MHP RIESEN evolve during riveting first Basketball Champions League season
LUDWIGSBURG (Basketball Champions League) - There's been no shortage of electrifying, eye-popping plays in this, the inaugural season of the Basketball Champions League.
The games have been gripping, intoxicating. Every week, action-packed encounters have left the fans wanting more.
So which play ranks number one? For the good people of Ludwigsburg, Germany, it's safe to say Tekele Cotton's nothing-but-nylon fadeaway 3-pointer at the buzzer that lifted MHP RIESEN to an 80-79 victory at Dinamo Sassari back on 22 November was the best of all.
It was the stuff of legend.
Cotton still gets chills when he's asked about that game.
"That was a huge moment in my career," he said to the Basketball Champions League website.
"I haven't hit too many shots like that. I don't even know about how many buzzer-beaters like that I've hit in my career, maybe one in high school, but that was a huge shot. It was a humbling experience for me and it's one that I'll always remember. It's something I'll cherish, and we won the game. That's what I'm most happy about."
John Patrick, the MHP RIESEN Head Coach, smiles when asked about the shot.
"We'd lost a couple of games at the buzzer," he said. "We've won a couple of games down at the buzzer. That was a lot of fun.
"Tekele is a great guy who defines himself through his defense and we really enjoyed it, the win in Sassari. They came back and beat us (78-75) here (17 January) in a little bit similar fashion, beat us in a close game at the end of the group stage.
"But I was especially happy for Tekele because he gives 110 percent on defense and doesn't really care how much he scores so for him to hit that big shot and have the whole team jump on him, it was really nice to see."
Patrick and MHP RIESEN have been a star attraction in the league
The basket didn't win MHP RIESEN the league but rather improved their record to four wins and two losses. It didn't eliminate Sassari from title contention, either, though it did add to what was shaping up to be an extremely difficult Regular Season for the Sardinian side.
What Cotton's shot did more than anything else was serve notice that there are great, spellbinding games with plenty of drama in this new competition.
It was a defining moment. Cotton's shot was effectively an advertisement that shouted: "The Basketball Champions League is where amazing things happen!"
Heading into their Quarter-Final showdown with Banvit, MHP RIESEN can easily say they have had a storybook campaign. They began the season with two losses by a combined three points but instead of allowing it to derail them, the players used the disappointments to make them stronger.
"We used the losses as motivation," Patrick said. "We were an inexperienced team at that point and I think these tough losses taught us a lot about how to finish games and about what not to do.
"At the end of games, if we had been a little bit more clever at the end, we could have finished higher in our tough group."
MHP RIESEN knew at the time they needed a few more bodies, too.
"We made some important personnel decisions to get Cliff Hammonds, Drew Crawford and Rocky Trice," Patrick said, "and that improved our performance quite a bit."
Patrick says it was a blessing in disguise to take on so many tough teams in the Regular Season.
"I think so," he said. "We play in a tough league, anyway. The German league is super tough from top to bottom and we played in a group that was tough from top to bottom.
"Our fans also caught on very quick to the level of the Champions League and understood pretty quickly what an elite competition it is." - Patrick
"It fits our philosophy of 40 minutes of hell, remain concentrated and treat every game like it's your biggest because if you didn't in your group, you were going to get beat. The bottom teams did knock off the top teams sometimes. We're an energy team and if you don't bring the energy in a tough group like that, you're going to lose."
MHP RIESEN's appearance in the Quarter-Finals is perhaps owed to one thing more than anything else.
"For sure, it's our defense, our full-court defense," Patrick said. "We feel like we press as well as any team in Europe, if not the best in Europe. We're proud of it and I think we get a lot out of our press."
Patrick says it's a "40 minutes of Hell" approach for MHP RIESEN
While MHP RIESEN will have to beat an excellent Banvit team to reach the Final Four, they can already say the Basketball Champions League experience has been worth living.
"We went into it wide-eyed, without really any assumptions and we were excited about the idea of playing in the Champions League in the initial season," Patrick said. "It's certainly exceeded any experience we've had before, to be in an initial group with Sassari, Besiktas, AEK, Partizan, Zielona Gora.
"This was a tremendous group...the enthusiasm of the home fans, regardless if it was Szolnok, Partizan or Besiktas, was tremendous.
"Our fans also caught on very quick to the level of the Champions League and understood pretty quickly what an elite competition it is so, it's been kind of a movement, understanding that this thing is for real and then that we can have some success has been motivating for everybody."
The players have liked the promotion of the league, and the fact that the games are on TV or live-streamed.
"I've enjoyed this Champions League a lot so far," Cotton said. "They're on top of everything. I feel like for the first year, there are a lot of great teams in it, a lot of great competition in it.
"There have not been any games that we've been able to take lightly and the way that they broadcast their league and the way they do their (social) media is phenomenal. I'm glad to have been a part of it."
Cotton says he often looks at the basketballcl.com.
"It's very entertaining to keep up with all the teams and not just us, to see who wins, to see who comes out on top, all the spectacular plays, it's just fun to watch," he said.
Patrick says that after contests, the players immediately hear from family that have watched from afar.
"It's motivating that we get feedback immediately after the games, whether it's from a girlfriend, a mother or father, a grandmother or a grandfather, it definitely adds to some excitement to the game," he said.