Ludwigsburg guard Herzog knows defense will keep him on the court
To encourage the development of more young local talents, the Basketball Champions League requires its teams to register at least 5 Home Grown Players on the game score sheet (if 11 or more players listed, otherwise 4 if the roster has 10 or fewer players). Many of these players are considered top level talents in their respective countries and I will be taking a look at some of them over the course of the season.
LUDWIGSBURG (Germany) - MHP RIESEN Ludwigsburg head coach John Patrick has built up a reputation of being a hard coach for whom to play. The team's youngster Lukas Herzog knows how to make things easier … play tough defense and most everything will be okay. And it has worked for him thus far.
Herzog only celebrated his 20th birthday last month but the 6ft 2in (1.88m) guard is playing his second full season in Ludwigsburg's pro team. And the biggest reason is because his calling cards are bringing energy off the bench and playing tough D.
"Coach John Patrick wants us to play defense, and defense is key for our game. That's why I am trying to play hard and give a lot of energy to the team. I fight hard on defense - I just have the right mindset," Herzog said.
"It's true that it's hard to play for him, but if you have the right mindset and play defense you will get your minutes. If you make the right decisions on offense and defense you will be fine."
The coach wanting one to play defense is one thing, but actually getting around screens and trying to stay in front of the opposing guard is another thing. When asked where that reputed passion for playing defense comes from, Herzog answered: "I think it just comes from my heart and just giving everything."
Tough lessons day in, day out at practice
One of the reasons that Coach Patrick is not afraid to throw Herzog into the fire during the game is because he has watched him being schooled every day at practice against guys who are just as tough as those who Herzog will face in the game - or tougher. Some of the guards Ludwigsburg have had over the past three seasons included: Jaleen Smith, Desi Rodriguez, Jordan Hulls, Nick Weiler-Babb, Khadeen Carrington, Marcos Knight, Jordon Crawford and Lamont Jones.
"That was good for me. I was practicing with the pros a lot of evenings, so that got me better trying to guard those guys. It was good to compete against them every day and they helped me get better," he said.
Marcos Knight was not an easy defending assignment for anyone
Trying to defend one teammate really stood out for Herzog, that being Knight: "He was so strong for his size. It was really tough to guard him."
While all of those guards have given him great lessons, Herzog has probably learned the most from veteran teammate Tremmell Darden, who will turn 40 in December.
"It's unbelievable that he will be turning 40. He teaches me a lot. I remember when he came last year and he was talking to me from the first day. He's a role model for a lot of our guys because he's played everywhere in the world," Herzog said. "He teaches me when I do stuff wrong or gives me advice every day - on and off the court. I learn from him that not only practice is important but also regeneration. He comes one hour before practice every day and is there an hour after practice every day. He also shows us that you have to take care of your body."
Playing with twin brother growing up - watching Dirk
Herzog was born in Stuttgart, in southwest Germany, a country where any sport dwarfs football. And of course he too kicked around the ball with his twin brother Manuel. They started playing basketball at around 10 years old, and when you consider that he was born in 2001 and fast forward a decade, it's not hard to see what was a major factor why the Herzog twins were drawn to basketball. Dirk Nowitzki won the NBA title with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011.
"That was the point when I really wanted to play basketball," Herzog said. "I knew of basketball, but I had not watched it or played it before. When he won the championship that was the changing point for me."
The Herzogs played basketball and football until about 13 years old when a decision had to be made because both sports had practice at the same time on the same day.
"Basketball was more fun. I was playing on the street every day in front of my house - I had my own rim in front of the house and playing with my brother every day one on one," he said. "I was pretty good at basketball when I made the decision so that made it easier."
Pretty good, but not as good as Manuel.
"He was better when we started playing basketball. That was good for me because we fought pretty hard every day one on one. Sometimes we even got into fights. It was good playing against him and that made me better every day."
Lukas and Manuel would also regularly join up with friends and make the trip from Stuttgart to Ludwigsburg - about 15 kilometers away - to watch Ludwigsburg play in the German top league.
"We were always watching the Ludwigsburg games. Lucca Staiger was there, he was a little of a role model," he said.
German league and BCL debuts at 16 years
Herzog would join Ludwigsburg in 2015 - at 14 years - to take the next step. His brother would come shortly thereafter but Lukas had already gotten better. His second season he was already playing in the U19 NBBL league despite playing the whole 2016-17 season at 15. Herzog also played at the Adidas Next Generation Tournament in 2017, and in the summer he played for Germany at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2017 and averaged 5.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.0 steals.
Lukas Herzog at FIBA U16 European Championship 2017
Herzog started getting some practices with Ludwigsburg's pro team the following season, and for the home game against Tübingen, he got into the final 23 seconds of play. Two days later, Herzog played 1:12 minutes against Alba Berlin.
And then on February, 6, 2018, Herzog made his first appearance in the Basketball Champions League, entering the game to start the fourth quarter at home against Capo d'Orlando in the final game of the Regular Season.
"It's an honor to play professional basketball and compete. I was kind of nervous when I came in. It was my first real game. I was nervous at the beginning, but when you are on the court you forget everything else and just play," said Herzog, who had 0 points and 1 turnover in 4 minutes.
Herzog missed a three-pointer on his first possession and then committed two fouls and a turnover before being subbed out.
"Maybe I wanted things too much. But sometimes it happens. You can't have a good game every game," said Herzog, who re-entered the game later in the final quarter.
Breakout after first lockdown
Herzog ended up playing four BCL games the 2018-19 season, collecting 2 points, 2 rebounds and 1 assist in 19 minutes. He did not play in the German league that season. Lining up mainly in the U19 NBBL league, he played only 2:42 minutes in Germany's top flight during the 2019-20 season - at least until the league was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It was pretty bed for all of us," Herzog remembered. "Everybody in Germany had to satay home. I was living at my girlfriend's house during the first lockdown. I was jogging every day with her brother (football player Luka Mack). He had a fitness program from VfB Stuttgart to run every day. I was doing that with him and staying in shape. And that was good for me."
The restrictions eventually eased slightly in Germany and Herzog was able to get into a gym.
"I was also with working with (assistant) coach (David) McCray off the court too - in the weight room. That was good for me. And at the end of the first lockdown I was with Coach Patrick and his sons working out with them too," he said.
The work paid off as Herzog was ready for when the season re-started with the season-ending tournament in a bubble in Munich. He scored in all three of Ludwigsburg's group games with 5 points,1 rebound, 1 assist and 2 steals in 27:03 combined minutes.
Herzog only had one missed three-pointer in 5:36 minutes of Ludwigsburg's two Quarter-Finals showdowns with FC Bayern Munich. In the Semi-Finals, he scored 2 points in both games against ratiopharm ulm with 1 steal in 7:44 minutes.
Then came the breakout - in the Finals against Alba Berlin. In nearly 11 minutes of the first game, Herzog drained two three-pointers and both of his free throws for eight points and 1 rebound. In Game 2 with Ludwigsburg needing to make up a 21-point loss from the first contest, Herzog was allowed to play more than 22 minutes and he came up with 8 points again to go with 3 rebounds.
"I would say that was a good experience for me, playing against a good team like Alba. I just came in and played well. And Coach Patrick gave me a lot of minutes," he said. "I just tried to give my best on the court and it worked well. That was kind of a changing point for me too."
Herzog was regularly called on during the 2020-21 season, playing a total of 41 games in the league and playoffs and averaging 3.5 points, 1.2 rebounds, 0.7 assists and 0.4 steals in more than 14 minutes per game.
Herzog had a night to remember on January 30, 2021 at home against Giessen 46ers. He had totalled 32 points in his first 13 games of the season but then he broke out with 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting including 3-of-5 three-pointers. Herzog added 2 rebounds and 1 assist in 17 minutes. The highlight was two three-pointers in the closing minutes to decide the game for good.
"I was really happy with that performance. I just tried to play hard and just take the open shots and they went in. It was also good for my confidence. I had been struggling the weeks before and I had a good game after that too," said Herzog, who picked up 11 points, 4 rebounds, a career-high 4 assists and 1 steal less than two weeks later against Rasta Vechta.
Despite a new group of leaders on the team this season, Herzog has kept his role as a tough defender and shooter. He is averaging 13 minutes a game in the German league, and he picked up 3 points and 1 rebound in 6 minutes of Ludwigsburg's Basketball Champions League opening win over Banco di Sardegna Sassari.
"I'm really excited to be playing in the BCL again. The whole team is," he said. "We didn't play in the Basketball Champions League the last three years, so it’s fun again."
Even if that means going at it hard on defense - just like Coach Patrick demands.