Having the what if phrases pop up is something that happens on occasion in so many different situations in life not only in sports. The question of what would have been the fate of the 2022-2023 Dragons Rhondorf had they had Mubarak Salami (198-SG-1996)? That is something that only God knows. This team had so much potential and were growing with the addition of him in January 2023. Until his death the Dragons Rhondorf had won 2 of their last 3 games and were in a groove and getting prepared for the latter part of the regular season. But then the unexpected happened and he was suddenly taken from us on February 24th. His tragic death shocked basketball Germany and put a massive dagger into the heart of the Dragons Rhondorf organization and all the others he had strapped on the jersey for. Suddenly a Paul Albrecht and Co would come to practice and see a vacant spot in the dressing room. He would be missing from the guard rotation forever. His death was so brutally saddening. Of course life went on after for the Dragons Organization as they came back on the court and gave all they had, but something was missing. The lethal game of Mubarak Salami was forever gone. His explosive offensive game was something they couldn’t replace on the floor and something that definitely could of gotten them over the hump in the Basketball Lowen playoff series. Even if life went on after February 24 for the Dragons Rhondorf, the season for me was over. The 2022-2023 Dragons Rhondorf season took an unexpected and unwanted turn upside down. Nothing was the same for me, but the memory of Mubarak Salami will forever be present.
After focusing on the youth in the last few years, the Dragons Rhondorf went into a different direction this season going more with age and experience. They hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2018 and wanted to get that taste of the post season again. The club had a healthy mix of old and young as captain Paul Albrecht led the veterans flanked by ex easyCredit BBL player Florian Koch and Florian Wendeler who came back after playing there some years ago where he averaged 5/4 in their Pro A season. The club also kept sniper Nicolas Buchholz and brought in role player Adrian Bergmann. A big addition was Zaba Bangala who was Mini Zion Williamson in a Swedish body who wrecked havoc in the paint area. American Devon Goodman was the back bone of the club who was the team’s MVP. It was a shame that he couldn’t play game 2 on account of injury. If he had played then there for sure would have been a do or die game back in the Dragon Dome on Sunday. It was a very talented roster, but also a thin one where one really wondered what could have been achieved if the club had had a few more fresh bodies on the bench.
The Dragons Rhondorf had a weird situation to begin the 2022-2023 season. Not only did they have to suffer and play 4 of their first 6 games on the road, but in reality it felt more like 6 away games. On account of renovations in their living room Dragon Dome in Bad Honnef, the ex Pro A team had to play their first 2 home games in a substitution location in Sankt Katharinen. The new non-permanent location was only 18 kilometers away, but still the so called home games still felt like home was far away. Despite the tough situation, the club still began the season on a very positive note going 4-2. They finally played their first real home game in their living room on November 26th beating Rist Wedel 102-97 and went into December with an optimistic 5-2 record. Despite that the club showed early on that consistency on defense was a problem as twice they showed great performances allowing 66 and 65 points, but also gave up 82 or more points 4 times. After that the season would be an up and down battle where they never were able to find a true defensive identity. In December they went 3-2 and was highlighted by a blow out win over Vechta, but also suffered a 24 point loss to rival RheinStars. In January, they went 1-3 and hauled in Mubarak Salami for extra offensive fire power as the club noticed that something was missing on offense and the bench was thin. Then came the team’s best phase of the season as they went 5-1. Their biggest win was against the BSW Sixers, but they also were swept by top pro B north team Lok Bernau as their defense stifled them twice this season. In between they had to witness the tragic death of Mubarak Salami. They closed out the season with a disappointing 0-4 record. Having their last 2 regular season games more than 500 kilometers away in Wolmirstedt and Wedel only 4 days apart surely wasn’t beneficial. They were fortunate to gain home court in the first round only because Vechta had lost their last game of the regular season. They came into the playoffs and should have won game 1 at home in the regular time against Erfurt, but instead let it slip away in overtime and in game 2 gave all they had, but lost after a massive come back. One had that what if question again what would have happened had Devon Goodman been on board. He had to sit out because of injury.
Devon Goodman was the unanimous choice of team MVP averaging 19,8ppg, 4,0rpg, 8,9apg and 2,0spg. The club hadn’t seen such a dominant import since Kameron Taylor and Curtis Hollis. His incredible quickness and drive will always be in the minds of everyone who witnessed him in the Dragon Dome. He scored in double figures in 20 of 23 games including closing out his last home game with 37 points and 14 dimes against Erfurt. He will most likely land in a higher league. I can imagine he will get offers from German Pro A teams. The second top scorer of the team was Florian Koch who had played 294 BBL games with Bonn, Ludwigsburg, Wurzburg and Ludwigsburg. He averaged 18,0ppg, 5,9rpg, 2,4apg and 1,4spg. He sparkled with his three point shooting, but also showed he was a team player filling the stat sheet. This was the best club transaction in years and a real enrichment to get a guy of his quality. The third top scorer was Swedish national player Zaba Bangala who averaged 14,6ppg, 8,6rpg, 2,1apg and 1,3spg. He was easily the clubs most improved player. Even if he had up and down phases and lost some gas down the stretch, the guy made huge strides from the start of the season.The fourth top scorer was ex Rostock guard Nicolas Buchholz who averaged 12,7ppg, 2,2rpg and 1,9apg. His scoring was down, but he knew that coming into the season as the club had more experience and scoring ability than the season before which slowed down his scoring average. His best game was his 24 points 3 rebounds and 5 assists against Herford where he drilled home 7 three’s. It wasn’t the easiest season for him having to find his role on a team with veterans, but a valuable learning experience. My unsung hero of the team was captain Paul Albrecht. He averaged 10,9ppg, 6,8rpg and 2,3apg. He came to play every night and gave all he had and showed always he is the ultimate team player. How can anyone not adore this guy? His smile is as warm and as soothing as a whirl pool after a marathon run. He is the identity figure of the team and I hope he plays many more years in Rhondorf. Florian Wendeler came back to Rhondorf after stints in Cuxhaven, Bochum and Cologne and averaged 4,6ppg and 3.8rpg. He is one of those guys where you know what you will get. He came from the bench and gave durability, hustle and a presence under the hoop with rebounds. Adrian Bergmann came form Schwenningen and averaged 3,7ppg and 2,4rpg. The three and D specialist always gave his best from the bench. The team player was the best example that his impact on the game wasn’t about scoring or giving crazy highlights but playing hard defense and finding the best option for his team. Young German Sam Nellessen played 16 games and averaged 8,3 minutes. I wish he would have been integrated more into the offense.
The most positive note for the Dragons Rhondorf season was that they finally reached the playoffs again after 5 years away. The team was mostly fun to watch in terms of offensive power as they knew how to put points on the board. The negative aspect was that they were unable to find a defensive identity. They allowed 80 points or more in 18 of 26 games. Their biggest problem was simply 1-1 defense and some how not being more consistent on slowing down the drive. They also had problems rebounding during the season which cost them some games as well. The thin bench surely also played a role. I would have liked to have seen the youth players get more of a chance. The 2022-2023 season will always have the tragic death of Mubarak Salami as it’s stamp. Everything else that occurred will more or less be like a side note in this season. This so sad occurrence is something that will always be present in Dragons Rhondorf history. Mubarak Salami was such a positive appearance in the Dragons basketball culture. The what if phrase will always be present in the 2022-2023 season. What if Mubarak Salmi hadn’t left us? How far would the Dragons Rhondorf have gone on the court? But more important how many more lives would he have been able to enrich and laid a positive influence on others with his character? Mubarak’s spirit will forever live on in the Dragon Dome and in many other places.