Alternative treble: FC Bayern Basketball defends their title

Maurice Separator July 7, 2019

Robert Heusel writes for the BIG Basketball magazine and the website and is occupied predominently with the FC Bayern Basketball team. In this interview he’s answering all the questions regarding the play-offs, the title and the team’s future.

Hello, Mr. Heusel! Before the play-offs Michael Körner already told us in an interview that FC Bayern was the overwhelming favorite for the title. Now the side has indeed secured their championship without losing a game in the play-offs. Were you surprised by this dominance?

While Bayern did win all nine games in the play-offs, I wouldn’t speak of a total dominance. Beating Löwen Braunschweig 3-0 in the quarterfinals might’ve been expected. And you could’ve also seen the clear victory over surprise team Rasta Vechta coming given their troubling problems with injuries. The final against ALBA Berlin, however, was very close. The 3-0 is a bit of a deceiving result. At times, Berlin was leading with at least 10 points in all three games and had big chances winning both games in the Audi Dome.  

Do basketball fans now have to fear as much a one-sided league with Bayern winning everything year after year because of their individual quality as football fans experience it right now in Germany? Or does long-term serious national competition exist?

You can’t really compare it to football because there’re no play-offs in the Bundesliga. It’s theoretically possible in the BBL to win all 34 league games and still not become German champion. Everything is possible in the play-offs. What you can say for certain is that FC Bayern will be the heavy favorite for years to come, because it has the biggest financial capabilities. Due to Berlin playing in the EuroLeague just as FC Bayern, they will further strengthen their squad and challenge Bayern. The once long-reigning champion Brose Bamberg has completed a radical turnaround and has still a considerable budget. They, too, will want to challenge in the future.

Nihad Đedović (central) was elected as the best player of the final series.
“He deserves the individual recognition”, says Robert Heusel.
(Image: Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Let’s talk about the play-offs once more. In the first round they played the eigth of the league, Basketball Löwen Braunschweig. Was the result as unambiguous as the box score appears to tell us?

The series against Braunschweig was the infamous case of “David vs. Goliath”. For Braunschweig reaching the play-offs was a tremendous success, since they’ve had various problems for years and weren’t in the running for the play-offs for a long time. When it was clear that Braunschweig’s best player Scott Eatherton would be missing injured, it was all but certain that they won’t be able to pose a threat to Bayern. Still, Braunschweig managed to challenge them decently and exploited a few lapses in concentration. Games 2 and 3 were wide open for a long time but the clear gap in quality did prevail in the end.

After Bayern advanced confidently, they played the surprise team of the season Rasta Vechta which actually managed to become only one of 3 teams to defeat Bayern in the entire league campaign. Where did Bayern manage to improve against Vechta in comparison to Bamberg for instance?

Vechta played an enthralling season. Their coach Pedro Calles has formed a team that brought opponents to the brink of despair with plays bursting with energy. They defeated Bamberg deservedly and proceeded to the semifinals. They performed admirably against Bayern, especially since a few injured players returned to their squad. In the end, FCBB’s squad depth made the difference since it’s capable of keeping up the intensity level for 40 minutes straight. After three even quarters in their arena they managed to overcome Vechta that way by having a 17:0 run. You saw Vechta feeling their long energy-sapping season in the last home game and that’s how the series ended with a sweeping 3-0.

In the final they were up against Alba Berlin who had previously knocked them out of the cup. Three intense games ensued with the lead consistently changing and various comebacks. Which game had the highest quality level of play?

All three games were thrilling! The level of play was definitely the highest during the second game in Berlin. Both teams played absolutely seemlessly during the second quarter. That was truly high-quality. Bayern’s defence then turned it up a notch what ended up really hurting Berlin. Despite trailing by double-digits, they managed to come back into the game but still ended up losing. This defeat really hurt Alba. Other than that the series was highly competitive and highly focused on defence. Both teams rigorously fought for each point.

Captain Danilo Barthel “was there in decisive moments.”
(Image: Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Bayern’s squad thrives off its enormous depth. With Nihad Đedović a true institution in Munich won the MVP-finals award (Most Valuable Player). The right call?

Most definitely. Over the three games Nihad Đedović was the best player of the series. Many doubted he was capable of the development he made this season. Đedović plays a very consistent game and provides very important offensive moments. Though what has become underappreciated: He has turned into one of the league’s best players in defense. He’s guarding the opponent’s best player on a regular basis just as he has done so in the finals with Peyton Siva. He most definitely deserves this individual award. Although you have to say, that Vladimir Lučić, too, could’ve been awarded. He hasn’t always scored the most amount of points but he was there, when it was necessary. Lučić scored a three-pointer in the closing seconds of all three games in the finals. Without him the series probably wouldn’t have concluded with a 3-0.

Which other players stood out in the play-off run? Who could surprise you? 

I already talked about Lučić and Đedović. In general Bayern’s entire squad shines through its unity. Every player knows his role and can assume responsibility in the decisive moments. Nemanja Dangubić was a very solid backup to Lučić, he played almost flawlessly, especially when Lučić was benched with foul troubels. Captain Danilo Barthel was also there in the decisive moments. His defensive work against Berlin’s linchpin Luke Sikma was extraordinary.

It’s the second title in his second year at the club for coach Dejan Radonjić. What does he do better or different than his predecessors? What kind of ideas for playing does the Montenegrin have? 

Coach Radonjić has a clear plan how he wants to play. His philosophy stands on an uncompromising defence. Just like last year the defence was the key to the championship. Berlin for instance scored over 97 points in their quarter- and semifinals each game, yet in the finals they avaraged out under 80 points per game. The old basketball saying „offense wins games, defense wins championships“ does apply here. Although Radonjić established a good offense as well. Rather slowly Bayern manages to get high percentage finishs. That’s not always spectacular to look at, but it’s incredibly effective.

For years now every summer there’s been a big shake-up in the squad. Former top performers are being sorted out and new players signed. Can you already estimate who Bayern will have to replace next season because Spain and Turkey’s big money is tempting them? Are there any already fixed signings?

This short after the season there’re no known fixed signings. It seems that nobody will be sorted out of the current squad. Still, there will be changes, because they might not be able to hold on to all players due to offers. While the German players – with the exception of Đedović – still all have a contract for the next season, all contracts with foreign players are running out. The only exception is Petteri Koponen. 

Coach Dejan Radonjić has a clear plan: Uncompromising defence.
(Image: Alexandra Beier/Bongarts/Getty Images)

In the case of Đedović a contract extension was all but a technicality. He’s fully identifying himself with the club and has numerously emphasized how well he’s feeling in his home town Munich. Of course they will attempt to hold on to the key players. With Derrick Williams it’s all a question whether he’s going to get an offer from the NBA. If that’s the case, he won’t stay in Munich. 

The most important matter in my opinion, however, is Lučić. During his time in Munich, he has developed into one of Europe’s best players in his position and will get good offers. It could be very expensive to hold onto him but it should be top priority. Apart from that the transfer policy will depend on the fundamental squad planning. Managing Director Marko Pešić has already announced that they want to first of all strengthen the depth of the squad. Since the EuroLeague 2019/20 has 18 instead of 16 teams competing, FCBB has at the very least 66 games to play with the BBL and the international competition. Add the cup and the play-offs to that and you’re getting a true beast of a schedule. 

FC Bayern reached a respectable 11th place in the EuroLeague last season und only missed the play-offs by just one missing win. How would you asses the team’s position in Europe and what’s still missing to compete at the highest level?

They really performed very well in the EuroLeague. It was Bayern’s first season in this mode. You’re competing with Europe’s top 15 teams for 30 games over 2 legs. Bayern became the first German team ever to get 14 wins. That they didn’t reach the play-offs is for me partially down to lack of experience. Many players played their first season on this level. Still, there was a certain lack of quality in the decisive games, especially at the top. Four away wins out of 15 games wasn’t enough at the end. 

You have to keep in mind that many locations like Moskau and Istanbul have a significantly higher budget. Qualifying for the play-offs would’ve been an enormous surprise, no German team has ever accomplished such a feat. In the following years, especially when the SAP Garden will have been built in the Olympiapark, Bayern will strive to reach the EuroLeague’s play-offs. The club is exceedingly ambitious and wants to catch up with Europe’s best.

Translated by Daniel.

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

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