The Club Scene: Ratiopharm Ulm

Jan 14, 2013 by Javier Gancedo, Print
The Club Scene: Ratiopharm Ulm
Oettel and Stoll, Ulm refoundersThere is no time like the present for Ratiopharm Ulm, which has gone from the German second division to reaching the Eurocup Last 16 in 12 years. The club became an independent entity in 2001 and has been on its way up ever since, going from German second division contender to BBL regular team to reach bigger heights in the last couple of seasons. Ulm reached the German League finals last season, has survived the Eurocup regular season and regularly fills its new Ratiopharm Ulm with over 6,000 diehard fans ready to enjoy basketball. Andreas Oettel and Thomas Stoll founded the club in 2001 and have managed it all the way. Their efforts are paying off, as basketball is more popular than ever in Ulm, the club is clearly on the rise and the best is yet to come - starting by a challenging, demanding Last 16 group featuring Crvena Zvezda Telekom, Galatasaray Medical park and Unics Kazan, giving their many fans the chance to see their team competing against three European basketball powerhouses.

Re-founded in 2001, the club previously was SSV Ulm 1846's basketball section. SSV Ulm 1846 - officially Swimming and Sports Club Ulm 1846 eV - was founded in 1970, when the two biggest sports clubs in the city merged. Its basketball section started to be successful in the late 1980s. The club reached the German first division in 1988 and it took SSV Ulm just four years to reach the German League playoffs in 1992, earning the right to play in the 1992-93 Korac Cup. It was the first of three Korac Cup appearances in which the club did not managed to reach the group stages with players like Calvin Oldham, Jarvis Walkers, Uwe Sauer, Jens Kujawa or Michael Knorr, among many others. SSV Ulm went one step higher in the 1995-96 season, in which the team made it to the Saporta Cup qualifying rounds, losing against Yugoslavian powerhouse Zrinjevac. The club also lifted its first official trophy, the German Cup, defeating Bayer Leverkusen in the title game with Walker, Kujawa and a young Stephen Arigbabu as its main references.

The German Cup title gave SSV Ulm the chance to play the 1996-97 Saporta Cup group stage. Walker, Kujawa and Knorr got help from Louis Rowe and Gerry Wright to go past the regular season with a 5-5 record. Hapoel Migdal Jerusalem stood on its way in the sixteenth-finals, sweeping the two-way series. By 1997-98, SSV Ulm reached the German Cup Final Four and went all the way to the German League finals, losing against mighty Alba Berlin. In 1998-99, SSV Ulm shined in the Saporta Cup, registering wins against Joventut Badalona or Ventspils to finish second in Group G with a 7-3 record. SSV Ulm beat Ovarense Aerosoles on points differential to reach the eighthfinals, in which the club could not overcome Turkish powerhouse Tofas Bursa. Things went wrong after that, as SSV Ulm folded, victim of its own financial problems, by the end of the 2000-01 season. The club bought out Lichterfelde's license to compete in the German first division in 2000-01, but when the team was 14th overall that season, SSV Ulm closed its basketball section and its license was transferred to a new, independent club that still runs it.

Jeff Gibbs, Ulm staple player (photo Ratiopharm Ulm)Oettel and Stoll founded the new club under the name Basketball Ulm / Alb-Donau GmbH on August 17, 2001 - and are still managing it with great success. Stoll is its sports director and Oettel is responsible for finances. Ratiopharm became its new sponsor from the very beginning and the team started to compete in the German second division. Back in those days, the German second division was divided in two groups and only its two champions would promote to the BBL. Ulm had really solid seasons but could not achieve its goal for a while, ranking third in 2003 and second in 2004 and 2005. By that time, Ulm signed Jeff Gibbs, nicknamed "Mr. Incredible", who would take the team to another level. Gibbs, an undersized power forward (1.88m) was a dominant force in the paint who averaged 16.3 points and 12 rebounds to make Ulm win the German second division's South group and promote to the BBL. Gibbs stayed in Ulm for three more seasons, becoming the BBL's best rebounder in each one of them. He got help from Austen Rowland and Jonathan Leavy to make Ulm rank 10th overall at the end of the 2006-07 season.

Ulm stayed solid in 2008-09, ranking 13th overall with a 16-18 record. By 2008-09 and always with Gibbs running the show under the baskets, Ulm managed to reach the German League playoffs. Romeo Travis, Dru Joyce and Sean Finn arrived to the team that season and helped Ulm to rank fifth at the end of the regular season with a superb 21-13 record. Its lack of experience was key in the German League playoffs, as Telekom Baskets Bonn swept Ulm in the best-of-five quarterfinals. That season, the club started to build its own Ratiopharm Arena, which was unveiled in 2011, with a capacity of 6,100 for basketball games. Before that, in 2010, Ulm was the only German club to bring two players - Per Guenther and Robin Benzing - to the national team at the World Championships. John Bryant joined the team in 2009-10 and two years later, in 2011-12, Ulm was ready to rewrite its own history.

With Isaiah Swann at point guard and a core of players that still remain on the team such as Guenther, Keaton Nankivil, Dane Watts or Steven Esterkamp, Ulm went beyond all limits, ranking second at the end of the regular season with a great 27-7 record. Far from being done, Ulm swept New Yorker Phantoms Braunschweig in the quarterfinals and s.Oliver Baskets Wuerzburg in the semifinals to storm into the title series. Brose Baskets stood on its way to the title but Ulm earned the right to return to European club competitions for the first time in more than a decade, joining the 2012-13 Eurocup. By reaching the Last 16, Ulm has added a new, unprecedented achievement. The club is on the fire and the good work that Oettel and Stoll did since 2001 is beautifully paying off. The sky seems to be the limit for this young, ambitious club.