The date was Feb 29, 2020 and the Dragons Rhondorf had destroyed the hapless ETB Wohnbau Baskets by 39 points 102-63 as the team had found it´s self despite losing their star player Curtis Hollis 6 weeks earlier. The club was still strong without Hollis and with one game to go at number 1 team RheinStars Cologne March 7th, fans were already a step ahead and thinking and dreaming about the Regionalliga playoffs and returning back to the Pro B. However nothing of that happened as COVID-19 appeared and shut down so many things in society including sporting events. The 19-20 season was soon cancelled and the extreme “What could have been thoughts” occupied everyone and instead of finishing the season, taking a break and forming a new roster, the Dragons Rhondorf like so many other clubs had to see where their future journey would go. Rhondorf continued to get the support of their co-operations partner Telekom Baskets Bonn, but still the off season was a strange one as the transfer market for many clubs began later. The Dragons Rhondorf actually did get active signing German players early and keeping young prospects all through the summer, but everyone was wondering who and when would the import arrive? In early September I visited a test game in Koblenz and observed a shocking win over the favorite Koblenz who have a roster this season filled with talent and depth that could win it all in the Pro B. After the grind out defensive victory, I asked head coach coach Julius Thomas when the American would come. “We will be playing without an import this season. If we have problems in the season then we might have to sign an import”, warned head coach Julius Thomas. In the Regionalliga many teams live by their imports usually Americans. In the last 3 years the Dragons Rhondorf were fortunate to have gems like Kameron Taylor, Zygimantas Riauka and Curtis Hollis that carried the team in good and bad moments. There have been teams that have gotten by without an imports like Deutz, but most teams don´t risk it. Instead the Dragons Rhondorf will rely on young players with very little experience. Only one player Paul Albrecht is older than young head coach Julius Thomas. The rest are young, flexible, motivated and hungry players wanting to prove their worth while some others want to keep developing as players. Can an extreme youth movement give the Dragons Rhondorf success in 2020-2021? This could be a very risky experiment. “I think it can be risky to say that we want to finish the season at a certain spot. We want to play hard each game and keep improving. We have a very young team, but it is very talented. We want to give our young talents a chance on the big stage. This is worth the risk”, warned Dragons head coach Julius Thomas.
Last season the Dragons Rhondorf had the best offense in the Regionalliga West averaging 95 points per game and on some nights really dazzled the home town fans with an abundance of points eclipsing the 100 point mark 10 times. They were filled with offensive power and also the needed overwhelming experience at the point guard position with Anish Sharda and Enric Garrido Foz who were both 37 years of age. Their biggest weak point last season was their defense where they allowed 80 points or more in 18 games. The shoot outs are a very risky and dangerous way to live on the basketball court, but the Dragons Rhondorf simply were a way better offensive team than defensive team and were sometimes lucky that they were able to score more than what they gave up. Dragons associate head coach Yassin Idbihi has been known to have said that last seasons defense was the worst ever, but this season the club wants to make amends and play a lot better defense. Last season the club lived by gambling a lot, but had little consistency. They hope that it will be different this season. “We want to have more rules in the way we defend. We will gamble less and stopping the drive to the hoop will be essential. Clogging the lane each game will be vital for our success”, stated Dragons head coach Julius Thomas. On paper the club has a lot less fire power than last season, but will hope that they will be bale to live by their athleticism on the offensive end. “We want to play fast this season and give Paul Albrecht many touches. We will live by the short roles(pick and pop). We will have more structure than last season and play more team basketball. Good for grades”, stressed head coach Julius Thomas.
The Dragons Rhondorf kept a slew of players but also have added some new faces to help bolster the roster. Key players from last season Killian Binapfl(15,7ppg, 5,9rpg, 2,9apg) and Gabriel Olverira(17,4ppg, 6,6rpg, 1,6apg) remain, but it has already been communicated that they will have more of a role with easyCredit BBL team Telekom baskets Bonn which most likely hamper and cut down their appearances in the Regionalliga. The club also held a second talented big man with 20 year old Marek Kotieno(8,8ppg, 4,5rpg) who made big strides last season after averaging only 2/2 in the Pro B with Wolfenbuettel in 2018-2019. He will have a bigger and more central role this season. He could easily get the minutes De Olveira had last season and flourish. The team also kept 18 year old multi talented German/Lithuanian Simonas Lukosius who averaged 8,6ppg, 2,5rpg and 2,8rpg and shot a blistering 48% from the parking lot. This young gun could become another vital scoring option this season. “We want him to slip into being an impact player. He showed last season what he can do and deserves a bigger role this season”, stated head coach Julius Thomas. The team also kept Pal Ghotra who played only 6 games last season averaging 6,8ppg. The club hopes that they will be able to profit more from his shooting this season. The team also brought back huge 16 year old talent Ousmane Ndiye from Senegal. He goes to school up the road from the Dragon Dome at Hagershof and outside the classroom continues to work on his game. He played 4 games last season at age 15 and showed a lot of potential. His game reminds one of Kevin Durant and he is ranked second best for his age in Europe. “He will get touches and the shots he needs. He will get the freedom to make mistakes. He will be allowed to show exactly what he has to offer”, stressed head coach Julius Thomas.
The rest of the roster is filled with new players. The organization picked up 6 new players. The club gained the most experience with 27 year old Paul Albrecht who brings 162 Pro A games and 49 Pro B experience to Rhondorf. The ex U-20 German national player will have to provide scoring, but he will also offer something else vital. “We want to him to be more active inside”, stressed assistant coach Julius Thomas. The German ex Artland Dragons makes everyone around him better on the court. The club also brought in young talented Bruno Albrecht who began his career in Chemnitz, but last played in Ehingen playing 12 Pro A games and averaged 19,0ppg in the NBBL. He is a good playmaker that will get important minutes with the team. The club also brought in 23 year old Jacob Engelhardt who helped Leverkusen win the 2019 Pro B title. The pass first point guard is another guy who will play a vital role in the organization of the offense. Another newcomer is highly talented 17 year old Serb Nikola Petojevic who already turned heads in exhibition games. This is his first time in Germany hand and is the hardest worker on the team and doesn´t shy away from contact. Another new player for the Dragons this season is 18 year old 200cm German Clint Schonheiter. He won the 2019 NBBL title with FC Bayern Munich and last season played NBBL with IBAM(International Basketball Academy Munich). He didn´t play much the last 2 years, but that should change this season. The strong pick and roll defender is another player that won´t shy away from banging inside. Another new player is 19 year old 198cm guard Oshane Drews who already played Pro B with Stahnsdorf as a 16 year old averaging 6,7ppg. He last played NBBL with Braunschweig and will dazzle you with his fine 1-1 skills and has that dynamic fast break game that reminds you of Killian Binapfl.
This years Dragons Rhondorf club is very young and will feature an average age of only 20 years. The goals of the club are ambitious and the expectations are high, because the club has indentified that the talent is there. There are many talented and strong clubs in the Regionalliga West and the Dragons won´t step away from anyone. I think like with any young team that there will be growing pains, but this is a special bunch of guys with some having been off the radar´s of many clubs. Now it is there stage to step up and demonstrate what they have to offer. They have a lot of motivation and strong will to defend and want to be successful in that area. The offense is one of the question marks. Can they score enough to win games? A big part of the success will be just how involved the 4 double license players will be. Obviously a Paul Albrecht has to carry the team through out the season, but also the expectations will be high for guys like Marek Kotieno and Simonas Lukosius to have severe break out seasons. “We will concentrate on transition, making quick passes on offense and toughness will be our identity especially on defense. We want to be the toughest team in every game. We want to play with the teams at the top”, warned head coach Julius Thomas. Nothing is what it was like before COVID-19 and that is the same with the Dragons Rhondorf. They are a totally different club from last season. Just as much as Covid-19 surprised the whole world, the same is with the Dragons Rhondorf. If they get some breaks here and there, then they could surprise many in their quest to be successful this season.