At Orange Campus, Ulm sharpens focus on youth

Oct 09, 2020 by David Hein, Print
At Orange Campus, Ulm sharpens focus on youth

Take a club that it is serious about developing young players and giving them a chance to play in the 7DAYS EuroCup, then cross it with a state-of-the-art training facility, and you get ratiopharm Ulm and its new Orange Campus.

Having long recognized that it cannot compete budget-wise with the likes FC Bayern Munich and ALBA Berlin, Ulm has made player development its cornerstone, according to sports director Thorsten Leibenath.

"Yes, we want our pro team to be as successful as possible. We were close to winning the [German League] title a couple of times, and we wouldn't mind doing so. But there is a bigger goal in our DNA, and that is player development," said Leibenath, who was Ulm's head coach from 2011 to 2019.

The newly-opened Orange Campus will play a huge role in taking that development to the next level.

"We had true substance behind that goal already just by the way we work, but now we also have the infrastructure to really show that we mean what we say," Leibenath added.

The Orange Campus includes five floors of office space and a training facility featuring three courts, the so-called Athletic Lab to analyze youngsters' athletic traits in order to reduce injury risk, shooting machines, a 160-meter running track and cameras for all the courts as well as a digital integrated system to better analzye practices.

The main court seats 500 spectators and the club can play games in the German third division. But the stands can also be pulled back and there are three more single courts, providing plenty of space for individual workouts. The whole facility sprawls out over 18,000 square meters and cost €23 million to build in 20 months after four years of planning.

Ulm's leaders reviewed a number of different facilities in various countries and sports when planning the Orange Campus. They looked at NBA training centers for the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers, a number of private player development companies in the United States, as well as other examples in Europe, including Treviso, Italy, which set standards in the sport more than two decades ago, as well as the Red Bull soccer facilities in Leipzig and Salzburg.

"We are trying to be creative, we're trying to be innovative and we're trying to come up with new ideas," said Leibenath, who guided Ulm to the German League finals in 2012 and 2016 and past the EuroCup regular season in five of his six seasons in the competition.

Ulm received major international attention last season when they managed to attract young French superstar Killian Hayes to the club. Leibenath's successor as head coach is former EuroLeague champion Jaka Lakovic and the Ulm masterminds decided to name the 18-year-old Hayes the starting point guard - something which raised many eyebrows.

"It's one thing to implement a young player at the three spot or two spot or four, but it's a different story if you do it at the point guard position," Leibenath said. "I think it proved that we mean it, that we are really serious about player development, and we are not shying away from bigger risks."

Just the same, no one should have been surprised to see a youngster playing for Ulm in the EuroCup. It's become commonplace for the club over the past half decade. In 2015-16, four German players 22 years or younger played in the EuroCup for Ulm, earning 180 minutes over 16 games. Those numbers jumped to six players and 246 minutes in 14 games in 2016-17 and increased yet again in 2017-18 with seven players and 291 minutes, despite Ulm playing only 10 games. In 2018-19, five players 22 years or younger played 303 minutes in 16 games. Last season, Hayes played 267 minutes alone in Ulm's 10 games but there were still three German youngsters who got into 129 minutes.

One of the main players developed by Ulm was David Kraemer, who appeared in 35 EuroCup games from 2015 to 2019, with his 35th game coming just a couple weeks after his 22nd birthday. Christoph Philipps just turned 22 on September 15 and he has already played in 17 EuroCup games. He has collected 11 points, 6 rebounds and 2 steals in 46 minutes in Ulm's first two games this season.

"Philipps is a regular German League player now. He earned his roster spot with his performance the last two years," said Leibenath.

The Ulm sports director also expects the 21-year-old Nicolas Bretzel to play a bigger role this season after coming back from a major injury. The center did, after all, pick up 10 points and 5 rebounds at age 19 in a Top 16 EuroCup game against LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne and Alexis Ajinca in February of 2019. All told, Ulm's current EuroCup roster includes eight players 22 years or younger.

"All those players are really interesting talents. At the younger age groups, there will also be interesting players for the future," he said.

And with the help of the Orange Campus, Leibenath hopes more talents will come, both from Germany and outside the country. All the credit, he said, goes to the club's owners and their tireless work to make the project happen.

"I think now we have an excellent infrastructure and we can build on that to achieve our ambitious goals, especially when it comes to player development," he said.