training conditions lessprofessional. However, I was really surprised by the level of play. The playersare extremely skilled and serious about the game – the main difference to D1was size and athleticism. For me it was a perfect situation, because I got tostart right away and therefore gained a lot of playing experience and carried abig role on the team. Those three years impacted my career considerably as Igrew into a more mature player.

How tough was your senior year? You averageddouble figures in scoring in your first two seasons, but only 5,7ppg as asenior. Did this season give you a big chip on your shoulder as you came backto Germany?

My senior year was tough season for mepersonally. After starting off very well, I broke my finger badly during thethird game of the year, which took me two long months to recover. After that, Ireally struggled to find my rhythm, my team did very well though. At the time,I was very close to quitting basketball. Now I am very happy that I didn’t.

How did head coach Tom Klusman groom andprepare you best for a professional basketball career at Rollins (NCAA2)?

Coach Klusman allowed me to play with a lot offreedom. He instilled a high level of confidence in me, which helped my gametremendously. He was holding me to the highest standards and shaped my game interms of shooting, passing, and playing aggressive.

Who won a one on one in practice you or SharifAlmulla?

Me, although Sharif was a tough opponent.

Who was the toughest player that you battledin the NCAA that is in the NBA now?

AlthoughI did not get any playing time, the most memorable game of my college careerwas at Duke. Their roster included Quinn Cook, Rodney Hood, Mason Plumlee, SethCurry just to name a few. Yet, most memorable was Otto Porter from GeorgetownUniversity.

Who would be your starting five of bestteammates you ever played with?

DaShaunWood, Demond Greene, Bryce Taylor, Derrick Allen, and Aleksandar Nadjfeji.

If you had to construct your very own NBARushmore which 4 heads would you pick?

MJ,Magic, Kobe, and LeBron

What is your personal opinion of thenever-ending debate of who is the greatest of all-time Jordan or LeBron?

Ibelieve that Michael Jordan is and always will be the greatest player to everplay basketball. He not only impacted the game on the court, but his characterand demeanor remain second to none. Also, hats off for his phenomenalpost-career achievements in business.

The Los Angeles Lakers are over 500 at themoment. Where do you see the journey of them going this season with LebronJames?

We cansee a pattern with Lebron’s new teams. They usually start out slow but find arhythm during the season to play very good basketball at the end of the season.Since the Lakers do have a quite talented team, I believe that they will makethe Play-Offs and possibly advance up until the Western Conference Finals.However, I doubt that they can beat the Golden State Warriors in a seven-gameseries.

Luka Doncic is the real deal and the toprookie in the NBA at the moment. Do you feel that with time he could become oneof the greatest European players to ever play in the NBA?

Luka isamazing to watch because he brings so many different skills to the table. He isvery mature for his age, can shoot well, pass the ball incredibly good, rebound,and defend from position 1 through 4. Think about it: He is only 19! I think hehas the potential to become of the all-time great players from Europe to everplay in the NBA – following the footsteps of a famous German player in Dallas J

What was the last movie that you saw?

It was a documentary: Blackfish

Thanks Alex for the chat.

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