This weekend, the German U19 NBBL League had its third edition of the Top4 played in Berlin. For the first time, the home team qualified for the event which made the Finals day particularly loud and enthusiastic. However, the overall level of the tournament, except for the final was not very high, which may be explained by the absence of the top prospects of the German 90 generation because of injuries or defeats in the playoffs.
The defending champions of Urspring Academy had to suffer the most this weekend. Heavily favorite once again, their top scorer Maurice Stuckey had a double rupture of his ankle tendon last week and some of their players were also heavily engaged in different tournaments (Rho, NIJT) over the last weeks. This can however not been seen as an excuse for the extremely poor display of the team during the semi-finals where they really looked bad against a short but aggressive Paderborn Baskets team. And it was this team, coached by Artur Gacaev that came out of the tournament with highest number of new gained supporters.
The team displayed a very pleasant to watch basketball, based on tremendous defensive pressure, excellent offensive organization and a player in Lars Wendt that emerged as a top prospect for Germany during this tournament. The 1m83 tall guard formed an electric back court duo together with his twin brother Ole Wendt (NBBL All-Star this winter). Being born in October 1992, they were among the youngest players of the tournament giving more than 2 and half years to some of their competitors. But they came out great in my eyes.
Ole Wendt takes more care of the PG duties where he sets up the game perfectly using his excellent handles to put the defense in trouble. His drives create a lot of open positions for his team mates on the wings and he drew a large amount of fouls. He had several nice plays, especially during the final where he scored a huge three point shot after a behind the back dribble to create the necessary space to shoot. And he does not need that much of space to go for it.
His twin brother Lars Wendt looks even more interesting in my eyes. It was him that took all the big shots of the team, increasing his playing level through out the game. You could see him several times asking for the ball and do his stuff, and most of the times it was great. He has tremendous three point range and very quick release that allows him to shot against any defender. He scored even several three pointers with the foul, some of them from 7 to 8 meters. While most of his scoring comes from behind the arc, his size limits him a bit when driving as he is not particularly athletic. But his drives were excellent and mostly were stopped by fouls where he was nearly automatic from the line. He is definitely a player to watch for the future and it will be interesting to see if he can develop into a PG as he will probably lack of size to play the SG on the highest level.
However, during the final of the tournament, the team of Paderborn could not hold his playing and intensity level through out the 40 minutes. After another great performance during the first 20 minutes, everything looked like it is going to be the major upset. But ALBA Berlin behind a great Niels Giffey took over the game in the final quarter. In front of more than 2000 fans, the German SF made several big plays to take the lead back for his team. And it was him that nailed the highly important three point shot after a perfectly executed setup in the decisive moment of the game. Giffey scored in multiple ways, including post up scoop shots with his left hand, mid-range jumpers of set threes. And he did not show any kind of nerves when he needed to score his FTs in the money time. To get an even better insight on him, you can find it here in my post about the forwards of the Nike International Junior Tournament that was played in Berlin a week before.
Giffey got some important support during the final from the strong but short PF Steven Monse who used his wide body to create some trouble in the paint. Probably a limited player when it comes to upside, Monse can develop into a solid role player in the next years as he displays the necessary work ethics and physical build to compete against professional opposition. Another key player for ALBA Berlin was their PG Konstantin Klein who came up with the game winning steal 10 seconds before the end of the game and converted the necessary FTs to seal the victory.
The game for the third place saw Breitengüssbach bring home the Bronze medal behind the nice scoring effort of their PG Daniel Schmidt who displayed some good understanding of the game and correct long distance qualities. Erik Land however was a bit of a disappointment for me as he could not lift his team to the Final in the semis and was unlucky too during the Sunday game. However, his combination of intensity, footwork and post game can help him to grab Bundesliga minutes in the next years.
Urspring Academy finished 4th this weekend and besides the rebounding presence of Justin Raffington (30 rebounds in two games), it was difficult to see something positive. Raffington showed some abilities to hit the jump shot around the key but his post play needs some polish. His year long injury did not help him on this point for sure. Top 92 talent Kevin Bright looked tired like he did already during the NIJT last weekend. At least, he came up with a correct individual performance on Sunday where he scored 17 and had 11 rebounds. But it was time for him to get some rest before the summer and the upcoming preparation for the U18 European championships.
Some other notes
- The weekend was also used to give away the season awards of the NBBL. Coach of the Year was for Henrik Rödl of ALBA Berlin, MVP of the season went to Maik Zirbes from TBB Trier, Jonas Wohlfarth-Bottermann won the defensive player of the year award and the best Rookie (born in 1993) was Alexander Blessig from FC Bayern München
- Despite being a popular success with several thousand fans, I was a bit disappointed by the small number of Bundesliga coaches or officials in the Arena. A League that is desperately looking to create a “more German” image seems not to be very interested in its future players. Except for the ALBA Berlin staff, I did not see a lot of other teams that were present despite having no Bundesliga games during the Final day.
- My personal All-Tournament Team:
PG Ole Wendt 8.5ppg 3.0apg
SG Lars Wendt 24.0ppg (10/21 3FG 14/17FT)
SF Niels Giffey (MVP) 25.0ppg (14/19 2FG 4/7 3FG 10/10FT) 5.0rpg
PF Steven Monse 8.5ppg 8.0rpg 1.5bpg
C Justin Raffington10.0ppg 15.0rpg 2.0bpg
Highlight Videos of the tournament
Thanks to the great work of schoenen-dunk.de, you can find here highlight videos of the four games of the tournament