Eisbaeren Bremerhaven management tried to get the first six new Americans, Steve Esterkamp, Lou Campbell, Brandon Brooks, Jonathan Moore, Rodney Buford and Kevin Lyde on the same plane from Newark to Hamburg which could be seen as a mini geographical miracle since all players come from different spots in the States, but in the end Buford and Lyde did not make the flight, but the big question this season will be if coach Doug Spradley can get these Americans plus the other players to find a way to come together on the court. These questions seemed to have turned a total 180 degrees with the spectacular signing of Jeff Gibbs. One slowly has to ask, if manager Jan Rathjen has taken special magician courses with eccentric David Blaine, because what he has done in the short period in the off season has been incredible. He is already leading the early list for manager of the year. One could carefully say that the Bremerhaven Eisbaeren have gone from a playoff team to a title candidate in only 24 hours.
One has to tip their hat to manager Jan Rathjen, because he has had the hot hand the last four years always landing talent like Adam Chubb and Darren Fenn who matured into to better players with the Eisbaeren or Anthony Tolliver that played in the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs or Matt Haryasz that played with Josh Childress at Stanford and Jared Reiner that played 46 games in the NBA and was close to making the NBA which worked from 2005-2007 reaching the playoffs and top 4, nearly missing the playoffs in 2007-2008, but totally going down the drain in 2008-2009, as the team had countless aptitude, but couldn´t find team chemistry on the court resulting in a disastrous BBL season finishing last and sustaining a 16 games losing streak. On top of that, Bremerhaven had some serious lady luck on their hand as they should of been preparing for the PRO A, but were given the last BBL wildcard position as The Cologne 99ers had to withdraw from the BBL because of financial reasons. Everything is supposed to change this season as Bremerhaven wants to return to the BBL promised land of the playoffs with new coach Doug Spradley.
Last seasons team was another that had talent, but the long losing streak at the start of the season hurt their self confidence and they were never able to get out of their rut. The team had strong players like Jared Reiner(12 games: 13.0ppg, 7.7rpg, 1.5apg, FGP: 53.9%, FT: 72.7% and Craig Callahan(24 games: Score-4(14.9ppg), 7.0rpg, 1.4apg, FGP: 52.7%, 3PT: 31.1%, FT: 58.5%), who was the team MVP in the latter half of the season and young players like Giordan Watson(33 games: 10.1ppg, 2.7rpg, Assists-5(3.8apg), 1.1spg, FGP: 47.7%, 3PT: 32.1%, FT: 73.4% who has immense potential and showed sparks of brilliance, but couldn’t hold it for a season, but he was a BBL rookie. Guys like Frank Elegar 24 games: 8.3ppg, 5.0rpg, FGP: 51.8%, FT: 61.4% and Yemi Nicholson(33 games: 7.2ppg, 4.1rpg, Blocks-2(1.4bpg), FGP: 57.8%, FT: 75.6% also couldn’t sustain a season of consistency. Mike Gansey(31 games: 8.7ppg, 4.3rpg, 1.0apg, FGP: 54.6%, 3PT: 34.1%, FT: 73.5%) scored in double figures only twice up to January 7th, but after that was able to do so in 10 of 15 games including 29 points vs Noerdlingen. Jeb Ivey was another up and down player playing 33 games: 7.4ppg, 1.5rpg, 1.6apg, FGP: 50.6%, 3PT: 38.1%, FT: 81.8%. He started the season well scoring in double figures 10 times in 13 games but the had a dry spell of four months where he could score in double figures. American Eric Osmundson(19 games: 5.5ppg, 1.6rpg, 2.3apg, FGP: 34.9%, 3PT: 24.4%, FT: 76.4% also came with a lot of hype and played some point guard against The Deutsche Bank Skyliners for the suspended Giordan Watson, but he was never really able to fulfil the big exspectations in the second half of the season.
Doug Spradley wants to start from scratch and the only remaining player from last season that had regular playing time is the very talented German Jan Lipke, where I hope he gets a chance to crack this rotation and get playing time this season. Last season, Lipke played 30 games averaging 8.3ppg, 1.2rpg, 1.3apg, FGP: 50.0%, 3PT: 29.7%, FT: 71.6% and really poured it on in the last months as the season was as good as over and he took over a part of the scoring responsibility with Craig Callahan. He scored in double figures in the last 12 of 14 games including the last 10 games in a row including 18 point efforts against Ludwigsburg and Goettingen. The area where Jan is especially dangerous is in fast break situation. Whether bringing up the ball or sprinting the lane, he is very good at getting to the rim for the finish in the up-tempo part of the game. Who could forget his spin move in a loss against the Deutsche Bank Skyliners at home in February. A pity that German National coach Dirk Bauermann has not invited him to camp, but with a strong 2009-2010 BBL season, Lipke will deserve more than a chance to show his skills in the German dress.
Spradley has a core of seven new Americans including Steve Esterkamp, Rodney Buford, Kevin Lyde, Brandon Brooks, Lou Campbell (video), Jonathan Moore and Jeff Gibbs. What more can one say about Steve Esterkamp except that he is as tough of a competitor as they come and the only thing missing is a tiger by his side on a leash on the court. He had been part of the three Musketeers in Paderborn together with Tim Black and Marius Nolte for many years. He played in Paderborn from 2004-2009 and three years in the BBL with the Baskets. His best season was the 2008-2009 where he played 36 games averaging 12.9ppg, 3.6rpg, 2.1apg, FGP: 43.2%, 3PT: 36.0%, FT: 82.6%. He took Alba Berlin to five games in the BBL playoffs. He is a great shooter and is never afraid to take the big shot and can give stability under the boards. Ex Giessen 46er Ricky Hickman has clear memories of Esterkamp:
“I remember Esterkamp knocking down big shots and being a tough noised player, and he is a player that all teams need”, added Ricky Hickman.
Rodney Buford is a spectacular signing as he had played some years in the NBA. He was drafted by the Miami Heat in 1999 in the second round at #53. He never was able to have a consistent NBA career, but did play 63 games with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2001-2002 averaging 9.4ppg, 4.3rpg, 1.1apg. He also had stints with the Miami Heat, Sacremento Kings, Philadelphia 76ers (2001 NBA finalist with Allen Iverson), and New Jersey Nets in the 2004-2005 season playing 64 games and averaging 7.0ppg, 3.0rpg, FGP: 38.2%, 3Pts: 31.5%. In Europe he has gotten around playing with teams like Panathinaikos Athens, Macabbi Tel Aviv or Azovmash Mariupol. Last season, he played in the less tough Lebanon league for Sporting Al Riyadi Beirut playing only 2 games: 13.0ppg, 7.0rpg, 1.5apg, 2.5spg. He has a good inside-outside game, gets great dribble penetration with an equally deadly pull-up jumper and is a tremendous outside shooter who consistently hits over 40% from 3. The question is if he can still achieve quality stats at 32 and only three games last season in a lower league?
American Kevin Lyde, who played at Temple has had a solid European career and just missed out reaching the NBA in 2008 with the Utah Jazz after having strong D-league stats with Dakota Wizzards playing 44 games: 12.3ppg, Reb-3(7.8rpg), 2.0apg, 1.9bpg, FGP: 51%, 3PT: 100%, FT: 56.2%. The 206cm center has great hands and an excellent touch around the basket and provides a strong physical presence under the boards. Lyde should be able to be a solid BBL center with 12/8 stats. Ex MBC guard Will Chavis played against him early in his career.
“He is good when he’s in shape. He was one of the best centers in the country in high school, but went to Temple and played with a guard oriented offense. When he is in shape he can be tough to handle, because he has a huge body”, stressed Will Chavis.
Brandon Brooks is a 188 cm BBL rookie that played at Alabama State last season playing 32 games and averaging 13.7ppg, 4.2rpg, 6.6apg, 1.3spg, FGP: 50.2%, 3Pts: 36.9%, FT: 77.1%. He looks to be the back up point guard, and his strong stats speak for themselves. Brooks is young and will need to develop and is a solid signing and it will be interesting to see how he plays under Doug Spradley.
American Louis Campbell (highlight video), who is a guard also returns back to the BBL after having made some bucks over in Japan. After starting his basketball career at Buffalo, he will play his fifth season in Germany after taking off for the Japan league. His stats were not so spectacular in the weaker league in Japan as he averaged 10.2ppg, 3.2rpg, 2.4apg, FGP: 47.1%, 3PT: 28.1%, FT: 83.8%, but in 2007-2008, he was second best in assists with 6,2apg. BBL fans surely remember him well from his Giessen days as he averaged 15.1ppg, 3.4rpg, 3.7apg, 1.7spg, 2FGP: 44.6%, 3PT: 30.6%, FT: 70.2% in the 2005-2006 season, but the question is can he show those qualities again at age 30 and three years in a lesser league?
Bryan Lucas was another very smart pick up by the club. He is a 203cm power forward, who could also play the 4, but looks to be splitting time with Lyde at center. Although primarily an inside player, he can make the 3-point shot if left open, which would make the combination Lyde/Lucas so dangerous and uncalcuable. Lucas had two solid seasons with Ratiopharm Ulm averaging 12.1ppg, 4.6rpg, 2FGP: 55.4%, 3PT: 37.4%, FT: 73.6% in 2007-2008. He also has an excellent attitude and a strong desire to succeed in basketball and will be an enrichment for the club and he will aid with experience as well. His ex coach Mike Taylor also only had positive words for the American:
“Bryan Lucas is a hardworking player and a great teammate. I am very happy to see him back in the Bundesliga and think he will do an excellent job in Bremerhaven. In Ulm, Bryan was a key player for us for two seasons showing his post skills on the block and ability to hit the three and I believe he will be a great addition for Bremerhaven. Bryan brings a lot of positives to a team and is a great guy for the locker room. Bryan’s experience playing in the Bundesliga will help him be a productive player in his first season in Bremerhaven”, stressed Mike Taylor.
With the late signing of MR ULM/INCREDIBLE Jeff Gibbs, coach Doug Spradley seems to have found the missing link that could make this team into a team that could do damage in the playoffs. Gibbs led Ratiopharm Ulm into the playoffs last season and led the BBL in rebounds the last three years and probably will do it for a fourth straight season. Last season for Ratiopharm Ulm, he averaged 13.2ppg, Reb-1(10.4rpg), 2.2apg, FGP: 55.1%, 3PT: 9.5%, FT: 70.7%. Gibbs will be able to do the dirty work get some double teaming, which will allow Lyde to get his free spaces and open up the court. Gibbs is a winner and could possibily be the Bremerhaven version of Pao Gasol, who was the missing link to the almost 2008 NBA title win and 2009 NBA title win for The Los Angeles Lakers. Ratiopharm Ulm coach Mike Taylor had the utmost respect for Jeff Gibbs:
“Jeff Gibbs is not only a fantastic basketball player, but he also is a first class person and professional. He has given our team and our fans in Ulm so many positives over the past four years and we are very thankful for that. Jeff will provide Bremerhaven with a physical inside presence and be a great rebounder. I am sure he will continue his excellent play with the Eisbaren. For Jeff, the market has been difficult this summer. Walking away from something special in Ulm and dreaming about a big contract or playing at the highest levels of Europe, the opportunities just were not there. In Ulm, we wish Jeff Gibbs all the best as he continues his excellent career in Bremerhaven this season”, stressed Mike Taylor.
Jonathan Moore returns to the BBL after having played for TBB Trier in 2007-2008, but never having a more significant role than coming from the bench. Last season, he played for Gothia Baskets averaging in 5 games: 18.0ppg, 8.5rpg, 1.8apg, 2.1spg, 2FGP: 53.5%, 3PT: 30.9%, FT: 68.3%. He didn’t have many games to show what he could do, but still pretty respectable stats for him. He is an athletic swingman who can hit the jump shot or take his man off the dribble. He most likely will come from the bench. Bremerhaven also add youngsters Tony Canty and Mark Grube.
PG Louis Campbell, Brandon Brooks
SG Rodney Buford, Jan Lipke
SF Steven Esterkamp
PF Jeff Gibbs /Jonathan Moore
C Kevin Lyde/ Bryan Lucas
Mark Grube, Tony Canty
New players bold
Outlook: The Eisbaeren Bremerhaven are a playoff team on paper and with the last minute spectacular signing of MR. Incredible Jeff Gibbs a dark horse to win it all. Ok I might be jumping the gun too soon, but if the talent plays together and Doug Spradley is able to lead his team out of the start block quickly with success, then why shouldn´t this team be able to transform this further in the post season. Injuries is always something that you can´t necessarily control, but when healthy, this is a team that could be the Artland Dragons of some seasons ago that kicked out Alba Berlin and reached the final. Ratiopharm Ulm coach Mike Taylor was carefull not to get too excited about where Bremerhaven will end up this season:
“It’s surprising Jeff ended up in Bremerhaven and I think Doug Spradley and Jan Rathjen have done a terrific job rebuilding their team. I look for them to be a very tough opponent this year. I really like what they have done this summer and on paper have the makings of a very strong team. It will be fun to see how the season develops”, added Mike Taylor.
With coach Doug Spradley at the helm, he should be able to make the playoffs reality. Doug Spradley has a new team and has free reigns to build a winner. His biggest obstacle is shuting out egos and making a team that finds chemistry., but just by looking at the roster, it looks like a team that has character without even having played a game yet. The team has a good mix of veterans and a rookie with Brandon Brooks who will be interesting to see what he can bring to the table? A big question will be if ex NBA player Buford comes to play or doesn´t. Spradley made Paderborn into a winner and forced a game 5 against 8 time BBL champion Alba Berlin and now he is taking the next step in his coaching career. Spradley has a roster with very talented players and now he can show what he can produce when having players that have names. This is a team that could be an explosive offensive team and should do all right on the defensive end. I see Bremerhaven between 5-9 this season and will return to their winning ways that they had from 2005-2007. Jeff Gibbs could be the difference. He is in the prime of his career and ready to do serious damage in the playoffs. The north west doesn´t only have the EWE Baskets Oldenburg, but also the Bremerhaven Eisbaeren that will not only give the north derby some new added flair, but will give the big teams problems this season in the BBL.