Ludwigsburg’s Justin Simon determined to spoil more plans

2022-03-24T11:28:40+00:00 2022-03-24T11:28:40+00:00.

Giannis Askounis

24/Mar/22 11:28

Two years without MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg in the Basketball Champions League was way too long

By Johnny Askounis/

After a two-year hiatus, MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg confidently marched back to the Basketball Champions League picking up where it left off. And is not yet done.

Facing Lenovo Tenerife, Dinamo Banco di Sardegna Sassari and Prometey in the Regular Season, advancing was initially considered a demanding challenge. Ludwigsburg not only survived but topped Group A clinching a direct berth to the Round of 16 and skipping the Play-In Round. Next up, Hapoel U-NET Holon, JDA Dijon, and Galatasaray Nef following attempted but failed to prevent the team from making it all the way to the Quarterfinals.

“It was a huge win. We knew what we had to do coming in here, in order to make the next round,” said Justin Simon after leading his side to the away win versus Galatasaray Nef Wednesday, “I think we just stuck to the gameplan. We played small, we showed a lot of grit this whole series in the group play. It was a big-time win. Guys stepped up with other guys hurt or sick. We just had the next man up mentality. Credit to the coaches for the great game plan. We were out there executing, flying around, and doing whatever it takes to get it done.”

Out of the gates, Dijon firing on all cylinders distanced itself from Holon, while Ludwigsburg was struggling to hold on against the Lions guided by new head coach Andreas Pistiolis. At the end of the day, with Holon rallying to the win and securing the top seed, the German team would finish in second place regardless of its own result in Istanbul’s Sinan Erdem Dome.

Simon, 25, logged a game-high 18 points, pulled down eight rebounds, and logged five steals against Galata. Packing 14.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 2.1 steals, and 1.1 blocks per contest, he has paved the way the entire BCL season along with fellow American import Jonah Radebaugh. Both players were not around during Ludwigsburg’s first three seasons in the Champions League, but head coach John Patrick was well in his lengthy tenure launched in 2013.

Diving in the past and in the inaugural campaign of the European club competition, the team representing a German city merely nearing 100,000 inhabitants fell one point short of the Final Four eliminated by Banvit. One year later, Patrick’s team reached the Final Four but was held to fourth place losing to AS Monaco and UCAM Murcia. In 2018-19, the 3-11 record ended the run in the Regular Season. Two years and a large chunk of the COVID-19 pandemic later with an altered set of players but the goal remains the same.

The Round of 16 saw Ludwigsburg sweep both Dijon and Galata but lost both times versus Holon and settled with the second seed coming out of Group I. Hosting the Israeli outfit a couple of days after the overtime win against Galatasaray did not help last week. A total of seven games between the BCL and Germany’s easyCredit BBL paired with missing players in multiple outings paints the picture of the last two weeks. Six wins in seven games through the stretch demonstrates the depth of the squad, a necessity for extended runs in competitions such as the Champions League.

“I am very proud of my team,” noted American play-caller Patrick, “It has been a difficult schedule the last few weeks. We had sicknesses COVID cases and injuries. As a coach, you are never fully satisfied. But I have to say the energy and the willingness to compete were great. I think my players deserved to go the final eight.”

Success leads into Friday’s Quarterfinals draw. Among the second seeds, Ludwigsburg will match up with Baxi Manresa or U-BT Cluj Napoca, or renew the rivalry with Tenerife. Whatever the case, the opponent will have the home-court advantage in the best-of-three series. Another big ask but playing in Bilbao’s Final Four is the next possible step for Simon and his teammates.

“I like to think that our destiny is in our hands,” mentioned the St. John’s product, “We have to come out and play hard and continue to play with that chip on the shoulder. We know we are one of the smallest teams in this competition. But that grit, we hang our hat in defense, I feel like we are a very tough team to play against. When we are locked in, dialed in on our assignments, and guys are flying around and playing hard, I think we give ourselves a great chance every night.”

Photo Credit: Basketball Champions League