I entered the Dragon Dome on February 29, 2020 at about 6:00 pm 1 hour before tip off of a Regionalliga game between home team Dragons Rhondorf against the ETB Miners and wasn´t expecting much from the guests. This was when the German world still seemed somewhat in order as the Coronavirus crisis had already torn apart China, but hadn´t arrived in Germany quite yet. The Miners had been the overwhelming cellar team in the Regionalliga West amassing only 1 win and I was expecting a huge blowout win by the Dragons as the Essen club didn´t have much depth and scoring power except for their two imports Chris Alexander and Radwan Bakkali. I love commentating the close nail bitters with the potential buzzer beater being a reality, but I knew that this would be pretty much a one sided game, but I was happy about one thing. I would at least get to watch American guard Chris Alexander who I had never seen play Live as well as British center Radwan Bakkali who I had interviewed last summer, but never seen play Live either. But my happiness quickly turned to disappointment when I learned that Alexander had returned back to the States. Well at least I could still witness Bakkali possibly achieve a double double. As I worked to my work table, I observed a huge guy on the bench watching warm ups. I quickly knew that that was Bakkali. I started to get a little nervous as he didn´t get up to start taking shots. He had his sweats on something not uncommon, but after a few minutes I got the feeling that I would be 0-2 on this night with my desire to see these 2 players play. In my thoughts, I had Rhondorf winning by 60-70 points now. I decided to go over to the bench and converse in a little small talk with the big man. He quickly told me that he was injured and couldn´t play. I mean how much more bad luck could this guy have. His misfortune and facing adversity began in the States at Kilgore(JUCO) where he never averaged more than 3,3ppg and that trend continued in the NCAA with Jacksonville and Indianapolis where he never averaged more than 9,9mpg and as a senior averaged only 1,8ppg and 1,5rpg. His bad luck continued in his rookie season in Germany as his new team ETB Miners began to lose and lose and lose and didn´t win their first game until their 17th try against Hagen Haspe. The only good news in this unforgettable first season was that he finally got to play. He averaged 29 minutes per game averaging 14,4ppg and 10,6rpg. Despite all this turmoil and extra mental baggage to carry around, he made a very positive impression on me when I chatted with him and a fellow who is trying to make the best of his situation. “Adversity seems to be the underlying theme in my career so far doesn’t it? But I believe it is all setting me up for the big successes and “wins” I will soon have in my career. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said that “You can’t win until you learn how to lose.” So I guess this is just my process at the moment. And at this point, it doesn’t feel like there is much more that can happen to me that I haven’t already experienced. So I’ll be ready for the bumps along the way! Through all this though I still remain passionate and determined to make my hoop dreams come true. I know I have what it takes to succeed”, warned Radwan Bakkali. Perhaps the season ending the way it did was a blessing in disguise, because had the Coronavirus not came, then his team would have been sent down to the 2 Regionalliga, but now can compete in the Regionalliga next season as the league announced. “ From a team perspective it was certainly a challenging year. It can be very demoralizing losing all those games, especially by such big margins. But as a competitor you still want to have the opportunity to play and test yourself against opposition. So no it wasn’t positive for the season to end in the way it did. I would’ve still liked the chance to finish our scheduled games. For any athlete, having their season cut short is extremely disappointing. These are the moments we live for. But in these circumstances we are forced to recognize that some things are bigger than basketball, and our health and wellbeing should be our number one priority at the moment”, said Radwan Bakkali.
Just like for so many other players in Germany, the big man´s season ended early and abruptly as the Corona Virus hit Europe. Like so many other people, he at first thought the whole Coronavirus hype was a joke with all the playful nature on social media and soon saw how many people were dying and took it very seriously. “I was able to leave Germany and return to London before things got to the stage they are now. My original flight was cancelled and I was concerned that the travel would become even more difficult so I returned home a little earlier than expected. Better safe than sorry. My last few days in Germany were pretty uneventful as our practices were cancelled. Besides organizing myself to return home I didn’t leave my apartment much at all”, expressed Radwan Bakkali. With the season ending so soon, he could have had added hard times reflecting on his tough rookie season, but that isn´t what the center is about, but moreover he is a guy that didn´t think about the negative, but had his thoughts on others instead of himself. “In a time like this I think it’s very important to focus on the positive that you can, think about all the people in more challenging circumstances risking their lives to help overcome this pandemic and even more so all those who have lost their jobs and more. For many basketball players this will be a good time to spend with their families and make up for all the time we usually spend away from them”, stressed Radwan Bakkali. The Corona Virus hit Great Britain very badly, but he kept a cool head on his shoulder and despite having always practiced good hygiene protocals, they were more magnified now and he followed the guidelines to staying safe and practicing social distancing and refraining from any unnecessary contact with other people. Life just hasn´t been easy for the 24 year old 208cm center as with a country lockdown just doing normal daily activities and staying shape have been a real burden. “Spending most of our time indoors is not the most exciting thing in the world. Shopping trips for groceries and essentials take much longer than usual. We are having to wait in a line outside the store with only a few people allowed in at one time. I understand how important the period is but I’m ready for things to go back to normal! With the lack of intensity in the Regionalliga in terms of how much we practice and the frequency of games, I won’t be needing to give my body too much rest. Instead I’ve already started working on my next goals surrounding my body and fitness. I’ve been following along with home workout videos and also incorporating some injury prevention and flexibility work to try and create some form of routine and regimen of improvement. All this plus focusing on clean eating I’ve already managed to lose 10lbs since my return from Germany and I believe I will lose a lot more over this period. I am determined to bring another level of productivity to whichever team I’m on next season”, warned Radwan Bakkali. Before leagues were shut down there were quite a number of games in Germany in various leagues as well as a BCL game in Bonn against AEK Athens and a Fiba Europe Cup game in Bayreuth without spectators. Many players played this type of game for the first time in their career, but Bakkali didn´t, but knows that playing without fans wouldn´t be his cup of tea. “I can’t speak for all basketball players but I know right now with the amount of days I’ve spent indoors I would want to play a basketball game even if it meant there would be no spectators, simply for the love of the game. Of course though, basketball games with no spectators would feel like a glorified scrimmage. Fans are very important to bringing atmosphere and passion to the environment. I am looking forward to the day I get to step back on the court and play a game in front of a full house”, stressed Radwan Bakkali. Despite so much adversary that has accompanied him in his life, he sees light at the end of the tunnel for basketball. “Historically we’ve always found a way to bounce back. The economy will eventually return to its strong state and we will be in business as usual. Sports is big business and entertainment and there will always be a demand, especially for basketball. So I am not worried about the future of basketball. If anything after this quarantine is over it will probably inject a new energy as all the organizations, coaches, players and fans will be raring to go”, warned Radwan Bakkali. Despite the hard times in the world now, the big man not only has had a lot of time to reflect on life and on others, but has also learned things about himself and family. “As you are aware Miles, I’m no stranger to adversity. This is another obstacle to overcome. I think it’s important to do our best to remain even keel, never feeling to high or too low. This way you’ll be able to focus on the task at hand a little better. It’s important to keep ourselves as occupied as possible, stopping ourselves from focusing on any negative thoughts which can be easy to do in a time like this. I’m an only child, and a big mommas boy. So family has always been integral to me. I guess one of the blessings of this period is to have more time to spend with my family, especially since I’m usually away for most of the year. While I was studying in America I had a period of 3 years where I didn’t see my parents so I feel like I’m still playing catch up for that time lost”, commented Radwan Bakkali.
The rookie team season of Radwan Bakkali with the ETB Miners Essen was one to forget. The club finished with a dismal 1-24 record. A lot of critics already questioned the signing of female coach Romaris Duran last summer, but Bakkali is more than sure that you can´t blame her for the club´s terrible start. “Hiring Coach Iria was not a mistake. Yes, in general it is rare to see female coaches in these positions but I believe it’s something that should become more and more common. We have some examples of this at the higher levels in basketball for example Becky Hammon, an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs. Gender, race, age or religion should not determine whether someone gets a job or not but instead candidates should be judged by what they can offer in value. Coach Romaris Duran has a wealth of experience in the Spanish second division and has a lot to offer in terms of knowledge and coaching style. While I regret that it didn’t work out for her in Essen I’m sure she will go on to have a very successful career as a coach. Sometimes it’s all situation. I am extremely grateful to her for giving me the opportunity to start my professional career and I wish her nothing but the best”, warned Radwan Bakkali. The team lost it´s first 16 games before finally getting it´s first victory against Hagen-Haspe. Every new loss was an added punch into the face of the big man and mentally coping with losing really affected him. His rookie season and losing so much was something that was totally new to him. “I have never endured a losing streak like that in my career. It was very difficult. We had a successful pre-season so it was a shock for the official games to start the way they did. I think the most challenging part about this losing streak was trying to keep the team morale up and belief that we can go into the next game and be more competitive. The win at Haspe was sweet when it finally came. I hope I never experience a losing streak like that again”, said Radwan Bakkali. When a losing streak keeps growing and even when you play some games a lot better than others, you still find ways to lose the tight ones like they did against Dortsen by 3 points and 1 point against Leverkusen something that just lies within the misfortune during long losing streaks. “It is never nice to lose, in any way. But yes the close losses hurt more. We had been able to come together and be competitive for 40 minutes and to lose those games in the last minutes was certainly heartbreaking. I guess these are the growing pains of experience. I collected some memories that will help me in the future close games I’ll be involved in”, said Radwan Bakkali. The biggest problem of the team was the defense allowing 91 points per game. A big problem was that the team had only one veteran in Chris Alexander and the rest of the players were 23 years of age or younger. “Experience, or lack thereof, was definitely a big factor in our struggles. The local players had spent the previous season in the 2.Regionalliga and were struggling to make the adjustment to the 1.Regionalliga. I myself was initially learning to adjust to the bigger role I had on the team and my big performances didn’t come until about 6 games into the season. So inexperience definitely played its part”, commented Radwan bakkali. In a way the Coronavirus was a blessing in disguise as the club won´t move down but remain in the Regionalliga and the club resigned Chris Alexander for a 7th season. The club obviously have to find a way to reach the winning ground by doing things differently in the organization. “I don’t want to talk too negatively about the club that gave me an opportunity to start my professional career, but it is no secret that there were a lot of things that the club did not set up correctly in order for the team to have any success. If they have an intention to break the cycle of unsuccessful basketball in Essen the past few years, the administration will have to learn from their past mistakes and change the way things are done at the club for the better. Securing a player of Chris’ talent is a good first step. He will bring them instant scoring and team leadership. Hopefully he gets a supporting cast to help him turn his big performances into wins. Good luck to them”, warned Radwan Bakkali.
The English man couldn´t have had his real break out season hadn´t it been for the assistance of his teammates. One who had the biggest effect on him was 37 year old point guard Chris Alexander who played his sixth season in Essen. Not only on the court could the big man count on getting dimes in perfect position, but also off the court he was a big help to him. Alexander knew what Bakkali has been dealing with in his life as he also has witnessed adversary in his career. “Getting the opportunity to learn from a player of Chris’s talent and experience was a pleasure. Seeing first hand his work ethic and intensity for the game at 37 years old was incredible. If I can emulate his longevity I’ll be a very fortunate man. Moreover, off the court is where he had the biggest impact on me. Chris dealt with a range of adversities during the season and witnessing him overcome these challenges with such professionalism was truly inspiring. I’ve personally expressed this to him but it is worth people knowing the quality individual he is”, stated Radwan Bakkali. One guy that made a quick impression on me was 17 year old Luca Michels. He had the club´s best NBBL player averaging 15,6ppg and played 4 Regionalliga games at the end of the season averaging 13,3ppg. He had his best game in the huge 102-63 loss in Rhondorf scoring 24 points. I wasn´t the only guy that was impressed with his game. “Luca is a dog! Fearless, talented and passionate. He’s got a lot of swagger to him. At 17 years old still it’s hard to put any limits on what he can achieve. I believe he should have been a part of our squad from the very start of the season. In the 4 games he did play with us he was a big help in scoring and defending the best opposing player. Luca and I talk quite a bit over social media now that I’m back home and I can’t wait to see where he goes in his career. The future is bright”, warned Radwan Bakkali. Another player that the Brit enjoyed playing with was Noah Westerhaus. It was only a shame for him that he left in mid season. “Noah Westerhaus, who moved to Koblenz during the season is a very talented German player that could also go on to be a good professional. At 6’7 he can play the 3/4, with a good three point shot and the quickness to create some interesting mismatches for the opposing team. We had some good moments as a 4 and 5 combination and I wish him all the best for his future also”, added Radwan Bakkali. He not only will remember his teammates, but also his opponents as there were some that really challenged him on the floor. “One player that stood out to me was Vaidotas Volkus of Herford. As you know, an experienced player who has played in some of the higher leagues in Europe, he felt like a brick wall! I definitely had fun being physical with him. What’s more, it was a good learning experience to see his little veteran tricks he would utilize in the game to create an advantage over his opponent. I’ll definitely be using what I learnt from observing and playing against him to make myself better for the future”, stated Radwan Bakkali.
Despite the massive team woes of the ETB Wohnbau Miners Radwan Bakkali had a season that he was never close to in the last years in the States averaging 14,4ppg and 10,6rpg. Now if the club had been a playoff team and had a great record, he may have been more content with his season, but when you struggle as a team for the whole season, you can always find negatives about your own game. “As an athlete you can never be content with your performances. I personally will always find aspects that I could have done better and there is always room for improvement. However, coming from my college situation not too long ago where I averaged a measly 1,8ppg and 1,5rpg, I’m pleased that I was able to show a glimpse of my potential. Stats never tell the whole story and I’m afraid they’ve become too much of a focal point in our game today but averaging a double double at any level is indicative of a player’s productivity. I was pleased to finally have a bigger role on a team and showcase my unique skill set. I believe with more hard work I can do even better than I did this season at a higher level”, stressed Radwan Bakkali. When you saw the Brit face to face, you encountered a big body who had been used to playing no more than 10 minutes in school in the States, but as a rookie his minutes jumped to 29 and one can say that he physically made a fine transition to channeling his energy wisely. “I’ll always be trying to improve my ability to be productive with high energy while I’m on the court. I enjoyed playing almost three times as much as I did in college. My body handled these extended minutes well. I was able to use my time on the court to gain experience, learn how to handle responsibility I wasn’t previously afforded in college and grow in confidence which was very important for me. My performances over the course of the season showed this”, warned Radwan Bakkali. The ex Jacksonville(NCAA) big man came into his rookie season wanting to play a role in affecting shots at the rim and being a good positional team defender. Last summer he challenged himself against high level guards. But when you checkout his stats, he only had 3 steals and 1 block in 24 games, but he feels that there is more to a player´s defensive qualities than the stat sheet. “ Stats have become an over-inflated aspect of how we analyse a players value. There is a lot that doesn’t go into the box score. While I have never been a shot blocker, I feel like my big body and long arms were useful in affecting some shots around the rim and clogging up the paint. My defensive ability is certainly an aspect of my game I will continue to improve nonetheless”. warned Radwan Bakkali. After missing the last 3 weeks of the season, he came back strong and had a 22/9 game in a tough 99-89 loss against Grevenbroich in the last game. All in all he will return to the lab this summer with confidence, because he did show good things on the court as a rookie. “I feel like I made the best out of the opportunity in terms of starting to show people my ability on the court. With multiple high scoring double double games I was able to show that I am comfortable with my back to the basket scoring in the post as well as being able to confidently step out in the midrange and knock down the midrange jumper. My passing ability is also an underrated part of my game and my highlights from this season show some examples of this. I was able to collect more points and rebounds in this one season than all my four years of college combined. Moving forward I will aim to continue working on my athleticism and lateral ability so that I can be more productive on both ends of the floor. Even more so, my efficiency is something I will look to raise as I wished my overall FG% was much higher. This will be something I correct with plenty of repetitions. I would summarize my rookie season as a good start, but I have so much more to prove”, warned Radwan Bakkali.
Bakkali has been home for months and will have a lot of time to spend in the basketball lab to continue to grind and make strides in his game. But then again the question will be when the lockdown will end in the UK so he can finally concentrate and work on his game. “The biggest disadvantage right now is having no access to gyms or basketball courts to work out in. But I guess this is an opportunity to be creative and find alternative ways to improve as much as we can during time. It’s interesting to see how these body weight workouts I’m doing at home are in way harder than lifting weights at a gym or the other exercises our bodies are usually used to. So I’m just looking at this as an opportunity to improve in an area that I haven’t previously given much attention to”, stressed Radwan Bakkali. In the last 4 years, the big man attempted only 21 three´s. He took only 9 three´s in his last 3 college years and as a rookie with the Miners was a weak 1/12. He knows that to be able to showcase a more versatile offensive game, he will have to develop a 3 if he likes to or not. “Without a doubt my three point shot is something that I will look to improve heavily moving forward. I’m confident in my shooting form and touch and I’ve shown that my midrange jump shot is my sweet spot. It’s now my responsibility to extend this range beyond the three point line in order to make me more versatile and impactful to my future teams as I continue to climb in my career”, added Radwan Bakkali. It will be a long summer for not only Radwan Bakkali, but also so many other professional players who like him will be seeking that next opportunity for next season. If the Coronavirus crisis gets worse, there could be some very bad scenario´s including the new season´s being delayed or even cancelled in many countries. But sooner or later basketball life will get back to normal and at the moment the Brit will look at all scenario´s of how his career will continue. “ I am extremely open minded to all opportunities when it comes to options for next year. You never know where the game is going to take you. I would be willing to play in most places around the world. At the moment my personal goals are to keep climbing the European ranks and eventually reach the higher leagues of European basketball. I have shown this regular season and even in the preseason games against higher level competition that I can be a candidate for this with big performances against players who are also receiving minutes in the German Pro A, BBL and Basketball Champions League. So if I can continue to prove myself against better opponents, with the right situation and timing; bigger and better opportunities will present themselves”, warned Radwan Bakkali. One thing is for sure where ever Radwan Bakkali ends up for his second professional season, he will arrive there having experienced way too much adversary and some extreme tough losing, so now it is definitely time for some winning, because he definitely has learned to lose.