[written by Gruebler, who runs the great german blog Gruebelei.de]
If you listen to Euroleague officials and many European coaches, one thing you can frequently hear is that ALBA Berlin is one of the best basketball organizations on the continent. Of course, financially ALBA is just a medium sized club. A club budget just above 7 million euro, player salaries amounting to something around 2.5 million euro net. That’s a huge step away from the European powerhouses and contenders for Euroleague participation. Last season ALBA made it to the Euroleague Top 16. It was a really big success for this ambitious club. But when the playoffs in the German league came, ALBA struggled mightily against Paderborn, who just made it to the playoffs. And in the semis Eurocup participant Telekom Baskets Bonn eliminated ALBA. Not being in the finals, not reaching out for the Championship, that was a huge blow for ALBA Berlin. They are the only German team who openly state that they just have one goal, the highest one: A season without winning the Championship is a lost season.
For sure Braunschweig’s basketball project has seen better times. During the 2002/2003 campaign the team made it to the semi-finals and was close to beat reigning champion Alba Berlin. With a huge lead in game 4 Braunschweig’s public announcer mentioned that tickets for the finals could be bought after the game. But Berlin fought back, managed to win game 4 and sealed the deal in game five to advance to the finals.
Ever since 2003 Braunschweig could not make it to the play-offs. Just three years later in 2006 the team finished the season at the bottom of the table and almost had to face relegation. Only the extension of the league to 18 teams and the provision of a wildcard helped Braunschweig to stay in the league.
Names like Demond Mallet, Pete Lisicky, Joakim Blom, Szymon Szewczyk or Gordan Firic are still vivid in the minds of supporters. There had been some promising teams in the last couple of years. Head coach Emir Mutapcic mainly relied on Americans in his rotation while talented germans like Flavio Stückemann or Jannik Freese had to sit on the bench.
In 2008 the Phantoms got really close to a play-off spot and finished the season on 9th position. Expectations were high for the 2008/2009 season and with the re-signing of Andrew Drevo and Kyle Visser and the addition of point guard Will Franklin and wingman Dustin Salisbery the foundation of Mutapcic’s team looked pretty good. But an eight game losing streak at the end of the season ended all post season dreams. After 34 games Braunschweig found itself on the 12th spot. The team had earned a reputation for losing close games and certainly an era had come to an end.
For the second time in their storied history (after 2004), the Gießen 46ers finished the season in a relegation position in the standings. Fortunately for the BBL’s lone remaining original team, 2009 also marked the second time that the club stayed in the league even though they did not make it in sportive terms. While in 2004 Hagen and MBC Weißenfels were relegated due to financial reasons this time the BBL provided the 46ers with a wild card. The wild card proved to be the forgiving end to an otherwise very forgettable season. The turbulent year saw, in order, the following strange things: Perennial bench warmer Florian Hartenstein (career scoring avg. 2.8 ppg) started the season on a mean streak, averaging 14.5 ppg through the first two games. Former German international Robert Maras failed to display anything resembling a quality starting center. Longtime fan favorite Gerrit Terdenge just looked old. Both of them have since signed with second division (Pro A) teams. Veteran guard Danny Lewis left the team, feeling dissatisfied with his role. The team brought in two American guards to try out as replacement for Lewis, playing both of them in league games and opted to cut Brandon Worthy in favor of Ricky Hickman. Former scout-turned-coach Simon Cote was fired, head of basketball operations Vladimir Bogojevic took over coaching duties. This meant that assistant coach Gerald Wasshuber had to work with the third coach in less than eight months. Maurice Jeffers suffered a season-ending injury. Since the deadline to sign new players had already passed, Gießen brought back previously cut Brandon Worthy, looking desparately for some offense.
Former german national player Bogojevic could give the team some new inspiration with a two game winning streak when he took over. But in the last 10 games only one more win could be secured. Still german talent Jannik Freese thinks that Bogojevic did a good job and is looking forward to the new season:
“Vladi gave us a new look as a team, we are more of a defense first, fast break team now, I think thats suits the players we got very well, and if we stick together and play as a team we can be a good team.”
[updated October 7] After losing 1-3 in the 2007/08 play-off quarterfinals against EWE Baskets Oldenburg the era of Dirk Bauermann had come to an end in Bamberg.
Bauermann’s record with Bamberg looked absolutely impressive. He took over a financially almost ruined and in sports terms struggling team and with manager Wolfgang Heyder helped to turn this squad in a commanding force in Germany’s elite division.
In his second year with Bamberg in 2003 he managed to not only reach the post season but also make it to the finals. But Alba Berlin did not show any mercy with Bamberg and finished them off with a 3-0 sweep.
But the core of this team stayed with Bamberg and with guys like Chris Ensminger, Mike Nahar, Uvis Helmanis, Rick Stafford and young Steffen Hamann established a reputation of being something like the Detroit Pistons Bad Boys of the BBL. For sure their style was not the most aesthetic and at times they their style was really rough, but this squad turned out to be very successful under the guidance of Dirk Bauermann. Certainly they lacked talent compared to other top teams, but with heart and fighting spirit these guys personified the typical outsider who does not give up and battles hard for every possession.
For even the most dedicated Mitteldeutscher BC (MBC) fans five years of inactivity from the highest German Basketball league may have felt like five years without your favourite beer, or for a child being able to go into a candy store, but not grab for their favourite candy. How tough must it have been for the organization and fans in 2004 to win the prestigious Fiba Europe Cup against JDA Dijon 84-68 not losing a single game in international play and a short time later have to learn that they would have to stop their successful run in the BBL due to bankruptcy. This was a huge blow to the region and may only have been topped if a severe unusual drought had whipped away the two natural springs, the Leisslinger mineral water and Saskia Quelle where mineral water is bottled in the region.
However the organization never gave up, took up playing in the Regionaliga and eventually moving up to the Second Bundesliga/PRO A and continuing to build up the team financially and through success on the court. Coach Ari Tammivaara was sort of the early architect managing a record of 72-20 until 2007. In 2007-2008 under the watchful eye of ex BG Karlsruhe coach Uwe Sauer, the team reached position five with a 20-10 record and everyone that followed the PRO A last season knows with what kind of a fury the club raced through the season totally dominating the league. The long and laborious five years are finally over as MBC is back at the big show in the BBL.
In the 2008-2009 PRO A season, MBC plowed through the league with a 26-4 record with the same easy as a bull dozer had to get through the sloppy and treacherous roads and drive ways during the New England blizzard of 1978. Even though the team was so commanding at home with a 14-1 record, it simply couldn´t get by Bayreuth that won the season series. The team had better luck against Phoenix Hagen sweeping the season series who they will meet again with changed rosters in the BBL. The team scored 90 points or more nine times and 100 points or more twice. There strongest phase was in the middle of the season going on an 14 game winning streak.
Frankfurt’s basketball project has got all it takes to be successful: a nice training ground called BCM (Basketball City Mainhatten), very big names as major sponsors (first Opel then Deutsche Bank) and regular appearances in european competitions.
The first era with Opel had been quite successful as the club won the national championship in 2004 and established itself as one of the big names in german basketball. Canadian coach Gordon Herbert had formed a nice team back then and even when keyplayers like Mario Kasun and Robert Garrett had left the team Murat Didin got the best out of the fundament of the championship team and young talents and led the team to another BBL finals appearance.
But the summer of 2005 had been a turning point in the club’s successful history. Deutsche Bank took over as main sponsor and was giving the club even more money to spend, but false decisions in recruiting players and coaches made Frankfurt’s basketball project lose two years. With the return of Murat Didin Frankfurt success came back to the Skyliners. In 2007 they surpringly made it to the semi-finals and were only two points shy of another finals appearance. While the club was overachieving two years ago, last season was a bit of a disappointment. The club made it to the post season, but was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Oldenburg.
It has been a difficult summer for Frankfurt’s management. Maybe like no other team Frankfurt’s basketball project relies mainly on main sponsor Deutsche Bank. The 5-year contract with Germany’s biggest bank company expires in 2010 and with no guarantee about an extension or an alternative the team was forced to act very careful on the market for most of the summer.
Bonn supporters had been enjoying a lot of sweet victories over the years. And they had, as a four times German vice-champion, witnessed bitter losses. Still, when the last remaining seconds on the clock ticked away in BBL Finals Game 5 on 25th of July and EWE Arena erupted in joy after a furious Oldenburg comeback, back from three down and Bonn playmaker EJ Rowland at the free throw line with 23 seconds to go, it was harder than ever for Bonn fans to swallow (video Game 5). After all, it was the first time they had actually believed that the championship could be theirs.
Under the guidance of Croatian Bruno Soce and Bosnian Predrag Krunic – the one that led Oldenburg to their first championship, quite ironically – as Soce’s successor, Bonn had been playing entertaining, high-level basketball for several years, however, their rosters were mentally fragile at times and never seemed to make a serious push towards a league championship. The big crash came in 2004/2005, when an extremely talented but unbalanced roster missed the playoffs for the first [and so far last] time in club history. Krunic was fired, yet Bonn decided to continue their philosophy and engaged Danijel Jusup, a Croat who had been coaching almost exclusively in his home country. Jusup put together a questionable roster, and it is safe to say that his way of handling players – a young rookie coming right of college, Jason Conley, in particular – did not make him a lot of friends. Things were heading into the wrong direction, and Bonn corrected their offseason mistake by releasing Jusup and trusting his assistant, Michael Koch, one of the most successful German basketball players of all times, with the headcoach duties. Koch, a rookie head coach, quickly installed a winning mentality. Moving Michael Meeks proved as crucial as the acquisition of Terry Black, who added some much needed athleticism to the roster. Koch managed to reach the playoffs with a roster he would never have had put together himself and his team put up a huge fight – literally – in the postseason versus champions Bamberg.
Since coming into the BBL in 2004-2005, the Walter Tigers Tuebingen have been treading water in the BBL middle standings and at times scrapping the deregulation area. The best finish of the club was 2006-2007 as they finished in 10th place. The Tigers have been more a harmless creature that seems to have their mouth sealed with little power escaping instead of showing their absolute unconquerable qualities of a tiger on the court.
The team has been known for developing a healthy fan base and letting guys like Rasko Katic and AJ Moye (his first year) develop into top BBL players, but then again also have gone the usual BBL route of signing an abundance of Americans and closing an eye for further developing German players and the organization also has been prone to getting involved with minor scandals like in 2006 with Tamien Trent and Mike Moten who were banned by the German basketball federation following a drug test. Making the jump to the BBL is not easy and if one were to ask experts in the Tuebingen surrounding, one would always hear three things. A lack of management know how, a slim budget and not getting the right mix of players. Ex coach Tolga Öngören came in the middle of the 2007-2008 season and started getting the team in a right direction.
If you would have asked the 18 managers of the BBL teams before the 2008-2009 BBL season, which team would be a top the standings at the Allstar break, I am sure no one would have predicted that MEG Goettingen would be there, but they were. A spectacular result like this could be comparable to unimposing Formula One racer Nelson Piquet junior as if he had come from nowhere to win 3-4 races and be challenging a Lewis Hamilton or Kimi Raikkonen near the top of the drivers list. Nobody had expected this bunch of relatively unknown players to be so strong and dominate the league. It was refreshing and something that was positive for the BBL. At times it seemed like the Goettingen players had to pinch themselves just to be certain that it was not all a dream:
“Honestly, I wasn’t sure, you read enough of the papers and listen to what people say about you, you can really start to believe that maybe “Gottingen was lucky that day” or maybe our opponent did “just have a bad shooting day.” But Ben Jacobson and John Patrick did a good job at having everyone on the same page and working hard everyday and we eventually realized that winning was an attitude and we should go into every game expecting to win with the way we play”, stressed American Jason Boone.
EnBW Ludwigsburg are looking to land back in the playoff places in 2009-2010 and want to find some of that magic that was present some years ago as ex coach Silvano Poropat led the team into the playoffs.
Since then Poropat was dismissed and Rick Stafford was unable to form a consistent team last season missing the playoffs. Since their spectacular 2006-2007 season, where they finished the season at position 2 with a 25-9 record, not much greatness was able to follow the last two seasons except a 13th place finish in 2008 and 11th place ending last season. The most notable highlight was reaching the BBL cup final in 2008 losing to a motivated Artland Dragons. This season will see some changes, besides a good room cleaning with the roster, a new coach has come with the Regional train from Tuebingen with Tolga Öngören and the team say goodbye to the small and cosy Rundsporthalle as the team will move into a new arena.