Bg Goettingen head coach Johan Roijakkers became steadily a household name in Germany by taking one step at a time, after his career as a player came to an end while playing for teams in his home country and Belgium. The Netherlands native started his journey as a coach by working with youngsters in the- then- Belgian league powerhouse, Bree B.B.C..
At the age of 23, he became the interim head coach in Bree’s men basketball department, before returning to the assistant role the next season(2005). Roijakkers’s coaching experience in the young departments of the Netherlands and the Belgium national teams armed him with knowledge about growth and learning in the game.
Roijakkers was ready to make his next leap in his career in 2012, after working for one season in the G-League being a member of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers staff in 2011. The next season, he returned to Europe and led BC Prievidza to its first title in 17 years (2011). Roijakkers’ success in Slovakia gave him the chance to become the head coach of German Budesliga side BG Goettingen.
The promising head coach is one of those rare cases in Europe being the “man behind the sidelines” for 8 consecutive seasons in the German club. Goettingen is a “university city” in the lower Saxony with the city’s men and women teams having a constant presence in the first tier leagues in the last 15 years. The men’s basketball team has competed in the German league for 11 of the last 13 years. The team was in the playoff race this year, before the season was put suddenly on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Roijakkers helped BG Goettingen achieve pretty impressive results with the team enjoying success against some prolific opponents having also the 9th best record in Budesliga. In particular, Goettingen prevailed against EuroLeague sides ALBA Berlin and Bayern Munich in its home ground , while maintaining an impressive record at home with just one loss.
Roijakkers talked to Talkbasket.net about BG Goettingen’s culture, the NBA G-League, the way German League was able to establish its presence in the European basketball and how head coaches and players are dealing with an unprecedented situation like the coronavirus pandemic.
Q: Being in Gottingen for 8 consecutive seasons, not many head coaches come to mind, that remained for so long in a team. How does that benefit you and your team?
“Our consistency off the court makes it easier for players to come to Göttingen, do well and make their next step in their careers. Not only me, but also my coaching staff and medical staff have been working here for many years. In those 8 years in Göttingen we have been able to create a culture on and off the court that helps us to win games. Every day we are trying to get better on the court but also improve the organization off the court. We never stand still here, we are an ongoing process that is trying to improve where ever we can each day. If a player comes back after a summer break, he will notice small things were changed / improved. All with the same goal to perform at our best, which makes us win games.”
Q: What’s the difference from working on a club for one season like you did in Slovakia with BC Prievidza?
“It was not a big difference. Also in Prievidza we tried to win today, but improve for tomorrow and built a program that would win longer than just one year. It was 17 years ago that Prievidza won a championship when we came there in 2012. I was happy to see that after we left, Prievidza was able to continue to build on our success and was able to win more championships and cups in the years after.”
Q:Talk to us about your experience in the NBA G-League. In general, the European style of basketball was always pretty different from basketball in the States. What are the differences between those two “worlds” right now in your opinion?
“The G league and Europe are a complete different animal. The space on the floor, the rules and the athletism of the players makes the G league way more open than the game in Europe. For me it was a great experience where I still benefit from each day. I was able to learn a lot from advanced stats and how to use them for your team. Also learning a different style of basketball makes you a lot more complete as a basketball coach.”
Q: The German Budesliga is on the way of becoming one of the best leagues in Europe with multiple teams in international competitions. How these achievements came to life the last 7-8 seasons?
“The German league did a great job of forcing teams to invest not only in players but also for example in office personnel, youth coaches and to a practice facility where you have access to for 24 hours. With all these license requirements that Bundesliga teams need to fulfill, it generally pushes the basketball to a higher level. Obviously German teams always paying their players on time, makes it an interesting league for players to play in.”
Q: You get to play against some great and really talented players like Greg Monroe. In what way these kind of players benefit the league and the European basketball in general?
“Monroe is obviously a big name and draws right away a lot media attention which any league can benefit from. But also as a basketball coach he makes you better, since he is such a dominate threat inside but with great court vision and passing abilities. With him out there, you will need something extra on defense to stop him.”
Q: Is it easier to contain post players in this era of basketball, in which the three point play dominates the game?
“I don’t know if it makes it easier to contain post player these days. In Göttingen we are trying to focus on stopping what ever makes the opponent win. Sometimes this is 3pt shooting, sometimes this is stopping teams in their inside game.”
Q: Your team is shooting 29.2 attempts per game getting the third most attempts in Budesliga. Is it almost obligatory in this era to shoot a lot of threes in order to remain relevant with the game and ensure that the team will play the “right type” of basketball?
“We are trying to take mostly 3s, lay-ups and FTs since those shots give us the most PPP. The 3pt shot is obviously a very important weapon these days in basketball. But it is not all about shooting 3s, but about taking the most efficient shots on the court. And that is the lay-up, the 3 and the FT. If we would get all our shots directly at the basket, then we would take those as well. We are trying to stay away from mid-range shots. Further more the 3 and the lay-up is also the best shot on the court to get offensive rebounds on. We believe that creating a lot of catch and shoot open 3s gives us a better chance to win.”
Q: After BG Gottingen returned to the first tier league of the German Basketball in 2015, the team was having one of the most successful runs this season. How important is for you and the team to be in the playoff conversation this year?
“It was very important for us to be in the play off hunt. Last year we did not have a good season, so it was important for our fans and sponsors to have some success again. Göttingen is a city with a big basketball transition and always has had great fan support. Our fans deserved the success this year more than anybody.”
Q: The season violently put on hold due to the coronavirus outbreak. Can you tell us how Budesliga came to that decision and how did you experienced it?
“Obviously we were not able to play and practice anymore since the government shut everything down. At the moment we are waiting to see what the league will decide on the 27th of April. There will be the chance to play the rest of the season with a short play off format without crowd or to end the season at this point. I think it will be good for everybody if next week there will be a decision, no matter what the decision will be.”
Q: How do you deal with a situation like this as a head coach of a team?
“I think it gives you time to work on stuff you never have real time for during the season and in the off season. For us as coaches this can be a good time to work on our game in the video room.”
Q: Is it really possible to be prepared for a return, let’s say in summer, and continue play from where the season stopped?
“Obviously the sportive aspect will be gone. Teams won’t be the same anymore since some players already returned home and won’t come back anymore. If we start playing again all teams will need many weeks to get full fit again, otherwise the risk of the players getting injured will be too big.”