After 40 minutes the buzzer sounded and Dragons Rhondorf fans were in basketball heaven in the warmer than usual Dragon Dome something which showed that more people were breathing in there in comparison to the last weeks where it was frostier due to a lack of spectators and one wondered if the heater would ever be turned on. Not for the 30-40 RheinStars fans that had made the short 30 minute drive from Cologne, but for the Dragon fans there was pure enjoyment after the upset 86-83 victory over the first placed team. One could see it on the faces of the Dragon players just how happy they were that the hard work that they had put in in the last weeks had paid off. It was the sixth win in a row for the Dragons Rhondorf placing them near the top of the standings with a 9-3 record. As most fans had left and the Dragon players were celebrating in the locker room, a not so nice act happened on the sidelines as a RheinStars fan spat on a young boy. By pure chance, the dirty act was caught on camera and the culprit was quickly caught. This is the type of thing that shouldn´t happen at a basketball game, but it did. I don´t know if disciplinary action was sought, but in a few years that act won´t be remembered except for maybe the two guys involved, but this amazing win will as it will remain in the hearts of Dragons fans. This massive win was just another huge step in the further development of the Dragons Rhondorf under the watchful eye of interim head coach Yassin Idbihi.
The Dragons Rhondorf are truly for real and continue to grow under Yassin Idbihi. The offense continues to be their bread and butter. I personally was a bit skeptical that they would execute as well against first placed team RheinStars as the last weeks against teams simply because they hadn´t really met a strong defensive team. They had destroyed teams the last weeks and made it look like a cake walk and in four of the last five games eclipsed the 100 points. They met the second best defensive team in the Regionalliga that on average was giving up 67 points per game and hit them for 86 points. They didn´t panic, but went into the game and played their game, playing team basketball and sharing the ball well. Their 16 assists didn´t match their 29 from Essen the week before, but they faced a lot better defensive team this weekend so that was expected that their input wouldn´t be as high. The most important aspect about the offensive success against the RheinStars was that they were able to overcome adversary in certain phases against the second best defensive team in the league. There were times when the RheoínStars made consecutive stops and went on little runs, but that never fazed the Dragons. They had a solid offensive execution rate and didn´t fall into bad habits relying on the hero ball something the RheinStars did do in crunch-time. The Solid consistent team play of the Dragons Rhondorf was a big reason that they could be successful against the Cologne Defense. There were phases where top team scorer Curtis Hollis was more keyed on and couldn´t perform certain offensive duties, but that was when other guys stepped up like a Jure Besedic or an Enric Garrido Foz who made big shots. Killian Binapfl as always was a force at both ends of the court and carried the team in certain phases just as did Hollis in the second half when he broke free from the RheinStars defense.
Before I get to the defense, I have to talk a bit about the performance of Curtis Hollis and his new nickname. He had another normal day at the office scoring 28 points and shooting a strong 63,6% from the field. He was a pest on the defensive end in the second half ending with 6 steals playing speculation defense. He also dished out 3 dimes and had 6 rebounds. One can´t forget that he is a rookie and not all is perfect with the Texas native. He already is doing so much on the court and filling the stat sheet like a Westbrook that at times doing that might not come easy. He surprisingly had no rebounds at half-time which is difficult to believe. Yassin Idbihi who discovered him in the summer of 2018 in Baunach during a game where Hollis poured in 40 points as a member of a USA select team with LaMello Ball took him to the side and explained that he had to be more aggressive on the boards. Hollis took the Idbihi words to heart and amassed 6 boards in the second half of the game. He did many great things in the game like being perfect from the parking lot 3/3, making big steals and making the unselfish extra pass, but the two clutch defensive rebounds he made in crunch-time could have been his two biggest feats in the game. The Dragons Rhondorf had had difficulty rebounding the ball all night long, but when getting two defensive rebounds on two possession was most needed, the American came through with flying colors. He isn´t in the top10 in scoring in the Regionalliga, but is easily the most complete and versatile player. He reminds me a bit like Kameron Taylor two season ago when the now Bambergguard played for the Dragons. Both are guys that standout with their phenominal play and are simply big time leaders. Hollis is continuing to grow into that very special player that could lead the Dragons Rhondorf to special heights. Before the season began, I asked him for a good nickname for my play by play games. He said use “Easy Work”. He said that his play on the court looks like it´s easy work. A few days ago, I came up with a second nickname “As composed as a ballerina”. I haven´t used the word ballerina on a regular basis since the 2009-2010 season when I yelled Derrick “the ballerina” Allen in my calls since he moved on the court like a ballerina. I feel that when you watch Curtis Hollis, he is always so composed and has the same expression if up by 30 or down by 30. A ballerina also has to be composed during her routine. I wonder what kind of figure Hollis would give after a day wearing the ballerina tights.
The Dragons Rhondorf defense has been a work in progress this season and still is, but it made further steps in the victory over the RheinStars. They gave up 83 points which wasn´t their best this season and only the fifth best, but they did it against one of the better offensive teams in the league. Sometimes wins don´t tell the whole story. Two weeks ago in the team´s home win over BG Hagen, they allowed 96 points and only won because their offense was cooking and scored 104 points. I have stated before that playing the shoot out game can be very risky, because there will be nights where the offense is solid, but not great and that is when the losses start to pour in. In the win against BG Hagen there was so many individual mistakes that head coach Yassin Idbihi said that the defense was a catastrophe. Many of the other basic things like help defense and rebounding were also things that weren´t executed well on. Since the arrival of Idbihi the club has changed a few things and one of those is using the Telekom Baskets Bonn system of speculation defense. Trying to read the opponents offense and gamble which can be risky. The BBL Bonn team have flink and quick aggressive guards with Saibu, DiLeo and Polas where this works. It´s no difference with the Dragons Rhondorf. With guys like Hollis, Jeffrey Martin, Foz and the Falkenstein brothers, you have players that can be successful with this strategy as they swiped away 10 balls that led to some easy transition baskets. This kind of play can quickly sway the momentum on your side and with continued quick offensive execution can quickly help a team get a double digit lead and slowly drive the opponent into the ground having to practice catch up basketball. Of course the team still has to rebound better and there are times where the success rate of the individual defense isn´t there. A few weeks ago, I stated that the Dragons Rhondorf have to love to defend and show passion. According to Dragons Rhondorf CEO Alexander Dohms, the motivation is there and slowly the team is understanding how to defend and getting more confident with it. Head coach Idbihi also sees a changed team on the defensive end. “We are starting to defend better. We are starting to feel it on defense, but we still aren´t where we want to be. But we made another step on defense”, warned Yassin Idbihi. These are very exciting times in Dragons Rhondorf basketball country as a big winning streak is intact, the defense is improving and growing and the offense is giving fans shooting clinics. The only thing missing is seeing Curtis Hollis giving a ballerina routine, but we will stick to enjoying his flights to the basket instead.