Joe Herber - Playoff Time In Germany

15.05.2007

herber

In his first year out of West Virginia, Joe Herber is a rookie with German side Alba Berlin. Although just 23, he has already represented his native Germany at EuroBasket 2005 and the the 2006 FIBA World Championship. An Academic All-American while at college in the USA, Joe has agreed to share his thoughts and experiences on the upcoming season in this exclusive fibaeurope.com blog.

The buzzer sounded one last time. Then it was over. The regular season that is. We finished up last Saturday in Braunschweig and will head into the play-offs as the #1 seed where we will face the eight-seeded Artland Dragons.

Finally, having put behind us the prelude (lasting eight months!) we are more than ready for the play-offs. Before talking a little bit about the teams and match-ups I would like to share a few thoughts on the season and the state of the league.

Trying to find an adequate word to label or define the BBL’s 41st season is a quite difficult task. Clearly, the league is lacking a distinctive profile. Most teams don’t seem to have implemented sustainable strategies that are fit to cope with the influx of foreign players as a result of the market opening two years ago. The face of the league is comprised of the individual profiles of its clubs and as long as they are not able to develop distinctive identities this face will lack features. As of right now I can’t make out a whole lot.

Sure, the BBL has become increasingly “athletic and dynamic”, as one league official recently remarked in a press release. My teammate Kirk Penney confirmed this impression as he mentioned to me once that the BBL might be more athletic than any other league he has played in in Europe (Kirk played in Spain, Israel, and Lithuania).

Coach Dirk Bauermann (Germany)
German national team head coach Dirk Bauermann wants to see more of a focus on young home-grown talent.
Unfortunately, more athleticism doesn’t always equal a higher level of play. I would argue the game has also become more one-on-one oriented which often resulted in an erratic style of play. It is no coincidence that not a single team managed to record a positive assist-turnover ratio this year. Most teams seemed to lack the skill but also the trust and cohesion necessary to play team basketball.

So how do we account for the growing neglect of the extra-pass and the proliferation of excessive ball-hogging? The answer is that there is a multitude of factors contributing to this alarming development. It is well known that one of the biggest problems of the BBL teams is their lack of continuity. Players come and go. BBL managers hire and fire with an unprecedented frequency. This is no novelty but unfortunately they continued to do so in the season as well. Thus, many teams that had failed to retain a nucleus from the previous season had to deal with further player substitutions leaving them in a constant state of flux.

Therefore it is not surprising that players struggled with developing a feel for each other. On the other hand, one could argue that the teams actually do have a lot of time to work on their game considering the length of the season and the fact that this year only two teams played in a European competition. Lots of time for dummy offense.  Not to offend anybody but this argument suggests that the coaches in our league need to step it up as well. Playing and watching the games I rarely witnessed any innovative offensive nor defensive schemes. The “horns” offense and a few staggered screens, man-to-man and the occasional 2-3 zone—come on, nobody has to run Princeton but why not diversify a little.

Only a few teams such as Bamberg or Bremerhaven play a certain brand of basketball that is insisted upon by their coaches. The inability of some coaches to convey their basketball philosophies paired with the me-first attitude of several players does not bode well for a league in the search of an identity.

Attendance figures dropped this year but it is too early to establish any causal relations between the style of play and the decline of spectators. The ordinary fan might have actually been appealed by the increased number of athletic plays. For purists, however, some games had to be unbearable. Even if opinions differ on the attractiveness of the games it is undeniable that both, the layman and the purist, need players they can identify with. For this reason, it is paramount that the teams manage to resign players that have made a mark this year such as Julius Jenkins, Adam Hess, or Derrick Allen, only to mention a few.

Speaking of identification, what’s up with Germans? Most Germans in the league had a tough time getting playing time and except for Nico Simon and Marko Buljevic there haven’t been many young players claiming a spot in the limelight. This will change gradually as next year teams are required to have three and the year after four Germans on the roster. I don’t see the future for German basketball as bleak as many others but lots of work needs to be done.

In a recent interview on this website Coach Bauermann mentioned how difficult it is to play young Germans if all the other teams play with Americans. I believe the only way to remedy this situation is a firm commitment of all parties involved (managers, coaches, and league officials) to the development of young players. This involves more playing time but also individual attention to the players and their respective needs. At the same time we need the young players to show their ambition and hunger to make it.

So far the league has implemented various measures in response to the lack of German talent. Among these is the U-19 Bundesliga that made its debut this year. It has been received very well in most places yet its effects are still dubious. Many observed that the level of play was diluted by the high number of teams. Each district had two or three dominant teams that blew others out on the regular.

Another change that could affect young German players will be the reorganisation of Germany’s second division. Traditionally, it has been split into North and South Division of which the first place team moved up to the BBL. By next season there will be a Pro A and Pro B—both of

Tim Ohlbrecht (Germany)
The U19 Bundesliga is focused on nurturing young German talent.
them with teams scattered throughout the country. The Pro A will have the same German player quota as the BBL whereas the Pro B will go with a six and six quota. Whether this change will help German players is difficult to assess right now. The stronger Pro A will have many foreigners competing for the German players' minutes. At the same time the Pro B will be weaker than the North/South divisions of the previous years which might not be challenging enough and therefore not conducive to player development.

On top of that the BBL decided to extend the age limit for players who wish to play with a double license to 24. This seems reasonable as young players that haven’t established themselves in the BBL get the chance to play important roles in the 2nd Division. Yet, even this change doesn’t automatically guarantee success as in reality very few BBL teams cooperate with future Pro A teams. Also, this rule takes pressure of the BBL coaches to play their young guys having in the back of their mind that they can still play in the lower league. Why not be optimistic though and hope for the Pro A to become a rich and fertile breeding ground for our future national team. Let’s hope for the best.

That’s for the season. On to the playoffs. Let’s take a quick breakdown of the first round match-ups.

Ludwigsburg-Leverkusen:
A very intriguing match-up not only from the standpoint that Leverkusen beat Ludwigburg twice already. Leverkusen has been hot during the final stretch of the year. The question is if they can carry this momentum into the playoffs. Ludwigsburg has been steady all year and a first round exit would be a big surprise. Yet, I believe Leverkusen could pull it off.

Bamberg-Bonn:
Here again we have a higher seeded team, Bamberg, that has lost twice in the regular season to its first round opponent, Bonn. Bonn plays tough defense with a more deliberate pace on the other end. Bamberg is one of the deepest teams in the league and Coach Bauermann will have his guys ready. Advantage Bamberg.

Bremerhaven-Köln:
In the last game of the regular season Bremerhaven beat Köln securing home-court advantage. Both teams play a disciplined style on offense and a containing man-to-man defense. Decisive for this series will be how Köln reacts to Bremerhaven’s physical play.

Berlin-Artland:
Finally, our match-up vs Artland. Not an easy match-up for us. Artland is a deep team with high-scoring forward Adam Hess and an abundance of quick guards who put a lot of pressure on you in the backcourt. Under the basket they have problems, however, especially since Nic Caner-Medley broke his hand two weeks ago. Here is where I think we have the biggest advantage with Sharrod Ford, Chris Owens, and Ruben Bountje-Boumtje.

The best time of the year is here. Let’s enjoy!

 


26.03.2007

Ok, I know. Usually, this website is all about European ball. And rightly so since the fora for basketball from the old continent are quite limited anyway. However, these are not usual times. It’s March. It’s college basketball times.

The tournament is in full swing already and  so far it has been as intense and breathtaking as ever. Although my team, the Mountaineers got snubbed by the committee, I have been following the games very closely. Having played in the tournament the last two years I have had the chance to experience the dynamics that make the tourney what it is—the best annual sports event, period.

For every college team, except for maybe a handful of big-time programs who dare to aim even higher, reaching the NCAA Tournament is the ultimate goal each season. From day one, usually late August when students arrive on campus to start classes, the entire focus is directed towards becoming part of the illustrous field of 64. The dream of “going dancing” serves as the glue that holds a team together. With this vision in mind, players endure three-hour practices, suffer through gruesome weight work-outs and withstand endless video sessions in which weaknesses are painfully uncovered.

Aside from the intrinsic motivation of teams to reach the tourney the media does its share to boost the status of the Dance to extreme heights. In January, weeks before the final stages of the regular season, we hear the first whispers of bubble talk and by late February we all are certified bracketologists. Any team who does not win its conference and whose resumee is not deemed strong enough by the selection committee to justify an at-large bid slips quickly out of the public eye. To avoid fading into obscurity a tournament appearance is a must. This frenzy of  what I call “tournament absolutism” puts additional pressure on players and especially coaches whose stock is often measured by the number of tournament bids they manage to accumulate.

Considering all the energy, physical as well as emotional, that is invested in securing a ticket to the Dance to see your school’s name flash across the screen on Selection Sunday is a very gratifying feeling, to say the least. Your work has paid off, the ticket is punched and you get the chance to play for the national championship on one of the biggest stages in basketball. Relief is followed by tremendous excitement. March turns into pure indulgence.

Nothing is more intriguing for a player than to compete in a do-or-die situation and to emerge victorious from such a battle of wills. The intensity displayed is unparalleled. The overarching motif, of course, is winning the title but there is more to it than just that. There is the senior fighting with all his might to prevent the termination of his career; the small school player proving to the big time coach he should have paid better attention watching the tape he once sent him; the old head coach getting outcoached by one of his former disciples; the eternal Greg Gumble.

The tournament often produces great individual performances. Ironically, however, the excitement created lives of the flawed nature of the college game. Last-second heroics are set up by missed free-throws, unforced turnovers, and time-outs mistakingly taken. 20-point leads are blown regularly due to lack of poise caused by youth and immaturity. It is said that basketball is game of mistakes. Never truer than in March. Meanwhile my game has major flaws as well—my bracket game that is. My two brackets on espn.com have failed me miserably putting me in the 40th percentile of all participants. So in case you have any doubts about or disagree with what I just wrote…you might have a point. 


 

08.03.2007

With two-thirds of all regular-season games played and the signing period having been expired last week, it is a good time to take a closer look at the German league (BBL).

By now it seems that most teams have consolidated themselves and players have adjusted to their roles.

About time one would think considering it has been five months since the season started. For most teams, however, the task of coming together as a unit and forging a common identity has not been an easy one since the better part of them had been newly assembled in the summer.

In addition, the off-season tendency of club managers to look for quick fixes instead of stressing continuity has carried  over into the season. Numerous players have been released and new ones have been hired—a strategy that has worked only for some clubs.

After struggling for the most part of the season, Bamberg, for example, has managed to get back on track by replacing their entire backcourt.

Steffen Hamann (Germany)
German international Steffen Hamann has played solidly for Bamberg.
The combo of local hero Steffen Hamann and sharp-shooter Casey Jacobsen plus the recent addition of ex-Artland Dragon Sean Dockery seems to be working very well for Coach Bauermann. Bamberg has won three straight and could be very well end up with a third or fourth-place finish if things keep progressing as smoothly as they have been of late.

On the other end of the spectrum there is a team like Frankfurt which has signed three new players since January but has played progressively worse. Two thirty-point losses against us and Bamberg plus a road loss to Nürnberg, one of the league weakest teams, have forced the management to release coach Charles Barton.

Not only the results but rather the way the team presented itself on the court seems to have been the root cause for this decision. The 2 assists vs 19 turnover performance against us may serve as a vivid indication. As bad as this may sound Frankfurt’s season is long from over. They are still in a playoff spot and they have enough talent to defend their position as long as the management finds a coach that is able to reawaken the team’s spirits.

Frankfurt’s development will be crucial in what once again will be a fierce battle for the remaining play-off bids. As of right now Bremerhaven and Frankfurt are still in but behind them there is a host of teams that still has legitimate chances. One of these teams is Oldenburg which has impressed recently with dominant wins against us and Cologne.

Oldenburg that was off to a horrific start at the beginning of the year has recovered nicely by playing tough in-your-face defense, pushing the ball in transition, and dominating the boards: The addition of Doron Perkins has proven valuable on both ends of the court and it allowed back-up point guard Heiko Schaffartzik to move to the two where he can excel with his sharpshooting qualities.

My former teammate at West Virginia D’Or Fischer has established himself as one of the premier big men in the league and his team has benefitted tremendously from his high field goal percentages as well as from his shot-blocking. Former Stanford Cardinal Dan Grunfeld provides scoring and hustle plays off the bench and thus has been the difference maker in many games. Oldenburg is certainly one of those teams that none of the currently higher ranked teams would like to face in the first round. 

With Cologne currently stumbling a little bit, the race for first place seems to come down to Ludwigsburg and us. Ludwigsburg has been playing well all year and Coach Silvio Porporat deserves a lot of credit for the consistent level his team has played on. Ludwigsburg displays one of the more disciplined styles in the league and they have shown remarkable poise in close games.  

With our two losses to Real Madrid we said goodbye to the Uleb and our focus has now shifted entirely to the league and the cup. After going through a rough stretch in which we had a lot of players injured and were lacking cohesion on the court we are back on track now indicated by our convincing win in Cologne last weekend. Since our loss to Oldenburg we have made great strides and I am optimistic that we will keep improving on our to the play-offs.



January 18, 2007

2007 has kicked off awhile ago, the season is progressing rapidly, and time seems to fly past me faster than ever.

Yet I will put this year on hold for a second to reflect a little bit on 2006 namely the question who deserves to be the FIBA Europe Player of the Year.

I was so fortunate to be part of the panel of people that were asked to cast their vote for their favorites. In the following I will share with you my picks and explain my selection.

Admittedly, while I was still in the States I didn’t follow FIBA ball closely which is why my picks are almost completely based on my perception of these players at the World Championships, the accounts of journalists, and the players’ stats. We were supposed to pick three players for each category—men and young men.

Here are my choices:

Men

1. Theodoros Papaloukas

Theodoros Papaloukas (Greece)
Theodoros Papaloukas keyed Greece's run to the silver medal in Japan.
Papaloukas was my initial thought before even looking at the list of candidates. Why? Because the award goes to the PLAYER of the year and to me that’s just what he is: a true player. A point guard-small forward hybrid Papaloukas’ game defies rigid categorization. He is only moderately athletic and his averages of 9 pts, 3 rebs, and 4 assists are not eye-popping. Yet, Papaloukas' basketball IQ, his ability to control the tempo of a game paired with his knack for coming up big in big games were unmatched by any other player this past year. Players are often judged mainly by their scoring ability but Papaloukas’ game has displayed to a broad audience the indispensability of lesser acclaimed qualities to the team’s success.

2. Jorge Garbajosa

The argument for Garbajosa is an easy one. He won the World Championships and the Spanish league title with Unicaja Malaga, thereby also garnering the Finals MVP award. Garbajosa is a constant danger on the court which I painfully experienced in our loss to Spain in the preliminary round in Japan. Although offensively skilled Garbajosa is no primadonna. He plays hardnosed, gritty basketball and it will be interesting how his game will develop in the NBA. A deadly three-point shooter in Europe, he only hits 25% of his threes in the NBA right now.

3. Boris Diaw

Although a distant third in my book, Boris Diaw had a great year in 2006 that does not deserve to go unmentioned. Anytime you win the NBA’s most improved player award and put up 13.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 6.2 apg with one of the the league’s most exciting teams you must have done something right. His biggest assets are certainly his versatility on either side of the ball and his team-first attitude which sometimes almost seems to inhibit the full display of his offensive capabilities.

Young Men

1. Marco Belinelli

What can I say? This one is a no-brainer. I don’t think there was any young player this year that rivaled Belinelli’s combination of skill,

Belinelli (Climamio Bologna)
Marco Belinelli averaged 13 ppg with Climamio Bologna .
athletic ability, and self-confidence. He averaged 13 ppg in the Euroleague and the Lega A and showed the world in Japan that he has got even bigger things in mind. How many 20-year olds have dropped 27 on the US?? I played against him in an exhibition in Berlin and I was not only impressed by his outside stroke but also by his ability to finish on the break. The challenge for him will be to develop into an all-around player that rebounds more consistently and finds his teammates while opposing defenses will increasingly focus on him.

2. Rudy Fernandez

Rudy, as he is commonly referred to, had a definite breakthrough year on the international scene in 2006. With Badalona he won the EuroCup and of course he was part of the Spanish World Championship team. The most intriguing thing about the guy is his willingness to take on responsibility and his absolute fearlessness. He can do both, shoot and penetrate, but also moves very well without the ball. As a defender you can never lose sight of him unless you want to end up on a poster.

3. Cenk Akyol

Although there were many other very good young players on the list I chose Akyol. Akyol impressed me in Japan with his courageous power play. He seemed to be ready to blow by at any given time and for his age he is a very physical player which is not saying that there is no finesse to his game. Together with Ilyasova, Demirel, and Arslan he will be one of the cornerstones of the Turkish national team in the years to come.


The results should be released towards the end of the month and I am as excited as anyone else to see the outcome.


November 29, 2006

Basketball is a simple game. All you need is a hoop, a ball, and a pair of sneakers. No helmet, no pads, no racket, no bag of clubs.

Lately though, a new item seems to have emerged as an indispensable requirement for the player of today. As of right now its appearance is mostly confined to private settings such as road trips or locker rooms.

Some players, however, have gone further displaying this little device to the public in warm-ups.  You have probably guessed it by now. The device I am referring to is everybody’s beloved Ipod. 

Apple’s topseller which so beautifully combines aesthetics and functionality has truly become an integral part of our lives as basketball players especially of our pre-game rituals.

As players we are engaged in a constant cycle between intense focus and all-out relaxation. Listening to music not only steers our thoughts in the right direction and gets us pumped before the game, but it also helps us to wind down and relax on our way home.

With the Ipod we are capable of choosing the right soundtrack for every situation. Instead of changing discs and carrying our cd cases, we move our thumbs and plug in those white earphones thereby plugging out of reality. The music takes over and we start to visualize, daydream or doze off. We enter our own world of me, myself and I(pod).

Here is where the Ipod turns from players’ favorite to coaches’ nightmare. As much as the music may help us to control our thoughts and mood it certainly doesn’t encourage player interaction.

The thought of players bonding on long bus rides while playing cards or just conversing seems to be lost relic of ancient times as we seem to prefer our self-imposed solitude.

Here as in many other aspects, the game ofbasketball seems to reflect the game of life as many claim to recognize  a growing individualization in our society. The Ipod phenomenon is a general one and by no means confined to the realm of basketball.

The question if cacophony on the bus and lack of communication off the court translates into dissonance and miscues during the game is an interesting one to contemplate.

Did the Greek players that beat the US this summer with their brilliant team play listen to their Ipods in Japan? I don’t know but I know the NBA players did.

On the other hand on my team in West Virginia, which for some people constituted the epitomy of a team, each one of us was using an MP3 player of some sort.

Maybe someday somebody will conduct an empirical study on the affect of Ipod use on team play. Establish a corelation between the hours of usage and assist-turnover ratio? Why not?

Please don’t think I want to condemn the pod. I used to love mine before it broke. Now I have no music and nobody to talk to. Nah, just kidding. I do however advocate moderation in all things. Also in use of Ipods.

To me taking your Ipod on the court in warm-ups is an absolute taboo. When I am stepping out there I don’t want to be in a different world. I want to get a feel for my surroundings, talk to my teammates, soak up the atmosphere. I want to be right there. The ball swishing through the net is still the sweetest music to me.

And by the way, in Berlin we are playing cards again.


 

23 October 2006

Welcome to the peepshow

First of all thanks to all of you for checking out this first entry of my blog here at fibaeurope.com.

I suppose most of you aren’t aware of the fact that you had 57.3 million other choices (at least that’s the number of blogs currently being tracked by technorati.com).

Jay-Z
As Jay-Z once said: “You could have been everywhere in the world but you’re here with me. I appreciate it”.

I was told by the guys of FIBA Europe to offer some real insight into the world of basketball. So from now on I will serve as your little peephole through which you can catch a glimpse of the everyday lives of professional basketball players.

Keep in mind, however, that I am not a neutral observer but rather a commentator from within. So please excuse my occasional lack of objectivity.

Most people involved with basketball—players, coaches, fans, administrators and yes, even referees—share a certain “love for the game” but our perception of the game and its surroundings may differ from one another depending on our basketball-related socialization and of course, our personality.

In the following months I will provide you with a piece of my perception...my world of basketball.

First of all a few words of introduction so you know whose distorted views you will be dealing with.

My name is Johannes Herber. I am a 23-year old from Seeheim-Jugenheim, Germany—a small town near Frankfurt (sorry, had to give a shout-out to my hood).

Currently I play basketball for Alba Berlin and this past summer I was a member of Germany’s national team at the World Games in Japan. 

The last four years I spent in the States playing college basketball and getting my B.A. in Political Science at West Virginia University. A student of the game as well as of game theory I decided to drop the latter for some time in order to pursue my fortune as a professional basketball player.

Playing professionally has always been a dream of mine ever since I started shooting hoops as a 12-year old on the playgrounds of Bickenbach.

Getting paid for doing what you love. Can’t beat it.

However, I still feel kind of weird calling myself a pro. Maybe it is because my dad once suggested I should get a “real” job instead of trying to make a living of basketball. It might also be the college student in me that is still calling my name.

College is just such a unique experience that seems hard to let go off for most of us. I really started to feel some empathy for the American players that come to Germany straight out of college.

In a matter of a few months you go from Madison Square Garden to Kuhberghalle (never heard of? Exactly!), from Dick Vitale to Frank Buschmann, from charter planes to bus rides, from USA Today to student newspaper, from “man on campus” to random dude on the street, and so on.

Not to mention the adjustments on the court—24 seconds instead of 35, no more timeouts when you get yourself into trouble, seeing the Europeans taking those damn long steps while your favorite move gets called for a walk everytime, (il)legal screens, WWF in the paint etc. 

Believe me I am not trying to evoke pity for those guys but I still think the changes they have to cope with deserve some acknowledgement.

In fact, they also trade the dorm room for a nice apartment, mandatory study halls for leisure time, and most importantly the scholarship for a pay check. And as I said earlier we all earn our money following our passion.

With this being said I’ll leave you guys for today.

57.3 million and one. Make your choice.


RELATED NEWS

Katrin Chiemeka: Basket And The City05.11.2007
Serbia Youth Breaking Records03.08.2007
Sviatlana Volnaya: Getting Ready For EuroBasket Women27.07.2007
Arbel: Dream Serbian Generation Takes A Bow21.05.2007
Michelle Maslowski14.04.2007
Elisa Aguilar - Starting The New Year With A Bang11.01.2007
Sullivan - New Year, Same Challenges11.01.2007

Advertisement