A few weeks ago the odds of the Dragons Rhondorf to remain in the German Pro B were minimal and about as possible as it is for NBA veteran Jamal Crawford to make another 51 point game in his career, but the club wasn´t totally down and out, but needed to play their best basketball as well as get a lot of help from the other teams to slow down Wurzburg. In that time the Dragons Rhondorf were alive and kicking and finally got some good production from more German guys like Bo Meister and the team seemed to have found their overall rhythm. Their two imports Zygimantas Riauka and Kwam Waller had carried them the whole season and now all of a sudden you had that third and fourth scoring option pull through and suddenly the club was having that long awaited success. Better late than never? That is a fine phrase that you can use in many occasions, but the way the Dragons Rhondorf season went, that better late than never phrase should have come a few months earlier and if it had, the reality of their season and their future would most likely have looked a lot different. The Dragons Rhondorf season was alive and kicking on March 13th, but now in mid April and the playdowns having ended, they are finished and have been trampled on. Had they won in Coburg instead of losing 99-90, then there season may have looked a lot different, but in hindsight Wurzburg did win the games they needed to. The last game in Coburg is one that top Pro B big man Zygimantas Riauka doesn´t look back fondly at. “We had some injuries going into the game with Kwam Waller being out and Julian Jasinski got kicked out. The officiating wasn´t in our favor. I grab the offensive rebound after being held down and I get called for the offensive foul. It was no fun playing in that game. We did what we could. We had many tough calls. We wanted to finish the season with a two game winning streak and did. Unfortunately we couldn´t gather more winning streaks during the regular season. The RheinStars didn´t help us either”, stressed Zygimantas Riauka. After 20 years of competing in the second Bundesliga, the Dragons Rhondorf say farewell for now. It was a season to forget and there were substantial reasons why the club won´t be playing in Frankfurt next season, but in smaller locations like in Langen.
The first big obstacles that the Dragons Rhondorf had to contend with was not only losing their top player Kameron Taylor, but losing three vital German players with Viktor Frankl-Maus, Thomas Michel and Valentin Blass. This was something they had to accept going into the season but never recovered from as it put them into a hole right away as that usual consistency was not being compensated by the other German players. That was a huge problem that kind of accompanied the Dragons Rhondorf all season long and in a way affected them on the court as well as mentally even if nobody really wanted to admit it. The season was a tale of two as one had the awful regular season, but then was rewarded at the end with a positive 4-2 playdowns record, but then again punished as it wasn´t enough. After the last home win of the season over the RheinStars one could see that Zygimantas Riauka was super proud of how his team performed in the playdowns and in the last win, but that overall concern for the future wasn´t there mainly because he will be moving on to possibly a top Pro B team or even pro A team or to bigger and better things in another country. Riauka left it all on the court each night and did all possible to put the team in a winning position each night. Even if the club will move down, the organization was enriched by his positive attitude and special character that rubbed off on everyone and his role model features were felt every time he was on or off the court. He reflected as best he could about the tough season. “We had an awful start and guys were being sent home. We struggled with finding our identity. The young guys then finally figured it out how to get wins. But when that did happen it was unfortunately too late”, stressed Zygimantas Riauka.
The first problem right at the start was that the two young imports Raekwon Miller and Joe Mvuezolo were let go before mid October and as other teams were finding a quick rhythm like Leverkusen, Schwenningen and Frankfurt, the Dragons Rhondorf seemed like they had to start all over as they had to look for new players and work on getting that team chemistry right which never did happen. Miller had been a very solid NCAA player at UNC Asheville, but a young rookie. It didn´t help that he was hurt and also had personal problems he had to deal with at home. He left after two games and Mvuezolo lasted only one game more and has bounced around his rookie season having played in Austria and currently with his second team in England with Surrey where he currently is averaging 7,6ppg, 4,5rpg and 1,2apg. Sometimes it just takes longer for players to get adjusted to the professional ranks. Perhaps it would have been more clever to have picked up two guys with more professional experience, but often it is like playing the slot machines as finding the right player for the right price and what you have in your budget is easier said than done. “Miller was a good competitor and a good guy. He had that killer mentality and we missed having that when he was gone. Mvuezolo was also a good guy, but was young. It just didn´t fit”, stressed Zygimantas Riauka. Kwam Waller was brought in and he proved that he was worth every penny as he was consistent and filled the stat sheet like a Russell Westbrook. A Waller and Riauka can only do so much, but if they combine for 60 points, but the rest of the 10 players muster only 9 points then you could end up losing more games then you want to. Anish Sharda also came in, but very much later. He had his moments, but didn´t score as much as the club would have liked. But he stepped it up in the playdowns also a bit too late.
Two very important ingredients that Pro B teams need to be successful is to have very strong imports and very solid German role players. The Bayer Giants Leverkusen were a good example of having top import players Ron Mvouika and Nick Hornsby, and had very potent German players with Tim Schonborn, Alexander Blessig, Dennis Heinzmann and Marian Schick. The Dragons Rhondorf had talented German players, but youth and inexperience played a huge part for them not bringing the consistency and production that a Frank-Maus, Michel and Blass would have brought to the table. The organization had some talented guys like Julian Jasinski who has 26 BBL games and 10 Basketball Champions League games on his resume, Bo Meister who had gotten BBL experience with Bremerhaven, Yannik Kneesch who had years of Pro B experience with Speyer and Rhondorf and big body Alex Moeller who also had BBL and Basketball Champions League experience. Of the lot, Jasinski brought most of the production, energy and flair, but he also missed important games due to injury and games with BBL team Telekom Baskets Bonn due to his double license. Alex Moeller couldn´t improve his stats really and Kneesch upped his scoring a bit. Meister was solid with 7,2ppg, but all in all, the latter three just didn´t bring the consistency and what really hurt the team was that third and sometimes fourth scorer in double figures was missing on many occasions. The best example was in the playdowns where they lost to the RheinStars and only 9 points of the 68 points was scored by the team that wasn´t named Riauka or Waller. One couldn´t rely on consistent production from David Falkenstein and Joachim Koschade simply because they hadn´t had much Pro B experience. Falkenstein had his share of good moments giving the team energy and points, but one has to tip their hat to captain Koschade. A few years ago he had been playing Oberliga in Baesweiler and then came to Rhondorf getting a huge chance. Last season he averaged 0,7ppg and this season upped it to 5,3ppg. He definitely was the clubs most improved player. A guy that didn´t have the most talent on the squad, but definitely the biggest heart. Two other Germans who came on strong late in the season were 34 year old Lotola Otshume and the young buck Karl Dia. These guys made huge strides and made the most of their minutes. “No one really knew how to play with each other. A big problem was that when the players gelled, we lost players and then we had to start all over again which took it´s time to gel again”, stressed Zygimantas Riauka.
The other major problem was the team defense. It was rated dead last in the Pro B at 24th giving up an average of 81,9 points per game. The team gave up 80 points plus 15 times. A big problem was that even when they were able to defend a little better, they still lost because they couldn´t put up enough points on the board. In seven games, they gave up between 70-80 points, but still lost. They finally put it together a bit more on the defensive end at the end of the season holding Wurzburg to 61 points in the last regular season game and in the playdowns had consistent outings against Coburg giving up 71 points and in the last game in the win against the RheinStars with 75 points. You don´t need the most talent when defending, but just have intensity and the will to want to stop your defender. The team had some very feisty and consistent defenders with Zygimantas Riauka who swatted away 1,4 balls per game and had 1,3spg. Kwam Waller was the leader on defense with 3,5spg and was a force making big plays on defense that led to transition points, but unfortunately his stellar play didn´t infect the other teammates. The other top defender was captain Joe Koschade who never gave up on a play. Even if he got beat on a play, he would return on the next play and erase his past mistake with a hustle play. He was not only the type of defender every coach dies for, but the character and mentality guy that the Dragons Rhondorf could have had a few more copies of. The two biggest sore points were the easy points allowed in the paint and just keeping your man in check as the one on one defense was often nonexistent. “We got beat a lot. Our help defense wasn´t very good, but it got a lot better in the last games. We had problems shutting down three point shooting teams no matter how bad they were”, stressed Zygimantas Riauka.
Of course there were some good points in the season. The biggest and most exciting win was the 88-87 victory at home against the Lowen, where the Dragons Rhondorf stopped their last possession as the last 14 seconds felt like a few minutes as the guests had five chances, but couldn´t get the winning bucket. Other high points of the season was having another top player in the Pro B for the third year in a row with Zygimantas Riauka who followed Kameron Taylor and Aaron Nelson. The continued development of captain Joe Koschade was refreshing and the capping of the end of the season with a 4-2 playdown record and winning three of the last four games. “The playdowns were great. We had team chemistry, everybody played their roles, and everybody sacrificed. It was fun playing together in this time. I will miss it”, stressed Zygimantas Riauka. So what is next for the Dragons Rhondorf? They will compete in the tough Regionalliga west. Of course the goal has to be to return after a season back to the Pro B. But that won´t be easy. The Regionalliga west is a very competitive league with some very traditional teams like Herten, Dorsten and Recklingshausen that all have Pro B experience as well as other strong teams like the two clubs from Hagen with BG Hagen and Hagen-Haspe or teams like Dortmund, Herford and Grevenbroich. It definitely won´t be a boring season for the Dragons Rhondorf, but one where they will have to be ready for. The question will be what route will they go? Will they concentrate on getting many EU players to force more of a return or concentrate on German players with a mix of an American and a few EU players. There is so much tradition with the Dragons Rhondorf, that the organization will work extra hard to construct a winning culture. CEO Alex Dohms is back on board after taking a short absence in the season. He is very motivated and focused to get the organization back on track. Zygimantas Riauka won´t be back next season, but is confident that the Dragons Rhondorf have a healthy future ahead of them. “They are a great organization with a great past. I hope that they will be able to gather themselves and see the big picture and continue to develop German players and grind themselves back to the Pro B where they belong”, warned Zygimantas Riauka. The Dragons Rhondorf were alive and kicking ending the season with a 2 game winning streak and had only two all season long and they occurred in the playdowns. They may be done now after getting Trampled on all season long, but at least they ended the season in the playdowns alive and kicking with their much improved play. They will start the new Regionalliga season alive and kicking and give it their best because the Regionalliga west won´t be a cake walk and they will need all the energy to keep kicking. So they can be a top team and be alive at the end of the season and be ready to move back to where they belong in the Pro B.