Mention the name Dirk Bauermann four years ago in Bamberg and Brose Baskets fans would not have a bad word to say about their championship-winning head coach.

Mention Bauermann in Bamberg nowadays and not only does he represent the “Evil Empire” that is Bayern Munich, but he’s also no longer needed.

Although initially welcomed cautiously, Bamberg head coach Chris Fleming has become a god-like figure in the 70,000 resident town in northern Bavaria. It doesn’t hurt that Fleming and his coaching staff have collected six titles in the last three years – three times capturing the league-cup double.

Since his arrival from Quakenbrück in 2008, Fleming has more than filled the huge shoes left behind by Bauermann, who left Bamberg because he had to decide between coaching a club team or the German national team, choosing Germany back in 2008.

Now, it’s hard to imagine Bamberg without Fleming and his coaching staff of Arne Woltmann, Stefan Weissenböck and James Duncan – Woltmann who came with Fleming from Artland Dragons and Duncan who played for Fleming at Artland.

That’s what watching coaches and players pour beer over each other and enjoying players cut down the nets in triumph in title celebrations can do. Those scenes have become the traditional end-of-season ritual for Fleming and his Bamberg players and coaching staff for the past three years.

But in a league that prides itself on parity, Bamberg have proven that parity applies only for teams fighting for second place as they have faced three different teams in the BBL league Finals (Deutsche Bank Skyliners, Alba Berlin and ratiopharm ulm) in the past three years and three different clubs in the Cup Final (Deutsche Bank Skyliners, New Yorker Phantoms Braunschweig and Telekom Baskets Bonn).

Bamberg remains the basketball capital of Germany despite many cities trying their best to throw down their arenas and proclaim relevance. No, the title still goes through Bamberg.

Perhaps most impressive of this three-year run has been Bamberg’s dominance despite being the overwhelming favorite and dealing with all the pressure that is involved in that.

Still, no disrespect to Ulm – or anyone else in the league – but it would have been a shock if Bamberg captain Casey Jacobsen had not hoisted the trophy after the 2012 BBL Finals.

“This is the best team since I have played in Bamberg,” said Jacobsen, who won his fourth league crown with Bamberg following 2007 and the last three seasons.

“After the loss in the first playoff game (against Telekom Baskets Bonn), we as a team came up with the right answer, proved our character and fought for everyone else. That made us strong.”

Jacobsen added: “Winning the double three times in a row, that is so difficult, so unbelievably difficult. I am so happy for this team. I am really tired right now but now it’s time to celebrate.”

After Jacobsen raised the trophy to the heavens at 4:37 p.m., sending Freak City into a state of emergency, Bamberg native Karsten Tadda got up on the shoulders of center Tibor Pleiß and cut down the net of the basket and hung it around his neck.

“Just like every year it’s an indescribable feeling. As a Bamberg native, it’s naturally that much more awesome having won the triple,” said Tadda.

In the locker room, Finals MVP PJ Tucker drew a crowd as he had the honor of shaving off Anton Gavel’s playoff beard, which had received a lot of media attention for its thickness and appearance – or scariness in some circles.

Bamberg’s Finals opponents ratiopharm ulm definitely deserve respect as well. Ulm gave Bamberg all they could handle in Game Three, especially Isaiah Swann, who drained 8 three-pointers in scoring 36 points.

“What my team showed today was symbolic for the whole season. They fought tremendously for 40 minutes. It’s very difficult to accept that it wasn’t enough for a victory,” Thorsten Leibenath, who knows a thing or two about stepping into big footsteps as he was the man who replaced Fleming with Artland Dragons, who had lost to Bamberg in the BBL Finals and reached the Last 16 of the EuroCup Finals in 2007 – a team from a town of just 13,000 people.

Leibenath earned Coach of the Year honors this season in taking over from long-time coach Mike Taylor and turning Ulm into a title contender and second place in the regular season. In the playoffs, Ulm blasted through good sides in New Yorker Phantoms Braunschweig and s.Oliver Baskets Würzburg in 3-0 sweeps before running into the Bamberg Express.

Still, Ulm have to be commended for doing their best to derail Fleming’s high-speed locomotive, which was determined not to stop again after Telekom Baskets Bonn slightly sent it off course with their victory in Bamberg to start the first round of the playoffs.

“Bamberg deserved the title without a doubt. They showed a performance that commands respect,” added Leibenath.

The folks at Brose Baskets Bamberg deserve a huge amount of respect for the work they have done and what has been built up – especially in the past decade.

And the mastermind is general manager Wolfgang Heyder, who couldn’t even rest one night after his team completing the magical and historic double three-peat. No, after a few hours of celebrating with his team, Heyder went back to his office to consider how he can put his team in the same position next June.

And Heyder faces perhaps his toughest challenge yet.

The celebrations after the 2012 title were also a goodbye to three major pieces.

Three huge pillars of Bamberg’s massive success over the past three years will be leaving. German international center Tibor Pleiß is heading to Spanish powers Caja Laboral after three years in Bamberg; forward Predrag Suput has said he would like to play elsewhere – one reason being a lack of playing time – after five seasons with the club; and center Marcus Slaughter is taking his game to Real Madrid after one season in southern Germany.

If that were the only losses Bamberg faced it would be a tough task to fill those holes. But Heyder will be fending off big-money offers for Finals MVP PJ Tucker and the GM has said he absolutely wants to keep Brian Roberts, Gavel, Tadda and Daniel Schmidt in town.

As of now, only captain Jacobsen, Julius Jenkins, Philipp Neumann and Markus Stuckey have deals in place for 2012-13.

Bamberg are desperately hoping that they can keep the 27-year-old Tucker. And the club seems pretty confident that Tucker and Gavel will be re-signed.

“I hope and I am confident that the players had so much fun playing here in Bamberg that they will stay another season with us. We also have to come up with the material for those conditions and I hope that will get done,” said Michael Stoschek – chairman of the Brose Group and main sponsor, who added that there is an 80 percent chance of re-signing with Tucker and Gavel, according to the Fränkischer Tag.

“What Tucker did this season and how he improved was unbelievable. That’s why we really don’t want others to enjoy the fruit of others.”

“PJ Tucker made a huge difference this year. He was the best player in the league and he helped our team make the step from good to great,” Jacobsen said in an interview with sport1.

“The way PJ played this year he will certainly receive some good offers for sure. Maybe he could try again in the NBA. Certainly he would have the chance with other clubs in Europe. But I can say one thing about PJ: He loved playing here in Bamberg. He was happy here, had a lot of fun with our team and played very well.”

Jacobsen said in the interview that Tucker is probably the best player he has played with in Europe since Luis Scola (in Vitoria in 2006).

Tucker has an offer on the table from Bamberg but also reportedly a two-year 1.8 million euro deal from St. Petersburg. Tucker though will be trying to make the NBA as he plays in the NBA summer league for the Phoenix Suns. And Roberts will be lining up for the New Orleans Hornets in the summer league.

Meanwhile, if Gavel extends his contract with Bamberg then the Slovakian and club will start German naturalization proceedings as the 27-year-old has been here for eight years and has reportedly agreed to take the step – which could be completed by January 2013.

“We want to start the naturalization process in September. But Anton is an important player for the team anyway, also as role model. But I would be absolutely thrilled if we could get that done,” Heyder told the Fränkischer Tag.

But there are loads of clubs interested in Gavel, the BBL Defensive Player of the Year – among them Bayern Munich and a number of Russian teams.

Even Tadda – born and bred in Bamberg – seems not a sure thing of returning as he posted on social media “Berlin is a beautiful city” after being in the German capital with the German national team.

“Everyone in Bamberg got better last season – and therefore more interesting and more expensive,” said Heyder.

Heyder admitted that he would like to come to a decision soon especially with Tadda and Gavel.

“Otherwise we cannot continue. We do have ideas and lists of players, but for that we need decisions,” said Heyder.

But Heyder will apparently have more financial leeway when it comes to bringing back those players.

“We received the news from our main sponsor (Brose) that they will increase our budget a decisive amount so that we can remain competitive,” said Heyder at the official celebration of the 2012 title as reported by the Nuremberg Abendzeitung.

Heyder compared his Bamberg club to the two-time reigning German football Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund.

“We see ourselves a little like Borussia Dortmund, who maybe makes a personnel decision here or there a bit better and achieves more with less money.”

Heyder in the article also said he expects a full-on attack by Bayern Munich, especially with their deep pocketbooks.

“We have to assume a tough challenge that Bayern Munich will turn into a contender next season, with very different weapons – especially financially – on the market. We want to be ready.”

Regardless of who stays, Bamberg will look to add other players. And most responsible for finding that player or those players will be Brendan Rooney.

The Bamberg scouting director’s handprints are also all over Bamberg’s run as his hard work of scouring through Europe and the United States brought the likes of 2011 Finals MVP Kyle Hines, Slaughter and Tucker to Fleming’s playbox of toys.

Rooney has a handful of top players in mind to have Heyder discuss bringing to Bamberg – and possibly give Brose a different look in 2012-13.

“Our coach Chris Fleming, manager Wolfgang Heyder and scout Brandon Rooney have always found guys who have made our team even better every year. I trust them, even if we lose some key players,” said Jacobsen.

One new player compared to the 2011-12 season will actually be an old one as John Goldsberry is expected to return to Bamberg.

“I am really excited about his development. He is going back home now and will be back here in Bamberg in mid-July and begin with the preparations,” Heyder told the Fränkischer Tag.

Goldsberry has not played since Game 5 of 2011 Finals as he underwent knee and ankle surgeries since then.

“I am so proud of the guys. They worked so hard all season. And next year we will repeat this success,” said Goldsberry in the article.

Despite not having a contract – his deal ran out at season’s end – Goldsberry is confident he will return, telling the mass daily Bild: “I plan on continue playing for Bamberg.”

The fact that Bamberg did what they did without Goldsberry adds another dimension to the feat. Not many teams would not lose a beat after losing their top point guard for the season – like was the case with Goldsberry.

Luckily Roberts had not yet signed anywhere else – though reports had said he had inked a deal in France. Now, Heyder and company hope they can perhaps keep the big-play maestro Roberts in Bamberg.

One player definitely heading out of town will be Pleiß, who along with Slaughter’s departure leaves Bamberg the task of re-building their entire low post – though Fleming is expected next season to call more upon the German talent Philipp Neumann, who turned 20 in February.

But Pleiß’s mark of six titles in three years is hard to overlook – not to mention his very likeable character.

When asked during the title celebrations about Pleiß and his future, Fleming said: “Tibor deserves to celebrate this title. Nobody know better how much he worked than (assistant coach) Arne Woltmann.”

Fleming continued: “We got him as a young player and knew he would be leaving one day. We won six titles with him and we know he will do the best he can. We thank him for his time here.”

And at the club’s official celebration at Stechert Arena on title-clinching night, club president Norbert Sieben said of Pleiß: “I am sad that he will go away so far. But he grew up here so that he can even attempt to make the big jump.”

Sieben also praised the personal nature of Pleiß: “If I had a daughter, he would be the ideal son-in-law.”

With Pleiß and Slaughter gone, Bamberg could not afford not signing Maik Zirbes, the 22-year-old German center from TBB Trier. Being a big man and a German, Zirbes, the 2011-12 BBL Best German Youth Player of the Year, was probably the most coveted German in the BBL.

Heyder got the job done with Zirbes, agreeing to a three-year deal – after failing to lure him to Bamberg two seasons earlier.

“I am convinced that Maik will have a good start and get a lot of time,” Heyder told sport1.

“If he really goes after it – and he will – then he will play a very good role.”

Fleming knows that the 2012-13 seasons will be a huge challenge with a potentially very, very different team and opponents who got only stronger.

But there is a big goal for Bamberg. After barely missing out on the Euroleague Top 16 the past two seasons, Brose are looking to advance from the first group stage.

“We want to go further in the Euroleague. And we deserve to take the next step in the Euroleague,” said Fleming.

But that will come in the fall. There is plenty of work until then.

“Every season is new. The cards will be re-shuffled and dealt anew, and we start from the beginning.”

Just like when Chris Fleming came to replace the legendary Dirk Bauermann four years ago.



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