Nothing comes easy for BG Halstenbek/Pinneberg in their first 1. Regionalliga North season. Once dubbed an ambitious program with big plans, reality arrived early as the team suffered 12 losses in 13 games until the "Holstein Hoppers" named Mario Protuder a new head coach in January and snapped a 11 game losing streak with a 79-69 win over Bernau on Saturday. "It was a huge relief because as you know we were on a pretty long losing streak so it was good for us to see that our perseverance and hard work finally paid off. Also, mentally it was good for us because they are 3rd in the league so it also gives us a little boost psychologically. As far as personally, it was my best game this season, so I think it's going to help me moving forward to stay hungry and finish out the season strong", Eric Kibi (198-F-90, college: Abil.Christian) said. The 22-year-old Canadian forward paved the way with 30 points, connecting on 68.4% of his attempts (13-for-19), and five rebounds.
But the RLN newcomer still has a huge amount of work to do to climb the ladder. To avoid relegation at least five wins out of the eight games remaining are required. "Of course I think it is possible, but if we begin to think about it in that way it will become difficult. I think that if we just focus on one game at a time and not look too far ahead anything is possible. Even though the season hasn't gone the way we wanted it to, I have a lot of confidence in my team. We have a lot of heart on this team, guys never quit. We have been in almost every game this season, it's just always little mistakes that cost us in the end of games. If we cut down on those, I think we will be right there in the end", Kibi told Eurobasket.com.
Mario Protuder who overtook coaching duties from player/coach Zoran Krezic (190-G-79) earlier this month, seems to have changed quite a bit within only a couple of days. While Krezic opted to focus on helping his team on the basketball court, running the point, Protuder provides experience and knowledge on the bench: "I really like Mario a lot, he is a great teacher of the game of basketball. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from such a great coach like him, he's coached in some of the top leagues so I am excited to learn from him. He has brought a lot of energy and passion to our practices, he's very good at pointing out the small details and making them teaching points. Mario also holds everyone accountable, first thing he told me when I met him was that, he knew that I was one of the league leaders in points and rebounds but that he didn't care and that he was going to hold me accountable for everything - got to love that", Kibi said.
Krezic, who played for SC Rist Wedel in the 2. Bundesliga in the late 90s and then spent two years playing in the BBL at Wuerzburg and BC Hamburg, scored 10 points in the win over Bernau to go along with five assists, three steals and two boards. "I still think Zoran was a great coach", Kibi said who added: "He's a great leader but I think it was just a tough situation to balance out the coaching and the playing as it would on any team with a player/coach. I think with him just playing now, it's a burden off his shoulders. Zoran has 1st league (BBL) experience, played with Dirk Nowitzki in his youth and he can still play so he really helps us at the point where I think we we're very young and struggling a bit. He's a smart player and even though he's not the coach anymore he's still someone I look up to for advice during the game. I appreciate everything he's done for me to grow as a player."
The Hoppers return to RLN play this weekend, traveling to the Bodfeld Baskets who are being paced by the league's leading scorer, Everage Richardson (191-G-85, college: Co.Carolina): "Everage is a great player obviously", Kibi said. "I think he was the top scorer in any league in the world last year. With a guy like that, I think you have to limit his touches and once he does get the ball have to make his shots as difficult as possible. He's obviously going to get his points, but we just have to make it as difficult as we can for him. As far as winning the game, I think it starts on the defensive end, last game we played them it was a shootout - I think both teams scored over 90 points. I think if we play defense and execute with poise on the other end then we have a great chance. If I remember correctly, last game it was maybe a 4 or 5 point game so we were right there. It should be a great atmosphere, I hear they have great passionate fans."
Plenty of work ahead for Kibi and his team - on Saturday and in the weeks to come. On a squad filled with veterans the 22-year-old forward is providing solid showings in his first year overseas. Tallying 20.0 points a game he is shining as the team's leading scorer and also pulls down 9.2 rebounds per outing. But at the end of the day, Kibi's strong performances resulted in only two wins so far this season: "You know I am not going to make excuses, we have to look at ourselves in the mirror. We just haven't executed down the stretch in games. Third quarters have been very tough for us this year. It seems that every third quarter we have a mental let down for some reason, but hopefully that will change in the remaining games. I think our youth sometimes shows on defense with rotations and all that but those are things that we can work on. However, the heart and effort is always there which is a good sign for the remaining 8 games. It's been very frustrating at times, it's hard to work so hard everyday at practice and then your hard work doesn't get rewarded in games. Before the Bernau game we went almost two months without winning a game so that can really test you as player and a person. Fortunately, I have a great support system with my mom and dad who have helped keep my morale up and also here on the team also. I can't tell you how important Veterans like Mac Davis Duah and Ionnis Tringas have been for me, they're guys who have been pros for many years and they've really helped me during some of my lowest times so its been great having them to lean on and learn from. Personally, I'm just trying to make this a learning experience in my career and make the best of the situation", Kibi said.
The Canadian spent his university career at Jacksonville College, followed by stints at Arkansas-Little Rock and Abilene Christian. He averaged 8.2 points and 5.7 rebounds for the NCAA D2 school as a senior and jumped on the chance to take his game to Germany: "The fact that I had a difficult Senior season in college didn't help much", he says. "Zoran and the club were one of the few teams to respond and take a chance on me so I was very grateful for that. I think I have proved a lot of coaches wrong with my play, I've been in the top 5 in the league in scoring and rebounding at 20 and 10. I just wish it would of translated into more wins. As far as my impression of Germany, it's been a great eye-opening experience. To be so far away from home alone really helped me grow up a lot as a man and not take anything for granted. My teammates still consider me young at 22 but I feel that four years of college basketball makes up for that. I've won a conference championship (Sun Belt) and played in the NCAA tournament so that brings great experience but nothing compares to being in a foreign country alone. It's a totally different than college, you have to be really strong mentally, have an open mind and humble yourself when you come out here because everything is different, the food, the language, the culture, everything."
Despite the difficulties, Kibi has developed a liking for playing overseas: "Right now now I am focused on making sure our team isn't relegated and winning as many games as possible in these last 8 games. I am not completely sure of the future yet. Of course as a competitor my goal is to keep working hard to move up in leagues and eventually play in one of the top leagues in Europe - that is a huge dream of mine. Every level I have played at I have always been doubted so that's always great motivation for me to stay hungry and keep pushing. I think this season I've proven I can play at this level and be successful, but for right now I am focused on Halstenbek/Pinneberg and when the season is over I'll get together with my agent and evaluate what next season has in store."
Chicago Bulls will probably sign 22-year old German international next season. Paul Zipser (203-94, agency: BeoBasket) who played last year at FC Bayern Muenchen in Germany. Zipser managed to play in three leagues last year. In 40 BBL games he had 7.1ppg, 3.6rpg and 1.4apg. He helped t