Artland Dragons coach Stefan Koch - Photo by Thomas Starke/Bongarts/Getty Images)

heinnews’s David Hein trekked down to Munich to catch what was expected to be a real battle between Bayern Munich and Artland Dragons. As it turned out, Bayern blew out Artland 97-70. Still, Hein took the opportunity to chat with Dragons head coach Stefan Koch about his team’s recent struggles; the perils of travelling from Quakenbrück out into Europe; signing NBA superstars like Dwight Howard, Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Paul; facing Besiktas’s Euroleague roster in the EuroChallenge quarterfinal playoffs; and defending fourth place in Germany.

heinnews: First of all, how disappointing was this game after the team really fought back after the horrible first quarter against ratiopharm ulm and here were playing a very important contest?
Koch: It’s very, very disappointing. You already mentioned that I think we did a good job coming back in the Ulm game. Of course the first quarter we hit our season low being down 28-4 after 10 minutes. But then I thought that at least we fought and in a way tried to get things back on track and then we played an okay game I thought on Tuesday (against Pinar Karsiyaka) in the EuroChallenge, where you could still  see the effects of the Ulm game because we started very slow. We were down again seven in the first quarter because we doubted ourselves. Then we got back into it and got confidence and I think we showed it here in the first half, especially on the offensive end of the floor (Artland led 52-48 at halftime). And in the beginning of the second half I thought we totally lost focus. We then tried some things defensively to try to change the rhythm of the game which Bayern did a very good job of reading it and executing against it. But the mental aspect of the second half is what worries me most after that game.

heinnews: Against Ulm your team was 2 of 15 in the first quarter with 8 turnovers and then in the third quarter here the guys were 2 of 12 with 7 turnovers. How hard is it to watch the team not respond at all and not control the ball. The turnovers really have to be alarming. If you lose a quarter 30-9 like the third quarter against Bayern, you cannot win many games in a very competitive BBL.
Koch: What can you do? I took two early timeouts in the third quarter to try and get the guys back on track. On the other hand, I just talked to (Bayern coach) Dirk (Bauermann) and he knows it from all those years where he went far internationally, this was our 40th game this season. We’re just playing twice a week for I don’t know how long.
What you have to understand this is not like when Bayern Munich or Skyliners or Alba Berlin play internationally because we’re from Quakenbrück. It takes us two or three hours in a bus to get to a regional airport where we take an airplane and then have to get to another airport and have to change planes again before reaching our final destination.
This takes so much time, which doesn’t only take away from us practicing but is also sometimes more tiring than playing a game. This is not an excuse. It can be an explanation. I think we have handled it well for most parts of the year. I think we have done better overall then what most people thought we could do this year. But right now we’re struggling. But what can you do. You can keep working, you can try to refocus the guys. But there is no trick or idea which is the golden way. Of course the trading deadline is over but if we could bring in Dwight Howard, Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Paul right now, that would help (with a smile).

heinnews: Knowing how important he is for the team, how much did it hurt when Nathan Peavy picked up his third and fourth fouls within one second midway through the third quarter?
Koch: To me it reflected our approach to that third quarter. He made his third foul, which may have been a questionable call. Then they shoot free throws. And I don’t know how many offensive rebounds they grabbed after free throws because we were just not alert. We were dreaming, our thoughts were somewhere else. And actually after the third foul, I had (Guido) Grünheid sitting there ready to sub in. So (the Bayern player) misses the free throw with Grünheid sitting there and then Nathan commits his fourth. To me it was a clear reflection of the lack of focus we had starting that third quarter.

heinnews: The Artland Dragons are the only German team still playing internationally with a EuroChallenge quarterfinal playoff showdown with Besiktas. What are your expectations going into that best-of-three playoff?
Koch: We have to be realistic. Besiktas is the toughest team in there. I mean, if you look at their roster, that’s a Euroleague roster. You have so many guys who played high levels in Europe or in the NBA. And I’m not talking about NBA guys who hit the floor with 40 seconds to go and the game is over. But guys who played minutes in important times.
Besiktas to me is the clear favorite. So for us, winning our group and getting the best team left is really tough. I’m not saying that the other match-ups are easy. But if I look at the other half where Ventspils plays Szolnoki and the other match-ups, it’s tough for us. The only thing we have right now is the home court. And we have to defend that. We have to upgrade our game and get better in those nine days until the first meeting with them.

heinnews: Speaking of home court, the Dragons still are in fourth place in the BBL and would host the first round of the playoffs. Is the goal the rest of the season now to maintain that fourth position?
Koch: Definitely. I know that we have already talked about the many games that we have played and the many games we have ahead of us. By far we will be the German team with the most games played going into the playoffs. But yes, if we say we don’t care about it and that it would be okay to lose home court, no that’s not okay. We need to defend that home court.

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