A few weeks ago at the Gezeiten Cup, there were many things still the same in the Dragon Dome as the BBL opponents Telekom Baskets Bonn and s.Oliver Wurzburg were still present as they are each season with the Bavaria squad continuing to showcase their guard terror and the Bonn team presenting a few new faces, but also keeping a good core from the last years with DiLeo and Polas. The same familiar fans were still there, but one thing was very much different. Despite having moved down last season from the Pro B in a season to forget where the biggest problem was their defense and the consistency rate of the German role players, the mood of the home crowd faithful was very upbeat. A big reason for this was the new focus of the Dragons Rhondorf in their cooperation with BBL team Telekom Baskets Bonn and new CEO of sport Yassin Idbihi who had come home after a long and fruitful playing career and some years in the Bamberg organization. Idbihi had began his playing career in Rhondorf in 2001 and now he is back and is extremely ambitious in bringing rapid success back to an organization that only four years ago played in the Pro A, but at the same time allowing young German players to develop in the Regionalliga while getting a real chance with cooperation team Bonn. Also seeing Dragons Rhondorf CEO Alexander Dohms roaming the Dragon Dome at the Gezeiten Cup was a sight for sore eyes as he was beaming with joy and a changed man from the disappointing last season. The big question though will be can the Dragons Rhondorf make the leap back to the Pro B after only one season?. In terms of player material, there is a big chance that they could, but one can’t underestimate the Regionalliga west as it is as competitive as ever. The playoffs have also been inserted this season so fans will witness something new and see many new players looking to not only make an impact for a team, but be hungry in helping improve their game and making the next step in their careers. In addition there is also massive excitement concerning new player Curtis Hollis (198-G/F-98, college: Hutchinson CC). In the last three years no matter how successful the Dragons were, they were fortunate to have one of the top players in the Pro B. Three years ago it was Aaron ‘big dawggg’ Nelson who was like a tank in the zone that barreled his way to baskets the way Tom Brady finds his targets with ease, two seasons ago, it was Cinderella story Kameron Taylor who took a step back only to take two steps ahead and now plays for well known BBL team Bamberg and last season it was Mr double double Zygimantas Riauka who played with a heart of gold and will never be forgotten by the fans. This season a lot of the success rides on the shoulders of Hollis. Can he be that mr everything like a Taylor and fill the stat sheet like a Westbrook, but at the same time be able to lead the team. Many have compared his game to a Kameron Taylor already with only a regular season game having been played. In seven months we will know more, but for now the excitement for success is there and will continue to build as the season progresses.
Last season the Dragons Rhondorf lost and lost really depressing the hardcore Dragons fans, but this season things will be different. In the last years, there had been criticism about how the cooperation was working between Rhondorf and the Telekom Baskets Bonn, but with the arrival of lost Rhondorf boy Yassin Idbihi and Bonn head coach Thomas Pach, the signs for a fruitful working cooperation and better communication have been present. Two big goals of the club this season is to give that feeling of Club more an identity and putting more focus on the development of the young players. In the last years the development of players in the JBBL (16) and NBBL (U-19) age group had deteriorated. This is something that the club has big ambition in turning around. The club has had talented players over the years and developed guys like Florian Koch, or a Jonas Wolfarth-Bottermann, but that occurred years ago and have had a dry spell in the last years. A big difference this season to the last years is that this season with Killian Binapfel and Gabriel De Olveria have two established Pro B players that have had success at a very young age making the playoffs and getting valuable minutes at a young age and now are extra confident and are extra hungry in making the next step and making the most of their BBL minutes. Getting a player like Killian Binapfel is a huge gift as he is still raw and has huge potential while De Oliveira has a big powerful body and is finally ready for the easyCredit BBL while getting extended minutes in the Regionalliga.
The club didn’t conduct a massive house cleaning, but decided to start a new chapter in terms of their German role players and bode goodbye to guys lie Alex Moeller, Bo Meister, and Julian Jasinski. Last season the German role players just didn’t click and weren’t consistent enough. This season they hope that the new German role players will be able to get the job done. They took some extra time in finding the right new German role players. They didn’t exchange every player, but kept some with David Falkenstein, Samuel Horvath, Philipp Gruber, Lotola Otshumbe and Anish Sharda. The most vital was Sharda. The guy is 37 years old, but still has the body of a 28 year old and keeping great fitness and watching his diet (No Wiener Schnitzel) since 2014 has been instrumental in him still playing professionally. Not only his experience is key, but helping the youth on and off the court. Last season he averaged 6.1ppg, 1.9rpg, 2.8apg, 1.2spg, FGP: 18.2%, 3PT: 34.5%, FT: 70.0%. After never averaging less than 18,9ppg in the Regionalliga from 2014-018 with Mainz, his production will have to be consistent and better than last season for the success of the club. The big player misfortune has been Slovakian Samuel Horvath who missed most of last season and is already out for this whole season. Philipp Gruber also has remained, but like Horvath has captured the injury bug. Last season he played only 17 games averaging 6.1ppg, 1.9rpg, 2.8apg, 1.2spg, FGP: 18.2%, 3PT: 34.5%, FT: 70.0%. He has vital Regionalliga experience having played three seasons and 56 games with the Telekom Baskets 2. His input and valuable three pointer will be an asset when he returns. 35 year old Lotola Otshumbe is back for a second season of duty and brings much experience having played five seasons in the Regionalliga amassing 86 games and 55 Pro B games while also having four years of second Bundesliga experience with TV Langen. He won’t score much, but has that undying will to win and will fight until the buzzer sounds. Point guard David Falkenstein is also back for his fifth season and has played BBL, Pro A and Pro B. Last season he played 26 games averaging 4.4ppg. He is another guy that has to and should improve his stats in the Regionalliga. He has the sound fundamentals of being that controlled point guard and could even slip into the starting point guard position at times.
A big strength of the Dragons Rhondorf off season work was taking it’s time in building the new roster. The most vital position for a Regionalliga team is filling the import position. With Curtis Hollis the club has the potential league superstar qualities. He is a guy that wants and will rock the Regionalliga as he continues to climb up the basketball ladder. He has no NCAA experience, but destroyed the JBL league founded by Lavar Ball. So far he showed how good he can be having big games in pre season and kept it going into the regular season netting 21 points in the first game loss against Wulfen. He will be a joy to watch and having him extend his leadership qualities also will be needed and helpful for the team being successful. The other import is Jure Besedic who is a 27 year old 207cm forward/center that brings vital experience having played 171 games for top Slovenian team Helios Suns Domzale. He can score and has a fine mid range and outside shot that will spread the floor nicely. He won’t be the next Riauka, but will be a consistent performer. The club also brought in German players and the most important was clearly Jeffrey Martin. Last season the club had massive problems getting consistency from it’s German players. With Martin the club hopes to fill that void. Martin is only 25 years of age, but seen many gym’s in Germany. Rhondorf is his 11th team as he played 16 BBL games combined with Bremerhaven and Giessen, 28 Pro A games and 90 Pro B games. He has been a consistent scorer in the Pro B and also will have to be a consistent performer. He is an excellent defender and will be vital in the defense finding some sort of identity after not having one last season.
Two key pick ups were young prospects Gabriel de Olveira and Killian Binapfel. Both are double license players and are expected to get a chance on seeing minutes with BBL team Telekom Baskets Bonn. De Olveira is a 21 year old 206cm forward that already has sampled important Pro B experience at a young age playing 92 games with Iserlohn. He was able to improve his scoring in each of his four seasons there and broke out last season playing 25 games averaging 10.6ppg, 5.4rpg, FGP: 56.8%, 3PT: 23.8%, FT: 69.9% He demonstrated in his first game against Wulfen that he has the potential to be one of the German rising stars in the Regionalliga showing his efficiency adding 17 points and 5 rebounds on 60% shooting form the field. He will get to the free throw line a lot and if he can improve his free throw percentage will be even more of a scoring force while on defense he will make an impact as well. Killian Binapfel also is young at age 19 and brings that winning mentality having been in the FC Bayern organization for the last four seasons. Last season he played 19 Pro B games averaging 5.0ppg, 2.8rpg, 1.2apg, and 12 NBBL games averaging 10.3ppg, 5.1rpg, 1.7apg, 1.0spg, FGP: 53.6%, 3PT: 15.0%, FT: 54.3%. His biggest asset is that he knows how to win with two NBBL titles under his belt, an Albert Schweitzer International Tournament Gold medal and a U-20 Bronze medal at the 2019 European championships. He plays with a lot of energy and has the potential to be that glue guy.The team also picked up two more young players with Pal Ghotra and Marek Mbaya Kotieno. Ghotra is a 22 year old 197cm swing man that began his basketball career with the Nurnberg Falcons and also has Pro A and Pro B experience with Cuxhaven and Sandersdorf where he played last season averaging 2.7ppg, 1.6rpg. He is a player that took a step back, but is seeking minutes and his break through. He is a talented kid with a lot of potential. The most raw player is 19 year old German Marek Mbaya Kotieno. He is a 206cm center who has 21 Pro B games experience with Wolfenbuetel. He is a guy that will be moved along slowly, but also showed that he can give that energy from the bench scoring 5 points, hauling down 4 boards and dishing out 2 assists in 19 minutes in the loss at Wulfen. The team also have a handful of young Germans looking for Regionalliga minutes with Jonas Falkenstein, Robin Danes, Aaron Isah and Noah Voelzgen.
So where will the 2019-2020 Regionalliga journey go with the Dragons Rhondorf? With head coach Markus Rowenstrunk have a guy that has Regionalliga and Pro B experience with Herford and Dresden and hungry to give his coaching stamp for the Dragons. The team didn’t have a good start losing in Wulfen 88-80. The defense isn’t on the same page yet,and their offense struggled with execution. A good sign was their effort on the boards hauling down an amazing 23 offensive rebounds. The club also demonstrated that the German role players will play a central figure this season as De Olveira and Binapfel stepped up. It will be important that the club has their German license players at their disposal for most games.This club will make the playoffs, but predicting the immediate return to the Pro B would be a foolish statement. Obviously it is the club’s goal, but the Regionalliga West is as competitive as ever and as Hanau head coach Simon Cote loves to say, it won’t be a cake walk for the Dragons Rhondorf, but a challenging, and very interesting and exciting ride. The Regionalliga will be fun to observe this season from the Dragons Rhondorf stand point especially the development of Curtis Hollis and the young Germans. Where exactly the club will land is unknown at this stand point, but they will be competitive and fight in every game to bring the needed success back to the club.