20 September, 2018
01 May, 2019
24 Mike Morrison (WURZ)
Long Read
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The Frankfurt connection: Morrison and Richter looking for second FIBA Europe Cup title in Wurzburg

WURZBURG (Germany) - There are three players in the FIBA Europe Cup who know better than anyone else what it feels like to lift the trophy, having gone all the way in the competition in one of its past three editions.

The s.Oliver Wurzburg tag team of Mike Morrison and Johannes Richter and Ironi Ness Ziona big man Talib Zanna are all going for their second titles in the Play-Offs this season.

Having been teammates when Fraport Skyliners triumphed in the inaugural season of the competition, Morrison and Richter have rekindled their championship-winning Frankfurt connection in the nearby city of Wurzburg.

"It was an amazing season - we had a great group of guys," Richter spoke of the 2015-16 campaign with Frankfurt. "It was a very talented group, but also very good characters on the team. We all got along really well and had nice chemistry."

With only a single defeat to their name, the 18-1 mark set by the Skyliners remains unbeaten in the FIBA Europe Cup and so does their unmatched 15-game winning streak.

"It's the only championship that I have at this point, so I remember everything pretty vividly. I remember us going to the EuroChallenge Final Four the year before and us showing up and playing terribly. That motivated us to come back the next year. We really ran through everybody, losing just one game. And we shouldn't have lost that game too. We were really focused and got the job done in the Final Four," Morrison went down memory lane. 

"We're in it to win it. We're not just trying to advance and see how far we may be able to go."

Having topped Enisey Krasnoyarsk in the Semi-Finals, the Skyliners claimed the FIBA Europe Cup throne after getting the better of Pallacanestro Varese in the Final and defeating the Italian side 66-62 in a thrilling come-from-behind win in Chalon-sur-Saone.

"Given what happened in Trabzon the year before, we were very hungry to go to Chalon and win the cup. They were both very close games and we were so happy to figure it out as a team and get the trophy," Richter remembered having to erase a 12-point deficit on the road to the title.

After being in the back seat for more than 30 minutes, Frankfurt outscored their opponents 28-15 in the final quarter to steal a late win as well as the backing of the local French crowd.

"What stands out to me was how tough we were. It was a situation where we couldn't hit anything, missing layups. We could run the play perfectly, get a great look and couldn't get anything," Morrison recalled the title clash with Varese. 

"At that point, we mentally said to ourselves that we've come too far for this, just really locked in during the fourth quarter and made the run. I also remember the Chalon fans showing up and cheering with our fans. That was pretty awesome."

If it hadn't been for the Frankfurt connection, Morrison might not have got the chance to join forces again with Richter in Wurzburg. Having started the season in Lithuania, he parted ways with Lietkabelis in November and was immediately approached by former Skyliners ProB coach Eric Detlev, who joined the Wurzburg organization in 2018.

"He got word I was free and they wanted to bring in another big. Everybody thought it'd be a good fit," Morrison explained how his move to Germany came about. "The funny thing is, within the same 10 minutes Johannes [Richter] hit me up too. I was talking to him and he didn't even know the coach contacted me. It was a crazy coincidence that ended up working out."

"Maybe I was part of the final decision, I don't know," Richter also laughed about the situation.

After a slow start of the season, things started to click for s.Oliver Wurzburg once Morrison got to town. Having registered a combined 6-9 record in all competitions before his arrival, the team has been 16-5 since.

Having had his temporary deal extended in February, Morrison has found a sizable role for himself in Denis Wucherer's rotation, averaging 9.7 points and 3.2 rebounds per game in the FIBA Europe Cup and 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds in the German Bundesliga.

"Mike is an emotional leader for us. I think we lacked this type of person in the first part of the season. He brings us energy, emotion that we need not only on the court, but also off the court. That's pretty big for us," Richter highlighted what his old-new teammate brought to the table.

"It's good being back on the same team," Morrison acknowledged. "Me and Johannes, we're actually pretty tight. You have your teammates that you played with and you don't really talk to anymore. He's actually someone I've kept in contact with over the years. We're pretty good friends, so it's been a good time."

"I have played in many teams now and I think the group in Frankfurt was really special because of how we got along on and off the court and it's the same here."- RICHTER

And with a pair of pieces from Frankfurt's FIBA Europe Cup-winning team back together in Wurzburg, it's only natural for parallels to be drawn between the two situations.

"I have played in many teams now and I think the group in Frankfurt was really special because of how we got along on and off the court and it's the same here. Obviously, it's not like Frankfurt because we had played together for years. It's a new season and a new team for Wurzburg. It's our first season together but we have the same characters like in Frankfurt and that's good," Richter compared the championship-winning blueprint to the current situation.

Perhaps not as dominant as Frankfurt back in the day, s.Oliver Wurzburg have still been among the best teams in the FIBA Europe Cup this year. Having won their Regular Season group, the Germans were the only perfect team in the Second Round and were not afraid to make their ambitions known for the Play-Offs.

"We're in it to win it. We're not just trying to advance and see how far we may be able to go. We feel like we can win, but at the same time we're just going one game at a time. We're really focused on the now and not the later and just keep trying to be better and hopefully at the end we'll end up with the championship," Morrison shared his mindset.

For Richter, who went on to reach the FIBA Europe Cup Semi-Finals with Telekom Baskets Bonn in 2016-17 as well, getting that second title is also something that is definitely on his mind.

"If you come to the Play-Offs, it's do-or-die and we obviously want to win the trophy, but you have to look how things are going, play one game at a time," he offered. "It would be a very big thing for me. I was already twice in the Semi-Finals with Frankfurt and also with Telekom Baskets Bonn, when we lost to Nanterre. So this will be my second chance to win the second title and I want to make sure we get it this year."