The last time that fans could depart the always loud Dragons Dome with a smile on their faces and still enough time to spare to get home and watch the ZDF Sportstudio to catch the football scores was Janaury 2nd, 2016 as Rhondorf had smacked around Rent4Office 83-65 which was only one of two wins in a season to forget as the club stunk up the Pro A and crawled back to the Pro B with their heads in bags as the embarrassment was difficult to hide. The last home game was a little more than six months ago where the Dragons lost a nail bitter to the RheinStars Cologne 78-76, but except for a tournament three weeks ago where they faced off against Pro B team AstroStars Bochum and BBL team Telekom Baskets Bonn, basketball had been missed in the Dragons Dome as the long summer seemed to drag on and on like a caterpillar does going through life. The 2016-2017 season finally started again as the Dragons Rhondorf hosted last season´s best regular season team BG Karlsruhe who totally underachieved in the playoffs getting spanked and got swept by the Dresden Titans. The club lost some serious fire power in Rouven Roessler and double double input with Marcus Smallwood and all-rounder Hayden Lescault, but kept American routine veteran Jeremy Black and added the top scorer Ricky Easterling of the Pro B the last two seasons. It was already evident that Rhondorf head coach Matthias Sonnenschein had done his homework in the off season as his trio of imports Aaron the beast Nelson, Canadian Mike Lucier and American William Trawick had found a healthy chemistry already in pre-season, something that was lacking last season with their American imports. It was the battle of the top Pro B team of last season BG Karlsruhe against ex Pro A team Dragons Rhondorf and the home team was able to finally win a home game again after waiting almost 9 months after their last win destroying BG Karlsruhe 87-70. After the game two thirds of the import trio of Aaron Nelson, Mike Lucier and Will Trawick were stretching as they combined for 54 of the team 87 points, but Canadian Mike Lucier quickly noted that the victory could be chalked up to a total team effort. “We played well together and you can see we have team chemistry. The secret to this early working team chemistry is that we have character guys that all get along and want to succeed. We all moved well off the ball, had strong cuts and guys got open and we hit our shots. We did a pretty good job on defense, but it could have been better. We played with good intensity and everyone knows when to switch and we communicated well”, added Dragons Rhondorf forward Mike Luicer. BG Karlsruhe had a tough time finding a healthy team rhythm and had to play catch up basketball all night long and just had no remedy how to slow down the Rhondorf offense. After the game, Baltimore native Ricky Easterling was reserved and low key about the loss, but knew that there is more to a season than just one game. “We came in here wanting to win, but faced a tough Rhondorf team. We were too hesitant on defense and had bad rotations and no communication. The season is long. We have to look at this game again and correct our mistakes”, stressed BG Karlsruhe guard Ricky Easterling. “It was a team effort and we played well at all times during our highs and lows. Our chemistry is working well and everyone knows their roles and how they work”, warned Dragons Rhondorf forward Aaron Nelson.
The story of the game was Aaron “BIG Dog” Nelson who came in and just destroyed BG Karlsruhe putting up incredible numbers of 26 points and 18 rebounds. His stellar play in the pre season also warned the league that Nelson is for real and should be a dominant player this season and he proved that in his first game doing absolutely everything on the court. The Illinois native scored inside at leisure against the one on one, double team or triple team and hauled down rebounds as if it was second nature. He played outstanding defense blocking Kwame Duku twice getting a steal as he snuck into a passing lane and picked off a ball and also proved why a hidden strength in his game is his passing as he dished out three assists including two touchdown passes that led to easy buckets on the transition. After the game the big man from Bloom Township, Illinois who had double double stats as a senior at S.Indiana and as a rookie in Chile was all smiles as he always is when he gets a double double, because only that way he is at peace in mind when he has helped his team best with his biggest strength scoring and rebounding. He was as humble as could be crediting the win less about his play, but more to his teammates finding him. “It was another normal day at the office for me, but I always compete at a high level no matter what. I have to credit my team to getting me in good position to score so many times. The opponent made me work hard to get points, but I have always been a good finisher with contact”, stressed Aaron Nelson. BG Karlsruhe guard Ricky Easterling definitely will remember the big dog Nelson and surely will be checking his stats every weekend as he could have a real battle this season for the scoring crown with Aaron Nelson. “We see Aaron play like this every night. He is so big, skilled and can just do it all on the court. Teams will have a hard time this season, because nobody can stop him”, stressed Mike Lucier.
The Dragons Rhondorf got off to a quick 4-0 lead as point guard Viktor Frankel-Maus scored on the alley-oop tap in as Aaron Nelson lofted up the perfect pass as fans saw a more untypical forward to guard combination, but one they have been doing in the preseason and Canadian Mike Lucier scored on transition as Frankl-Maus got his first of nine assists on the night. BG Karlsruhe struck back with a lightening 5-0 run as German ex BV Chemnitz guard Kenny Fluellen scored in bunches with a lay in and trey as BG Karlsruhe led 5-4. Both teams continued to exchange runs as now it was Rhondorf who jumped out on a 13-2 run to lead 17-7 as Nelson hit an uncharachteristic three, scored inside as hit over Jeremy Black. Rhondorf also got big production from German forward Bastian Winterhalder and Frankl-Maus scored again. BG Karlsruhe got production from Ricky Paulding who attempted a rare three as he only took 77 three´s in the last two Pro B seasons. However Rhondorf played consistent offensive basketball and just kept pouring it on and got production from Bedford, New York native Will Trawick who nailed a three and Lucier remained hot hitting a 25 footer as the Dragons Rhondorf led 24-15 after one quarter. “It was fun to watch Rhondorf and the fans were thankful for this good start. We played good defense, but it could have been a bit more aggressive. The help defense was always there”, stressed Dragons Rhondorf CEO Boris Kaminski. The Dragons Rhondorf were shooting 65% from the field and 33% from outside while BG Karlsruhe was shooting 3% and 33% from outside. Rhondorf had the 12-7 rebound edge and two turnovers while BG Karlsruhe had one turnover.
In the second quarter halfway through, the Dragons Rhondorf had a small lull, but head coach Matthias Sonnenschein called a smart time out and his team came out and started to get their offense going again and extended their lead and went into halftime with a comfortable lead. Will Trawick got Rhondorf on the board first with a bucket, but then it was Russian Anton Kazarnonski who won the 2004 Euroleague as a kid with Maccabi Tel Aviv and would play 10 years in Israel and two in Germany with Giessen and FC Bayern Munich and a few others led BG Karlsruhe on a 5-0 run with free throws and a bucket inside cutting the Rhondorf lead to 27-20. However Rhondorf came out of the timeout refocused and had to face a BG Karlsruhe zone and beat it easily going on a 9-3 run to extend their lead to 36-23. In the run, it was ex Lambton standout Lucier who scored twice with a two handed dunk as Frankl-Maus found him back door and then hit a trey. 17 year old Anton Geretzki snuck inside for two points and Frankl-Maus completed free throws. Fluellen then hit a jumper, but Rhondorf kept the offensive pressure on as Trawick connected on another trey and Bastian Winterhalder made free throws as the Dragons Rhondorf went into halftime with the comfortable 41-28 lead. “They went to zone after the time out and we got an easy basket and then a three pointer which opened up the game again. I was extremely happy with our three import players who were playing exactly how I had wanted”, stated Dragons Rhondorf CEO Boris Kaminski. The Dragons Rhondorf were shooting 50% from the field and 27% from the three point line while BG Karlsruhe was shooting 29% from the field and 36% from the three point line. Rhondorf had the 23-18 rebound edge and both teams had five turnovers a piece.
In the third quarter, the Dragons Rhondorf were able to extend their lead to 20 points as they continued to wear down BG Karlsruhe as their comeback attempts continued to get squashed and their energy level also went down more. Both teams best players Aaron Nelson and Ricky Easterling went to work scoring four buckets. Nelson scored inside and continued to show his divine versatility as he knocked home a three and Easterling made his bread and butter 20 footer mid distance shot something he learned from his high school coach Kevin Peiser and continued to develop through his college and professional career and then scored coast to coast finishing with his left hand as Rhondorf led 46-32. Rhondorf then made a statement as to how the game would continue to develop going on a back breaking 13-4 run to extend their lead to 59-36. In the run, Rhondorf got all around good production from many components as Lucier hit a trey, Frankel-Maus scored twice as did Thomas Michel who also dropped a three. However BG Karlsruhe never gave up and quietly clawed their way back going on a 15-3 run to cut the Dragons Rhondorf lead to 62-51. In the run, it was the BG Karlsruhe big men duo of Black and Kazarnovski who combined for all 15 points and for 3-4 minutes were unstoppable getting easy buckets inside and to the free throw line. BG Karlsruhe had stopped the Dragons Rhondorf momentum, but then as is so often the case in basketball the opponent struck a basketball like dagger in their back racing out on a lightening 5-0 run killing their momentum which they had gained back. Rhondorf ended the third quarter with a 5-0 run as Lucier continued to hurt BG Karlsruhe with his hot hand draining a trey and Michel scored inside as the Dragons Rhondorf led 67-51. “They had a little run, but we kept our head up. We could of gotten frustrated or pointed fingers, but we stayed in the flow of the game and knocked down shots”, stressed Mike Lucier. The Dragons Rhondorf were shooting 55% from the field and 38% from the parking lot while BG Karlsruhe was shooting 33% from the field and 29% from the parking lot. Rhondorf had the 32-26 rebound advantage, but 10 turnovers while BG Karlsruhe had seven turnovers.
The Dragons Rhondorf had a nice big lead and got a little tired in the fourth quarter, but the last little push by Ricky Easterling couldn´t change much as the home team would sail into their Saturday night happy and ready for an enjoyable Sunday. Nelson continued to tighten up his stats as he nailed the first three buckets for Rhondorf while Kazarnovski also scored twice, but Rhondorf still had the comfortable 73-55 advantage. After a Duku lay in came a curious play as BG Karlsruhe scored on the inbound play as Easterling found Kazarnovski, but Rhondorf didn´t move on defense as they seemed not to have heard the whistle which led to a big boo concert in the Dragon Dome, but Rhondorf still led 73-59. Nelson kept getting to the free throw line and feeding his points stats as he made free throw after free throw extending the Rhondorf lead to 82-61. Rhondorf was a little fatigued now and BG Karlsruhe closed out the game with a 9-3 run as Easterling as usual finished strong netting three baskets and getting his 20 plus points. He scored 25 and 15 footers and a beautiful finger tip roll, but it wasn´t enough as the Dragons Rhondorf won 87-70 as Winterhalder closed out the scoring with a lay in with two seconds remaining to play. “We got a bit tired at the end. If guys are tired then they should go out. We need to be able to bring it better for 40 minutes. We need guys always giving 100%”, warned Mike Lucier. The Dragons Rhondorf were led by Aaron Nelson with 26 points and 18 rebounds. Mike Lucier had 18 points while Viktor Frankl-Maus and Bastian Winterhalder combined for 11 points a piece. Will Trawick added 10 points. BG Karlsruhe was led by Anton Kazarnovski with 23 points while Ricky Easterling added 231 points. The Dragons Rhondorf shot 50% from the field and 36% from outside while BG Karlsruhe shot 37% from the field and 24% from outside. Rhondorf won the rebound battle 41-36, but had 13 turnovers while BG Karlsruhe had 12 turnovers. The Dragons Rhondorf got off to a good start, but know it´s a long season. “WE are taking it one game at a time. We don´t want to get big headed, but keep improving. We want to keep sticking together at all times and just leave it on the floor in every game”, warned Aaron Nelson.