Heusel: “The basketball team and the football team are in a similar situation”
We have invited Robert Heusel for an interview to talk about the current situation at FC Bayern Basketball. The journalist from Munich is a regular contributor for the German basketball magazine “BIG” as well as the online platform “basketball.de”, and he is intimately familiar with the proceedings at the club.
The interview took place before the 10th of January.
How has FC Bayern’s domestic season been so far?
Purely in terms of the results, the team has done exceptionally well. 14 victories in 14 games is as good as it gets. Because the two closest rivals Berlin and Ludwigsburg already have three defeats each, there is a very strong possibility that Bayern will claim the top spot after the regular season. This would give them home advantage in every playoff round, which could be a crucial advantage in the fight for the championship. However, the early exit from the Cup against bottom of the table Telekom Baskets Bonn certainly was a disappointing setback.
And what about their international season?
Bayern got six wins and eleven defeats in the first round of the EuroLeague. This puts them in 15th place in a league of 18. Their performances were hardly ever something to write home about, especially on the road, where they frequently got spanked with 25 or more points difference. Add to that that their wins against Berlin and Piraeus were partially lucky and narrow, they can count themselves fortunate to have got the record they do. In terms of on-court performances, they have been increasingly outclassed by their opposition, which ultimately was a key factor in coach Dejan Radonjić’s dismissal. This coming Friday, Bayern will begin the second leg of the season with a home game against defending champions CSKA Moskow. Although they are just four points off a playoff place, reaching the playoffs seems like an illusory goal. For this they would have to win at least eleven of their 17 return matches, but probably rather 12 because of their unfavorable head-to-head records against many of the other teams. This seems like an impossible task to pull off in light of the other teams’ qualities.
What went better than expected, what went worse? Which players have been convincing, which have been disappointing?
It was clear from the outset that Bayern was the odds-on favorite for winning the BBL. The club has by far the biggest budget in the league and, as a result of that, has been able to assemble a very strong squad in all positions. The best players so far have been Maodo Lo, who has made huge strides as a starting point guard and led his team to several victories, and Vladimir Lučić, who had already been a top performer last season. The pre-season injury of TJ Bray was a setback, of course. The US-American was signed as the team’s new playmaker but could not play a single game yet. His backup DeMarcus Nelson was not able to adequately compensate for this loss, especially at the international level. So Lo has had to shoulder most of the responsibility. And while he has played an outstanding season so far, it is normal that over the course of 32 competitive games, there will be an occasional dip in form.
So all in all there was not enough strength in depth in the playmaker position, especially for the requirements of the EuroLeague. Meanwhile, Nelson left the club after the end of the first half of the season, TJ Bray is about to return to the team, and the just signed Slovenian youngster Žan Mark Šiško could soon make his debut in a Bayern jersey.
Despite sitting in first place in the BBL table, FC Bayern last week released coach Radonjić. Was this a right, maybe inevitable decision?
At first sight, it seems quite harsh to dismiss your coach when you are first in the table. But recent performances have been poor. In the EuroLeague, the team in many games did not have a chance, and the wins in the BBL were by no means all convincing ones. The win against Göttingen, for example, was due to a buzzer beater at the very last moment. Against Vechta, it was a crazy run of five three point throws by Petteri Koponen in the second half that ensured the win. Domestically, the individual quality in the squad is still high enough for the team to be able to have remained undefeated so far. Internationally, however, the individual quality of the players alone is not anywhere near good enough to be competitive, and so the sacking of Radonjić did not really come as a surprise after the performances in recent weeks.
How will the season continue? What is a realistic goal at this stage?
The goal is still unequivocally this: Defending the title in the BBL! The conditions for this are still very favorable, and with the excepbtion of ALBA Berlin I do not see any team that could pose a serious threat to Bayern in a playoff round.
In the EuroLeague, on the other hand, there is nothing left to lose. Bayern will be extremely hard pressed to reach the playoffs, but putting results to one side, it will be important how the club presents itself on the court. They cannot afford to keep on suffering resounding defeats with 25 or 30 point margins with the same regularity as in the first half of the season. Some of these performances were embarrassing and wholly unbecoming of a club like FC Bayern. Oliver Kostić, who has been appointed as interim coach until further notice, will try to get his team’s performances back on track and snatch the odd victory in the EuroLeague. Serious competition in the BBL will resume once the playoffs are on.
What does the current situation mean for the long-term development of the club? Where does the club need to make adjustments: players, coaches, investments, expectations?
The club has the expectation that it will gradually work its way up to the top eight teams in Europe. As already described, this goal will probably not be achieved in the current season. A big advantage is that, regardless of how well they perform in the BBL, they will be back in the EuroLeague next season thanks to a wildcard. So the club has a reasonably long planning horizon now and will use it to improve the squad in the summer. In the coaching position, I assume that they will be looking for a renowned name in the summer, too, as it looks like they want to finish the current season with their interim coach Oliver Kostić – unless Kostić now has an outstanding half season including playoffs.
So in a sense, the coaching situation at FC Bayern Basketball is not quite unlike that at the footballers under Hansi Flick. In any case, there should be some top international coaches on the market this summer. Although the situation is certainly not ideal at the moment, the club is well positioned for the future. When the new hall in the Olympic Park is ready in autumn 2022 at the latest, they want to really attack the EuroLeague playoffs.