It’s always good to hear that a young player is willing to work hard and learn to improve their game, promising better chances of a bright future. Talk to the coaching staff at Brose Baskets Bamberg and it’s hard not to believe that Maik Zirbes is on his way to becoming a star.
“That boy works. That’s the first thing. He works his butt off,” Bamberg head coach Chris Fleming told heinnews about his 22-year-old center.
When asked about Zirbes, Fleming’s assistant Arne Woltmann added: “It really pays off that he’s such a hard worker. He doesn’t let any chance go to get extra work in. And he does that really, really well. He picks up stuff really, really well, and it pays off. He wants to get better and that’s his character. That’s going to create a pretty good player in the end.”
And Bamberg general manager Wolfgang Heyder believes Zirbes is coming along quite well, saying: “I think it’s going in the right direction. He had some problems at the beginning. He defended much better against Barcelona and against Bayern. It’s really a big step forward.”
Zirbes was a late arrival to Bamberg’s training camp due to playing with the German national team at the EuroBasket 2013 qualifiers, as the last Germany contest took place on September 11. The Beko BBL regular season tipped off on October 3.
“He knew that he had ground to make up. It bothers him that he makes mistakes and he demands from you every day that you work with him. He’s gotten better and better. These last couple games he’s been outstanding offensively but also defensively in terms of knowing what we want to do. I’m proud of him. He’s worked really hard to take that step,” said Fleming.
“He improved the last couple of years, year by year, especially when his playing time increased. The national team obviously. He came back with a lot of confidence. Whatever they did with him was good and from his character he wants to get better and does everything that we ask him to do, which is good for us and good for him. Both sides benefit,” said Woltmann about Zirbes, who averaged 6.1 points and 1.7 rebounds in 10 minutes per game for Germany during the EuroBasket 2013 qualifiers, including three games with at least 10 points.
Zirbes – who can be described as cautious, bordering on nervous off the court – also sees himself growing into the team at Bamberg.
“I think I am fitting in more and more. At the beginning I really didn’t know exactly what I was asked to do and how I should play. But now I have a good idea what the coaches want to do and what they want from me. And I’m adjusting to that,” said Zirbes, who also has been described as introverted but modest.
The 6-10 center from the small town of Traben-Trarbach (population about 6,000, located halfway between Trier and Koblenz about 70 miles from Frankfurt) is definitely on the rise. At 14, he attended an academy in Speyer and moved a year later to the TBB Trier youth ranks. After averaging better than 20 points and 11 rebounds in the U19 NBBL in 2007-08 and 2008-09, Zirbes earned his first Beko BBL minutes in 2008-09 as an 18/19 year old. In 2009-10, he split time with the ProA Saar-Pfalz Braves and Trier before playing all 34 BBL games for Trier in 2010-11, averaging 7.5 points and 4.5 rebounds. Last season, he took another step in his development with the help of former German playing legend Henrik Rödl in winning the Most Improved Player and Best Young German awards by collecting 10.6 points and 7.1 rebounds.
Heyder and Fleming did not wait long to bring in Zirbes, especially after seeing their young German center Tibor Pleiß leave for Caja Laboral Vitoria in Spain. Bamberg bought out the final year of Zirbes’ contract with Trier and signed him until 2014 with an option for another year.
“I am absolutely convinced that Maik can have a similar development as Tibor. For me, he is one of the few German players who can break through internationally in the near future,” said Heyder at the time of the Zirbes acquisition.
Zirbes admitted that playing for Fleming and in the Euroleague was a big factor in his decision.
“A decisive point why I decided for Bamberg was Chris Fleming, who I think is an excellent coach. Also, for me as a young player, it’s a dream to have the chance to play in the Euroleague and for a team that is the Crème de la crème in Germany,” said Zirbes.
All the hard work is paying off as Zirbes currently is Bamberg’s fourth leading scorer in the BBL with 11.1 points to along with 5.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.3 blocks. Over the last five games in the BBL, take away his poor 0 point, 1 rebound showing against Frankfurt, Zirbes averaged 13.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks including five assists against Tübingen. In the Euroleague, he is averaging 7.6 points and 6.1 rebounds in 20 minutes per game.
Zirbes, of course, has been receiving so much playing time thus far because AJ Ogilvy – the Australian center who Bamberg brought in to be the man in the middle – has yet to play this season. Ogilvy returned to Bamberg practice this week and could return to action this week or weekend.
Those worrying that Zirbes will be banished to bench need not necessarily worry, according to the coach.
“I think those two fit well together. They are complementary players, very, very different, and that was our idea in getting them both. Maik has earned his minutes. I don’t think there’s a problem there,” said Fleming.
When asked what Zirbes still has to work on, Woltmann said: “There’s stuff he has to work on. But it’s stuff that we do that he was never asked to do before – like in strategy or defensive rotation or offensive movement. There’s a lot he has to get better on, but he’s on a good way to get there.”
A good way to becoming a star – if Zirbes continues to work hard, something he likes to do.