The 2021-2022 Ratiopharm Ulm U-16 team was a very special team that won their first title in May 2022 in Frankfurt. I was lucky to have witnessed their fantastic run that was crowned with the final win over Rostock. The club played as a team and just played beautiful basketball for kids 16 and under. There were 3 guys that really stood out and stayed in my memory even months later and they were the flashy scorer Jordan Mueller, the versatile big man Eric Reibe who had a nice soft touch and was a rim protector and then Joel Cwik, an overwhelming athletic player that I just remembered him being literally all over the court. A guy that could score and could defend the positions 1-4. It didn’t surprise anyone that he was named the 2022 JBBL (U-16) defender of the year. Almost 6 months later, I was overjoyed that I could possibly not only observe him again, but also his teammates Reibe and Mueller in a Regionalliga game in Limburg. Even though I would probably see them again soon in Frankfurt in a Pro B or youth game, I was still excited to see these talented players again and see how much better they were now then back in Frankfurt in late May. When I arrived to the Gym in Limburg, I scooted up to the scorers table and checked the BBU01 Ulm roster. Ok my heart sank a bit. Only 1 player of the 3 made the trip to Limburg. I thought at least one was there and it was Joel Cwik. A few hours later and after a hard fought 40 minute game, Joel Cwik left the gym as Ulm’s top scorer with 22 points and made 2 clutch money shots in crunch-time to seal the win. After the win, he spoke with ease in the post game interview as if he were a 10 year pro veteran.’ I have to make shots in important moments. Even though I had missed shots, my teammates still had faith in me and just told me to keep shooting’, expressed Joel Cwik. Even if his shot propelled the team to the win, it is that ability that is still his biggest weakness in his game. Other than that, he is simply a Swiss army knife that is just enjoying the game at age 16.
Joel Cwik all thumbs up after scoring a team high 22 points in the Ulm win in Limburg
Miles Schmidt-Scheuber conducting a post game interview with Joel Cwik After the win in Limburg
Joel Cwik was born on April 10, 2006. He grew up in the beautiful town Schwabische Alb and had very ambitious parents who would drive him the 40 minutes to Ulm so he could practice. Now he lives in Ulm and doesn’t have to commute anymore. He has played his whole life for the ratiopharm Ulm organization and was already seen as a massive talent early in his career. He was always a player that played one level higher than the age he was. One person who has been on his side since years is ratiopharm Ulm JBBL (U-16) coach Jochen Lotz who is in his sixth season at the helm. He is a school teacher and on the side basketball teacher that is very disciplined and emotional during his work. He was twice U-14 German finalist and won the U-16 cup once. He is a coach that has seen many very talented players over the years and with Joel Cwik has possibly one if not the most talented player ever. When you ask him about the 16 year old, you can hear that immense joy in his voice when talking about him. The first thing thought that Lotz has when he hears the name Joel Cwik isn’t his abilities, but something different. ‘He is a great guy’, said Jochen Lotz.
Having a good character is so vital now adays especially in professional sports for building good team chemistry, but obviously having game is the other part. His U-16 national team college Ivan Kharchenkov has practiced many times with him and battled against him various times as an opponent and has seen his game change in the last year. One thing is for sure that Lotz and Kharchenkov agree on some similar things concerning Cwik. ‘In the past he was more of a slasher and lock down defender, but he has improved his shot and now I see him going more in the direction of a 3 and D player’, stressed FC Bayern Munich guard player Ivan Kharchenkov. But his coach sees him as being much more than just a 3 and D player ‘He can do everything. He has game intelligence, is athletic, can go to the hoop, use both hands and can make deciding shots. He was a slasher once, but now he can find good solutions and is like a Swish army knife Plus he is the best defender on the wing for his age. He just needs to improve his shot’, stated Jochen Lotz. ‘He just needs to work on his shot. He has everything else’, warned Ivan Kharchenkov. I asked Ivan Kharchenkov to which German player he would compare the game of Cwik to and the answer was very chilling. ‘He reminds me of Scottie Pippen (202-G/F-1965, college: Cent Arkansas). He is an annoying defender that always sticks on you like a tick’, stated Ivan Kharchenkov. I tell Jochen Lotz this comparison and there is a short pause and chuckle. ‘I can’t really think of a German player, but I honestly have to agree with Ivan that he is a Scottie Pippen type of player. He does a lot of things you don’t see on the stat sheet. It reminds me of when a Jordan wasn’t there, Pippen proved he could take over a game. Well there actually is a German player that he reminds me of and that is Isaac Bonga. A player that can defend many positions’, warned Jochen Lotz
Miles Schmidt-Scheuber interviewing Joel Cwik head coach Jochen Lotz at the 2022 JBBL final in Frankfurt
Last season in the JBBL (U-16) league he averaged 22,9ppg, 5,0rpg and had 2,5spg. He had 11 games with 3 or more steals and was always in double figures in efficiency. He continued to also play at a higher level than his age and already made strides in the NBBL (U-19) league playing 13 games averaging 8.3ppg, 2.1rpg, 1.4apg, 1.4spg, FGP: 69.1%, 3PT: 24.0%, FT: 66.7%. ‘He developed well in the JBBL and already practiced a lot with the NBBL team and played games. He showed that he could carry the team emotionally and with his game in critical phases. He grew into a great leader’, stated Jochen Lotz. His development continues to rise this season as he has the opportunity to play 3 levels with NBBL, Pro B (third division) with Orange Academy and in the fourth league Regionalliga with BBU 01 Ulm. He played 1 NBBL game scoring 12 points against Wurzburg, is averaging 16,3ppg, 2,8rpg, 1,2apg and 1,5spg while shooting 39% from outside in the Regionalliga while logging 25 minutes while in the Pro B is averaging 6,5ppg in 17 minutes time and shooting 40%. He is a big leader in the Regionalliga at age 16 where there are many grown men while in the Pro B is fighting for minutes against guys 2-3 years older than him who are further in their development. Lotz has a good explanation about his play at both levels. ‘Joel was always mature. He was already the second top scorer with the JBBL team when he was still a U-14 player. He understands the game well and has a good IQ. He is able to play against more physical players at the Regionalliga. He is a leader in the Regionalliga while in the Pro B needs to find a role. But he has competed hard and played well in practice against the older players Tobias Jenson and Max Langenfeld’, expressed Jochen Lotz. He can score at a high rate, but how good of a passer can he still become and possibly fill the stat sheet more and how will he continue to develop as a defender? ‘I think he can up his passing skills. He sees the holes well, but at the moment scoring is so easy for him that he doesn’t need to pass as much, but he definitely has the tools to be a good passer. To make the next step as a defender, he needs to get used to the higher tempo and get bigger. He is athletic, but in comparison to Ivan needs to get stronger. He also needs to get used to the speed. But he definitely can guard guards and bigger forwards on the wing’, stated Jochen Lotz.
There is something that Ivan Kharchenkov and Joel Cwik share and it isn’t mass. But when it comes to winning, they both have that special killer instinct. ‘Joel always wants to win. He likes to trash talk, but does it in a positive way. He always pushes everyone else. He can also get frustrated when something doesn’t work, but it is important to have an attitude like this’, warned Jochen Lotz. So where will the journey go for Joel Cwik? ‘If he continues to develop well as a young man and work hard on his game, he could be a easyCredit BBL player. But anything can happen. I think he could have the potential to be a Euroleague player’, warned Jochen Lotz. Lotz has worked countless hours with his student and has had many beautiful moments, but none better than this. ‘I can remember how happy he was when he made his first alley oop dunk after it hadn’t worked the first few times. His laugh was so authentic. It was so positive and refreshing. He grew 10 centimeters in this moment’, laughed Jochen Lotz. But also Ivan Kharchenkov has seen a side of Joel Cwik that entertained the whole gang during a youth national team practice. ‘We had a 5-5 training session. Before the drill there was a huddle and nobody wanted to defend me. Then Joel agreed to defend me. He jokingly said, I’m shaking at the knees, but Ok I’ll do it. Then everyone burst out laughing’, remembered Ivan Kharchenkov. Joel Cwik is only 16 and has already experienced a lot in his young career and is on a positive way up the basketball ladder, but the most important thing is that he is having fun. That is so invigorating.