Today starts the German BEKO-Basketball Bundesliga with the game between Eisbären Bremerhaven and the Gloria Giants Düsseldorf. We took a quick look at five players that we think are worth following during the upcoming months and weeks in the third-youngest league of the continent.
Robin Benzing – 2m09 – 101kg – SF – 1989 – ratiopharm Ulm
Next to the already drafted Tibor Pleiss, Robin Benzing is of course the player to watch in terms of NBA potential of the talented 1989 born German generation. After an excellent first season on the highest level, a great Eurocamp in Treviso, Benzing needs to confirm now his status as top talent by pushing his team not only with his scoring but also by leading it to win more games. His limited impact on the National Team level this summer showed him that it is still a long way to go before being a regular contributor on the international scene and the lanky forward will have to work even harder this season.
The whole ratiopharm Ulm team is built around him as first offensive option and the number of NBA scouts coming to Ulm will certainly not decrease. Benzing needs to become a tougher player on defense where he still sees a lot of problems when getting posted up. Additionally, his rebound average is somehow subpar for a nearly seven-footer. On the offensive end, his lack of athleticism is one of the reasons why he may not dominate as expected but at 21, there is certainly a progress margin to overcome these deficits. The season will start on a tough note as Ulm will travel to the German champion Brose Baskets on Sunday and the opposition of a Euroleague team will immediately show what Benzing took out of this summer on the Beko-BBL level.
Michael Wenzl – 2m10 – 110kg – C – 1991 – ratiopharm Ulm
One of the surprises of the Pre-season is the young Michael Wenzl who is yet another member of the ratiopharm Ulm team. Having never seen him play, I checked with the Ulm head coach Mike Taylor to get a bit more information on a player who has never played in any Youth National Team but who made a steady progress over the last years in the different Ulm youth teams. Wenzl, who has a 2 years younger brother being as tall as him, plays also with the ProB cooperation team of SG Illertal where he scored 23pts and grabbed 7rebs in the first game of the season last weekend. So who is Michael Wenzl, coach Taylor?
Michel “Michi” Wenzl is a hardworking physical young post player. He is raw and very new to basketball so he is learning quickly about the game. He is benefitting from the presence of smart post players like Sean Sonderleiter, John Bryant and Coleman Collins who are helping him every day. We plan to use Michi as a backup post man and get him minutes every Bundesliga game this season. In our preseason, he picked up things quickly and contributed well. I believe he will help our team as an extra big man who can defend, rebound and execute our offense. He will have a role and we will work to develop him. Offensively, Michi has potential to be a very skilled player but right now he is learning how to use his body and create shots in the post effectively. He is an active rebounder but will learn to be even more aggressive as he develops his strength. Michi learns quickly and has picked up many details and applied them well. Defensively, he is physical and will bang. His size and true-five physical playing style make him an excellent prospect for the future and we are really excited about helping Michi make the next steps.
Maik Zirbes – 2m08 – 122kg – C – 1990 – TBB Trier
Big Maik was supposed to get some serious minutes already last season but it did not happen. With a new head coach (former Tar Heel and ALBA Berlin player Henrik Rödl) and a new concept, this can be the break-out year for the big guy. Zirbes is built like a bull but his game is a lot softer than his look. After being used one year as a PF under the previous coach, he is now back on the Center position and he may be even the starter right from the start in front of the veteran George Evans. Zirbes played an excellent pre-season, being even the top scorer of the team in some games. The 2m08 tall player is mainly scoring close to the basket on Pick-and-Roll or help situations but he is also doing a nice job on the offensive glass.
Zirbes has really improved on defense and is less foul-prone than we knew him from last season. An interesting U20 National Team summer and the intense practices with the new head coach helped him into this direction. In the recent season preview of the local newspaper, team-captain Dragan Dojcin underlined the potential of Zirbes with the following words:
His body is his capital. Maik is really tall and good in the paint. He lacks consistency in defense: sometimes he is good, sometimes he is bad. He needs to work on this and try to stay at the same high level.
Simon Schmitz – 1m85 – 71kg – PG – 1990 – BBC Bayreuth
Simon Schmitz climbs the ladder slowly but surely year after year. 2008-2009 he was a starter in the ProB, 2009-2010 he was a starter in the ProA and now for 2010-2011 he will play in the BEKO-BBL but most likely not as a starter. BBC Bayreuth signed the young German PG this summer after he was supposed to stay yet another season in Jena and get some minutes with their cooperation partner MBC on the Bundesliga level. Looking at the preseason, Schmitz will be used as a back-up PG with a team that will fight to remain in the league.
Schmitz is a scoring PG who understands the game pretty well and has a nice shot but lacks the physical presence. Therefore, it will be very interesting to see how he will do against the mostly US-guards dominated opponents in the league. Last season, Schmitz showed that he has the level of ProA without any problem on offense but the coaching staff at MBC did not use him on BBL level yet, probably because of his problems on defense against stronger guards.
Philipp Schwethelm – 2m00 – 94kg – SF/SG – 1989 – Eisbären Bremerhaven
Schwethelm goes already into his 4th full Bundesliga season this year after having spent two years with Cologne and one with Bremerhaven. The 2m00 tall wing started most of the games for the Icebears and is doing some good progress as a regular scorer from outside. His lack of athleticism is however preventing him from being a bigger potential but his feel for the scoring will probably give him bigger roles in the future on the German level. He should be able to move up among the top German scorers this season and become a fix spot for the National team in the future.
Author’s Pick: A special mention goes to Mathias Perl from the LTi Giessen 46ers. I spoke already about him and his tremendous defensive potential a year ago and it seems that Perl has made the next step as he is planned to be the back-up PG of the Bundesliga team this season. He even played several games as a Starter for Giessen in the pre-season before they signed Giorgi Gamqrelidze. We wish all the best to the 1989 born guard and hope he will earn his minutes on the court. It is always good to see how a player develops over the years by staying at the same team and without being hyped as so many others.