David Pick | Nr. 41

COVID-19 has forced many of us to accept a new and very challenging reality. Our perspectives and appreciation for things that were once given or taken for granted, have grown dramatically to become valuable and precious during these crazy times.

For instances, in several countries across Europe, walking around shopping centers (CLOSED), sitting at a cafes (OPEN ONLY FOR TAKE AWAY), "date night" with spouses (NOWHERE TO GO), social gatherings (CANCELLED); attending sporting events (VETOED) have all been restricted or cancelled. Several countries have curfews now, closing down street stores, restaurants and pubs at approximately 21:00-23:00.

I recently spoke to a General Manager of a club in the BBL (not to be confused with the British Basketball League = BBL) who stressed his beliefs that the 2020-21 season will not have fans or spectators attending games throughout the season. This is a huge blow for most clubs that saw the majority of their revenue from tickets and season memberships; and independant sponsor groups, unlike Brose Bamberg that are sponsored by a single individual mogul Michael Stoschek.

I'd like to focus this current edition of my blog on the rise and fall of the German Bundesliga clubs in the various European competitions during the COVID-19 pandemic: Who has exceeded all expectations? Who dropped out and why? Who withdrew their participation to play internatilly, and who is - I believe - the current Euroleague MVP? Spoiler alert: He is NOT a player.

Shoot me DM on IG or Tweet at me if I'm wrong but let's review the list of BBL clubs that competed in Euro competitions in the 2019-2020 season: Brose Bamberg, ALBA Berlin, Ratiopharm Ulm, Frankfurt Skyliners, EWE Oldenburg, Rasta Vechta, Telekom Bonn, Ludwigsburg, S.oliver Wuerzburg, and Medi Bayreuth - 10 teams!

Fast forward to October 2020 and you're looking at a deep dive to just FOUR teams competing and SIX clubs absent.

There were multiple reasons leading up the drop out of teams this season beginning from the execution of the 2019-2020 bubble standings during the 1st COVID-19 lockdown. The finals seedings were the following: 1. ALBA 2. Ludwigsburg 3. Oldenburg 4. Ulm 5. Munich 6. Bamberg ... 9. Vechta. IMPORTANT to note that the BBL is only allocated a certain amount of international invitational tickets ranking through the 5th seed, thus Vechta who finished outside the playoffs, and clubs like Bayreuth who opted to end their season and not bring back imports for the bubble, forfieted their chances to play in the FIBA Leagues this season.

Through my conversations with several front office officials, I dug for answers to learn the true reasons behind such decisions. Obviously as mentioned above, there were teams that simply didn't earn a spot through the final seedings. There was also the factor to avoid the risks of containing COVID via travel and the anticipated logical assumption that in these cold winter times, the combination of the flu disease and COVID can potentially shut down teams entirely. It wouldn't make sense to travel overseas and risk the unwelcomed exposure. MoraBanc Andorra coach Ibon Navarro recently came out of isolation stressing that, “I got COVID in Russia, they don’t approach Corona seriously.”

Most BBL clubs were in limbo from March onward, fearing the unknown, mulling over the possibility that sponsors and fans might request, or even worse - legally demand - reimbursements on the fees paid to the club for season tickets, memberships, advertising etc. The average BBL ticket excluding VIP sections and courtside seats hover around 20 Euros a head. EWE is a club that enjoyed a massive wave of fan support, who dispensed their reimbursements, making them "minor sponsors" of the club. In light of the good faith between the club and the community, fans that forfeited monies for missed games in the 2019-2020 season, had their names printed on Oldenburg's 2020-2021 official uniforms.

While the Euroleague and EuroCup kept the existing schedule, clubs under the FIBA umbrella in the Champions League and Europe Cup were told about a revised fixture. For BCL, instead of EIGHT, 1st-Round teams per Group, and 14 preliminary games, teams were divided into smaller groups of FOUR teams per bracket and a total of just SIX games per club. For the Europe Cup, the games wouldn't start before January 2021 regardless.

"Our budget, and other clubs budgets, have dropped 40-50% due to COVID," said one BBL Sports Director. "Everyone has been affected by it. You see how things are going across Europe, and locally, with players and coaches testing positive to COVID and having to be in isolation and miss games. It creates a balance between us all. The financial system of the German clubs, unlike teams in Turkey and Italy, is made up with several sponsors, it is harder for us to survive."

Munich and ALBA were Euroleague bound due to the wild card and positioning, although while Ulm elected to stick around in the EuroCup, EWE opted out this season, making it clear during offseason negotiations with players that they're not going to compete internationally this season. Frankfurt initially enrolled to play in international competition, preferably EuroCup, but withdrew shortly after. Clubs like Vechta, Wuerzburg, Bonn and Bayreuth had no aspirations or financial abilities to risk themselves this season.


It's been a wild Euro-ride thus far as teams bolt for National Team break and resume action in December. Obviously that doesn't affect the Euroleague clubs as most players will stick with their teams (remember the ongoing FIBA vs Euroleague brawl).

COVID though caused teams to postpone and reschedule games, which is how we hit December with Munich playing 10 games, ALBA and Ulm 8 and Bamberg just 2. Wild, I mention already right?!

My early MVP candidate is a combination of someone who has resurrected himself and shown real leadership and imprint on his team this season - on the court and off it, with his charisma and skills, and most of all - abilities to deliver in clutch moments, now even more than before: Andrea Trinchieri.

Munich, at its recent prime, was never a dominant force in the Euroleague. Even it's "dream team" with Deon Thompson and Malcolm Delaney, throughout John Bryant's tenure, I feel like now, this team, constructed by Marko Pesic, Daniele Baiesi and coached by Trinchieri, are superb. Currently the 2nd best ranked team in Europe behind Barcelona, with the 2nd-best point differential in the Euroleague (+34), Munich sports a 7-3 record with a 70% success rate. "Don't wake me up," Trinchieri said, living the dream and reviving his brand in Deutschland following his sour break up with Bamberg. Munich started slow with an L, but a blowout 90-72 triumph over domestic rival ALBA Berlin bolted Bayern to a 4-game win streak and 7 Ws in their last 8 games before falling barley vs CSKA Moscow. It's unknown how long Munich keep up the momentum, but Trinchieri has my early vote for MVP and is this season's best Cinderella story.

After a disappointing campaign in the EuroLeague last season, ALBA BERLIN, champs of the BBL's 2019-20 bubble, hoped to make a splash overseas. Thus far it seems like a rollercoaster season with a negative 2-6 record, good only for 16th place, and missed opportunities like catching Maccabi with their pants down on opening night with an empty Nokia Arena. ALBA then also lost to Bayern in the clash of German power-clubs, but bounced back recording a surprising win against CSKA Moscow. The rollercoaster ride continued with a 2-game hult due to COVID breakouts and recently hit a high note with a dramatic comeback vs ASVEL thanks to Peyton Siva's heroic game-winning 3-ball right before the buzzer. It's doubtful that ALBA will contend for a playoff spot, but there's plenty of room for growth and rise in Berlin down the road.

It's difficult to measure how well Johan Roijakkers transformed the Bamberg he inherited from Roel Moors, but the musical chairs of coaches has showed early promise for Brose, clinching the No.1 seed in its BCL Group following a series of victories against Italian side Fortitudo Bologna and Spanish club RETABet Bilbao. The real challenge would be against Turkish Pinar Karsiyaka, but so far so good in the race to qualify for the next round.

The formula in Ulm seems promising. Sports Director Thorsten Leibenath scouts the talent, and Jaka Lakovic preps them for greatest. Such has been with Killian Hayes -- who despite a losing campaign in the EuroCup going 1-9 overall -- showcased a strong individual season that led him to get drafted 7th overall by the Detroit Pistons. While newcomer Troy Caupain had big shoes to fill, and hasn't measured to the exact same production stats-wise, he's already left a great impression, earning MVP honors in EuroCup and embracing the role of floor general, leading Ulm to a solid 3-5 record and a real opportunity to leapfrog into the next round of the EuroCup.


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