Robbe, active reader and writer for several German and International forums has written an excellent post about the season of “his” Telekom Baskets Bonn on German board schoenen-dunk.de. I asked him if he would like this to be published on BallinEurope, as it was a great read and shows that the magenta (Bonn’s team color) spirit is not lost, even when you have relocated to faraway Xian, China. Enjoy.
“It ain’t over until the fat lady sings” – this is what Telekom Baskets Bonn headcoach Michael Koch told his players after they had just lost Game 3 of the German BBL playoff semifinals and fallen back to 1-2 with only one loss away from elimination. The fat lady’s voice would inevitably appear one way or another after the decisive Game 5, and it rang beautifully in their ears yesterday, after they had beaten Deutsche Bank Skyliners Frankfurt 74:75 in the Ballsporthalle, Frankfurt, to move on into the finals, where they will meet the awakening giant – ALBA Berlin. Again.
This is like a dream come true for me…In a league where old clubs fall and new clubs emerge (before falling down again), the Berlin – Bonn matchup is a history-rich one.
Bonn got promoted to the BBL in 1997 and sensationally advanced to the finals in their first season, meeting – ALBA Berlin, the team which had won the Korac-Cup in 1995, but despite four finals appearances never managed to break the Bayer Leverkusen reign in the domestic championship. ALBA won that series 3-1 and went on to build a dynasty on its own, playing well internationally and winning seven consecutive league titles under Svetislav Pesic and his successor Emir Mutapcic, while beating Bonn in the 1999 and 2001 finals in the process.
Bonn was also led by coaches from the Balkans: First Croat Bruno Soce, later his former assistant Predrag Krunic, now coach in Oldenburg. It was a game between David and Goliath, and even the losing David could live well with those three finals defeats. The same way both clubs had risen – even though to different levels – they both almost simultaneously experienced huge setbacks in 2004 and 2005, when Berlin crashed out of the 2004 playoffs in a humiliating Game 5 home defeat at the hands of GHP Bamberg, while Bonn didn’t even make the postseason for the first time in BBL history in the 2004/05 campaign.
What followed were rather frustrating years for both clubs: Berlin, despite the highest budget among BBL teams, failed to win another championship and completely disappointed in the ULEB-Cup, whereas Bonn was forced to lower the goals due to reduced payments by main sponsor Telekom. However, it was foreseeable that both clubs, especially potential powerhouse ALBA Berlin, would some day return to the big stage. Bonn pulled the switch by finally making the big step towards a new, bigger arena, which will be inaugurated with the first home game of the 2008 finals, and signing talented Michael Koch, a winner of the biggest crown in European basketball with Panathinaikos in 2000 as a player, as head coach for the long term.
Berlin meanwhile swapped head coaches in the last offseason, with Luka Pavicevic succeeding the unlucky ALBA Berlin living-legend, Henrik Rödl. ALBA itself has big plans, but also obligations, going into the final games of the season: The new Berlin O2-Arena will be completed this summer and soon thereafter host the Euroleague Final Four in May 2009. Euroleague-qualification, which will only be achieved by winning the league title, is a must for the club, otherwise a huge opportunity would be wasted. Even if the team will probably not reach this final stage, the theoretical possibility will move mountains in the German capital.
The 2007/08 regular season had been calm only for one of the two clubs: Bonn unswervingly marched into the playoffs and finished 7th on the last day of the season when they could have finished 5th, but just as anyone else seemed to try to avoid title holders Brose Baskets. Give credit to coach Michael Koch, who trusted his heavily criticised point guard Miah Davis, a player who was destined to go on and become one of the decisive factors in the current post season run, when the bookies were already high on Davis leaving the club after some poor performances early on. In a season when other coaches – due to injuries and disappointing individual performances over stretches – would have used two or three new signings, Koch did it with only one: Allrounder Eddie Basden as a replacement for injured swingman and team captain Jason Conley.
Berlin on the other hand finished the regular season as winners for the fifth consecutive time, but had a rather tumultuous time, heavily influenced by injury woes and problems adjusting to coach Pavicevics style of leading the roster. First starting point guard Goran Jeretin went down with a heavy knee injury, then it was German international Johannes Herber. Pavicevic has drawn criticism for only rarely using German players Philip Zwiener and Nicolai Simon, for behaving both disrespectfully and uncooperative towards referees, for not communicating with the supporters, for making questionable roster transactions and for not rebuking the seemingly lackadaisical US players Bobby Brown and Dijon Thompson – but in the end, he will be judged by his success first and foremost.
Success: that means championship. The turnaround of the season might have occurred in two phases: First, ALBA signed two outstanding and proven BBL players in Immanuel McElroy and Aleksandar Nadjfeji from financially weakened Cologne 99ers and by doing so added great quality, depth and veteran leadership to the roster, and second, the firing of small forward Dijon Thompson after escapades in Hamburg following a semifinal loss in the domestic cup competition reignited the team and has them looking more harmonic then ever before.
On its way to the final, Berlin had no problems whatsoever in sweeping 8th seeded Bremerhaven in the first round before facing a very tough and already battle-tested Oldenburg team, which had fought down 2007 champion Brose Baskets in their own quarter-finals-series. Oldenburg turned out to be the tenacious opponent everyone expected them to be, but ALBA used a great team effort and veteran calmness down the stretch to decide the series in four games.
Bonn started off its own postseason campaign in different fashion, falling to heavy favourites Artland Dragons in the first game despite holding pace for nearly 38 minutes. They tied the series up in the 2nd, but in the end it came down to 3.7 seconds at the end of Game 3 to become the turning point of not only this particular playoff series, but also the whole postseason of this club. A hard drive plus layup by you know who, Miah Davis, secured the win and made way for a series clinching fourth game on home soil. Bonn never looked back and ran over their frustrated opponent in that game, making sure semifinal participation for the first time since 2004. What followed was a tough series against Frankfurt, which is coached by crafty Turkish head coach Murat Didin.
Didin had just won a close five game series against Leverkusen and pulled out all the tricks to stop Bonn. But while Bonn was always flirting with the away win in Frankfurt, Didin’s team never got anything going in Bonn. In Game 5, the away win eventually came, as Bonn, led by you know who, Miah Davis and his 18 points, sealed the series in a nailbiter that could have gone either way.
Both coaches could hardly be more different: Here is Pavicevic, who joined ALBA from Panionios Athens and still remains a mystery to journalists, fans, referees and – as some say – even club officials. Pavicevic hasn’t utilised the zone defense even once, he has a defensive philosophy of not pressuring the ball very much and let the opponent beat you from the outside. On the other end of the floor, his team runs an offense with many variants, quite well-balanced and entertaining to watch.
There is Koch, one of the most promising young coaches in Germany, very innovative as far as defensive tactics go. He does rely more on man-to-man defense this season though, a style which fits his extremely athletic and quick team the most. Key is a very versatile roster with many players who can defend multiple positions while still managing to stay in front of their opponents. During the playoff-run Koch came up with defensive tactics that make you think you are in a Rocket Science exam: After a missed basket, zone defense; if we score, man-to-man; if we score with a dunk, full-court press; after a made free-throw, diamond and two. Apart from defensive tactics, Koch is an extraordinary motivator who usually gets the best out of his players in the season’s defining games, and a brilliant team builder, proven by the fact that he again managed to create a very homogeneous roster, which is committed to playing together as a team and put individual goals behind.
As far as matchups go, both shooting guards will draw a lot of attention from the opponent. Julius Jenkins is the deserved regular season MVP, a great one-on-one scorer with excellent quickness and good slashing ability. He will probably be matched up with both Eddie Basden and Winsome Frazier. Frazier himself has been the man in the postseason after a rather average regular season. The off guard is averaging 17.4 points per game in the playoffs and has made a difference with steals, penetrations and good outside shooting. A possible assignment is the potential lockdown-defender Immanuel McElroy, with above-average defender Julius Jenkins being the second option. However, Berlin will have an interest of keeping its scoring leader out of foul trouble.
Point guard Bobby Brown will most definitely face the aggressive duo of Miah Davis and Johannes Strasser: maybe the defensively most potent tandem on the one spot in this year’s playoffs. In the frontcourt, the outstanding Aleksandar Nadjfeji will face his former Cologne team-mate Ronnie Burrell, while Patrick Femerling will give Bonn plenty to think about with his size. He will face Bernd Kruel, as starting center John Bowler is out indefinitely with a knee injury. Kruel himself is a rugged veteran who has been performing very well in the postseason, so do not count on him to just back off. Goran Nikolic will try to make Bonn pay for the space they give him on the perimeter, as will the third power forward, Dragan Dojcin. A possible factor could be Bonn small forward Moussa Diagne, 10th man in the rotation, but playing quite well in his rookie season in Europe. The young Senegalese posses a dangerous weapon – a quite reliable turnaround jumpshot out of the low post – which could strike some damage in Berlins defense.
So now, the Telekom Baskets will move to their new arena. A better opening for the new basketball temple was not thinkable. The old-fashioned Hardtberghalle had a deserved good-bye during the semis. And now, the new jewel. A pure basketball arena, unbelievable. Because of the new security reasons, the fans are not as close to the players as before, but an inside are built as compact as possible. The ranks are a lot steeper than you can imagine on the pictures. It will take some time to be used to this new gym, both for the players and the fans, but I am so excited these days that I will check probably even more often the Live-Cam installed in the arena.
It is difficult to predict the outcome of the series. I would have no problem if ALBA wins it, this is not important to me. ALBA has way more individual class, wins the close games in the playoffs and that’s why Berlin is the clear-cut favourite without doubt. But they have to burden the pressure and they face a team which is very difficult to play against. So nothing is impossible for Bonn in my eyes. Normally, series end 3:0, 3:2 or 1:3. Or 3:1, 2:3 or even 0:3. How cool would that be?
Playing the Euroleague in Bonn would be enormous, unbelievable, incredible. Kolodziejski hits a three-pointer in Siskauskas face. I don’t want to think about that.
So we’ll have to wait and see who is smiling while the fat lady is singing.