heinnews’s David Hein this week caught up with Chris Fleming, head coach of German basketball club Brose Baskets Bamberg. They discussed the team’s recent signing Dan Dickau, Bamberg’s current struggles in the German BBL, young German center talent Tim Ohlbrecht, basketball in Munich and Hamburg and Alba Berlin’s Euroleague games being televised in Germany.
heinnews: Hi Chris, thanks for taking the time to talk to us again. Let’s start with the club’s recent signing Dan Dickau. Why did you feel you needed a guard so bad?
Fleming: We thought our point guard play was the most important area to improve. And Dan is a high level guard who can set us up and score a little bit. We had very limited guard scoring and some problems turning it over. Dickau was one of the players we were looking at when we found out that John Goldsberry would miss the season. But it wasn’t right at that time. He has come into a difficult situation and is already making a big difference.
heinnews: What did you tell him about his duties on and off the court coming in?
Fleming: Well, we needed him to take over a leadership role. But he has the respect of the players here because of his past. As far as a role, we want him to run and set up the team. But that will not be an easy adjustment. He has never played in Europe. And things are quite different in the NBA – how systems are run, how things are called. So there will be an adjustment period.
heinnews: Is there one scene which typifies Dickau?
Fleming: He came in in his first game against Düsseldorf and we weren’t really playing well as a team. He had basically only had half a walk-through in practice and everything was new for him, yet he shot us into the game and even gave us a lead, which we would lose when he left the game. But he saw that the team was kind of instable and kind of feels like he needs to fix it. And he is intent on doing that.
heinnews: Let’s move to your team – you have five losses in your last seven games. The team is kind of sputtering …
Fleming: … well that is a pretty generous term.
heinnews: Yeah, maybe. The team is now down to a 10-11 record in ninth place and outside the playoff ranks even though you have the same record as Ludwigsburg. Does it make any difference that the team is now outside the playoff spots from a psychological standpoint?
Fleming: It’s all about how we feel. It’s about ourselves and who we see ourselves. It doesn’t matter if we are in third place. We need to develop a sense of who we are. We are now trying to work in two new players. If I were to start listing the reasons why this team hasn’t played that well and what we need to do you wouldn’t have enough space to publish it all. Now we just need to develop into a team. We’ve got a good player in the point in Dan Dickau and a high level post player in Elton Brown who is not yet in top shape. But he is the force in the blocks that we have needed. Demond Greene is getting more comfortable. Robert Garrett is ready to take on more responsibility. He is probably the player with the most invested in this club. And Predrag Suput is playing at a really high level right now. I have a lot of hope in this group that we will right the ship and make the playoffs. And if we make it there then teams will not want to play us.
heinnews: Looking at Bamberg’s 11 losses, seven of them have come by six points or less. Is there any explanation for that?
Fleming: I tell the team they haven’t played well. But the games that we lose have been a matter of one possession. If they take that one charge or set that one pick, that’s one possession. If five guys do that we are leading games by 10 points instead of trailing. We lost the first two games by two points and that becomes part of a team’s makeup. But now we are trying to fix that. And I am pretty confident that I have the right group.
heinnews: Let’s look at the season as a whole now and talk about goals. What is the goal for this team this season?
Fleming: Well, first thing is just to get into the playoffs. And to do that we have to fix ourselves. We need to get our swagger back. We have to learn to compete hard on defense for 40 minutes. And in the playoffs, I tell you, teams will not want to play us.
heinnews: Bamberg head into a crucial stretch of games at Nördlingen, against Trier and at Tübingen – all three teams being below your team in the standings. How important is this up-coming three-game stretch?
Fleming: None of the games we have lost have been decided by the quality of the other teams but by the quality of our play. We need to get ourselves right and get some confidence for this very important three-game stretch. I have a lot of hope in this group. If you can get up when you have been beaten down and beaten down then you’ll be a lot stronger because of that experience.
heinnews: Bamberg has over the years been a nightmare place to play for opponents with the team going 14-1, 13-4 and 15-2 at home over the past three seasons. This year the team has slumped to 6-5 at home thus far. That cannot be satisfying?
Fleming: We, of course, are not happy. But the home court advantage is still there with these great fans. But just like the general feeling of the team, it doesn’t matter where we are playing but how we are playing. Of course it’s hard to lose in front of your own people. But it is still difficult for teams to play at the Jako Arena.
heinnews: Speaking of the Jako Arena, what do you think about the apparent sale of the facility?
Fleming: I would rather stay out of that, if that’s okay.
heinnews: Of course, no problem.
One player who has polarized German basketball fans for the past two or three years is Bamberg center Tim Ohlbrecht. Many see the talent he has but wish he could just live up to his potential. What do you think about Tim, his talent and his attitude to the game?
Fleming: He is a very talented player. But Tim came into a situation and I was a little frustrated before Christmas time with his work ethic. He can be a very, very good player. But I don’t think it was burning in him to get there. I told him that. And since Christmas he has come back with a new focus. Now he has to make up some of the workouts has missed to get back. The current ankle injury he has is a setback right when he was ready to come back. But he is really carrying a lot on himself. A lot of people want the best for him. And sometimes it’s tough for him to just be a 20-year-old and enjoy playing the game like he should. But he has a new commitment and people should give him a chance. He’s a 20-year-old late bloomer. And some people forget that because of his size. He has great talent but sometimes he just is not enjoying the game. And I think he is growing up a lot as well. Now he needs to make the transition from a young talent with a big future to a guy stepping into the future and saying I want to carry a bit more responsibility. But he’s moving in the right direction.
heinnews: If someone told you at the beginning of the season that Bamberg would be ninth in the league at this point in the season, had crashed out of the Eurocup without a victory and out of the German Cup as well, what would you have thought?
Fleming: This is not what I expected for sure. I am in my ninth year of coaching. And the toughest seasons with the most setbacks is where I learned the most as a coach. After a loss it’s tough to see it that way. But you have to learn from that and get better because of it. With the Eurocup aside and the German Cup aside, if you showed me the team I have now and said you are in ninth place with 13 games left. I would definitely take my chances. I like looking ahead. Looking behind hurts a little bit. But I like looking forward and I see good things.
heinnews: You spent the end of your playing days and your entire coaching career at Artland Dragons. How much contact do you have with your old club?
Fleming: Both of my assistants from there are with me here. I really respect (head coach) Thorsten (Leibenath), who has had to deal with a tough season and has not gotten many breaks. And I talk to (manager) Marko (Beens) on a friendship basis after working with him a long time. I was there so long but they have to deal with their things alone. And I don’t want to get mixed up in things there. They have a good staff and will get things turned around.
heinnews: One issue in the German basketball scene is possibly getting a new team in Munich or Hamburg. How important would that be for basketball in Germany?
Fleming: If we see basketball outside Germany and say we want to play at a higher level and get better quickly we have to have some teams in big cities because that’s the only way to generate the funding for a big team. The financial power of Munich or Hamburg is just so much stronger than other smaller cities. But the game needs time to develop in those cities because they have not had high level basketball there for some time. But at the same time, places like Quakenbrück are very important as well. The league needs teams like them too – a small club which is very strong financially stable and well run. And the support within the club is great and the youth work is very strong as well.
heinnews: Okay, last question and I will let you go, how happy are you that Eurosport is broadcasting Alba Berlin’s last four games in the Top 16 of the Euroleague?
Fleming: This is unbelievably huge. Young basketball fans don’t have many places to go when they are looking for role models. And now they can see big clubs like Real Madrid, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Barcelona. And even Berlin has done very well this season when you consider Julius Jenkins was out and Patrick Femerling as well. You have to give them a lot of credit. But this is good for German basketball and great for the kids. Now we have to find a way to get more basketball on TV.
heinnews: Well, thanks for your time and good luck for the rest of the season.
Fleming: Thank you very much.