Can The Fraport Skyliners Put A Little Dent Into The 2011-2012 ratiopharm Ulm Fairytale On Sunday?
Sometimes basketball fairy tales come to an abrupt end just like a Derrick Rose floater lay up attempt that is swatted away by Dwight Howard into Lake Michigan or former German president Christian Wulf waking up again in Niedersachsen instead of every morning in Schloss Bellevue and anotehr very sympathetic basketball figure Mike Taylor had to experience his fairytale ending last spring having to hand over the reigns shortly before the season ended. Taylor had arrived in Ulm in 2003 and built up that basketball program leading their basketball farytale into the Beko BBL in 2006 and reaching one playoff in the 2008-2009 season. He was known as a players coach who had been an importnat part of the rise and development of German national players Robin Benzing and Per Guenther. Now less than a year after his departure, the team hasnt had a slow rebuilding process, but instead have risen instantly starting a new basketball fairytale as Thorsten Leibenath who has always been known as a talented coach has finally made his break through after failing in Giessen and Artland. Ratiopharm Ulm is quietly becoming a team you might want to love after your favorite team and even though this fairytale may not be the equvialent of Linsanity, ratiopharm Ulm fans may not admit it, but Ulmsanity is dancing in their thoughts. After a great game against the Brose Baskets Bamberg at the 2012 Beko BBL cup semi final where they were as close to winning as Ohio State is to reaching the 2012 NCAA final, but losing 99-96 in OT, the ratiopharm Ulm fairytale will continue to carry on into the playoffs and it is as refreshing as seeing an unknown name like Sergio Perez getting second place at the Formula One in Malaysia. “Before the season started no one would have thought that ratiopharm Ulm would be so good. A story like this happens almost every season when a team found the right mix of players. They are playing loose and all accept their roles and know them. Every once in a while some guys need to do more, but each guy knows exactly what they have and are allowed to do. The key position is the point guard position with Per Guenther. He brings exactly what the team needs and so they can play more international players at each position like Bamberg can with Germans like Tibor Pleiss and Karsten Tadda”, expressed Lti Giessen 46er Achmadschah Zazai.
From 2003-2011, the names Mike Taylor and ratiopharm Ulm stuck belonged as tightly together as German beer and lederhosen in Bavaria, Franz Beckenbauer and football club Bayern Munich, Red Auerbach and the Boston Celtics and Paris Hilton and outrageously big sunglasses. The Pennsylvania native Taylor achieved massive success in the Schwabenland leading the club he cherished into the Beko BBL in 2006 and into the playoffs in 2009. In April 2011, came the sudden and unexpected split by management and the gregarious American. It seemed like Mike T as many called him was on the verge of a contract extension, but there came a rift and he was gone quicker than Shaq can eat a Big Mac and is famous slogan GO ULM was history. Taylor not only is classified as an Ulm basketball legend, but will always be remembered for his wide smile that could compete for best smile with ex Giessen 46er Michael Jordan and for being able to develop and secure playing time for young German talents like Robin Benzing, Per Guenther and Sebastian Betz. It was a shame that management didn´t allow Taylor to coach the last home game of the season, but nothing is fair even in the basketball world. “I think Mike was a face for the Ulm team for years and he is a respected coach in the BBL and around the world for basketball. He did a great job while he was there and I think he was important but sometimes the way this profession works sometimes change is needed”, stressed TBB Trier guard John Bynum.
Last season, ratiopharm Ulm finished a less than satisfying season at 14th place with a record of 12-22. They started off the season with a four game losing streak and right away were reeling to get out of the Beko BBL cellar. The team simply wasn´t consistent and really missed having a comfortable 6-7 game winning streak. It also didn´t help matters that they closed out the season losing 10 of their last 12 games. It was no secret that the team was capable of putting up many points putting up 80 or more points 19 times. Many of their box scores read like NBA scores, but Ulm often was simply outshot. They also had problems closing out games losing six times by five or less points. The club was simply unable to get their offense and defense on the same page last season. Differences to last years team are noticeable. “I think they are solid in more positions this season and dont have any let ups when someone comes in the game. They are a deeper team and have more options. As far as style goes I just think they are more patient and get the most out of each possession. They are a better defensive team and they have a lot more structure as well”, added John Bynum.
Ratiopharm Ulm moved out of the beloved tiny Kuhberg halle which was always like hell for opponents, because at times it felt like the fans were sitting in the laps of the players or were a secret sixth man on the court, simply because the fans are so close to the floor. On December 10th the team moved into the new 6,200 arena which seats double as much as the Kuhberg arena and have a9-1 record since, but are pretty tough on the road as well boasting a 11-4 record. As a result, the team budget was doubled to three million euros. With the departure of Taylor came a known face in the beko BBL with Thorsten Leibenath. The German has a lot to prove, because this will be his third team he is running in the Beko BBL and will be best remembered for missing the playoffs two consecutive times with The Artland Dragons that had two deep talented rosters and playoffs written all over, but instead missing the playoffs on the last day each time and sending Dragon fans to the cafes early to talk over their basketball misery over coffee. Leibenath started his head coaching career in reaching the British BBL final in 2007 after being assistant coach in Giessen for many years. He now started a new coaching gig in Ulm and has showed that he has matured as a coach keeping ratiopharm Ulm very consistent and behind the Brose Baskets Bamberg at times this season with Alba Berlin wondering if they are seated in a very unentertaining movie without salted popcorn. Ratiopharm Ulm did a massive summer cleaning keeping only Americans John Bryant, Rocky Trice and Tommy Mason Griffin and Germans Per Guether and Sebastian Betz. Guys like Robin Benzing, Coleman Collins, Lee Humphrey, Sean Sonderleiter and Travis Walton all departed.
The team brought in a healthy core of Americans with double double candidate Dane Watts, scorer Isiah Swann, Beko BBL veteran Steven Esterkamp that gets another chance after sitting out a year and playing in the PRO A with Essen last season and Skyliner Jon Leuer teammate at Wisconsin Keaton Nankivil. On paper the club looks like a playoff team, but ratiopharm Ulm manager Thomas Stoll is careful not to get too excited. “The league is stronger this year. Of course the fans can dream of the playoffs, but we just want to finish better than 14th place last season”, stressed Thomas Stoll. “We want to win more games than we lose. Maybe we can be near the playoffs”, added ratiopharm Ulm head coach Thorsten Leibenath at the start of the season. The Ulm fans were dreaming of the playoffs after the strong 3-1 start. The club started the season with an impressive win in Bayreuth possibly the loudest arena in the league, then came home and beat playoff candidate Artland Dragons, then lost by a slim margin of 64-59 showing that they already have understood how to play strong defense early in the season against the leagues best Bamberg and then beat the always tough defensive minded TBB Trier on the road getting a monster game from John Bryant with 27 points, 16 rebounds and five assists. Instead of suffering a tail spin the team has been strong all season having winning streaks of seven, six and five games. “They are a solid team with some great players at each position. They will be a team in my opinion that will be in the playoffs if they continue to get better and work together as a team. I wouldnt call them a sleeper anymore but I am sure no one expected a lot from them this season. I do think they can make a push for the playoffs and I think they have great guard play and solid back ups at each position. They have guys who can shoot the ball and a great inside game with Bryant in the middle. As far as weaknesses the only thing I see would be what would happen if Bryant or Watts both got into foul trouble at the same time”, warned John Bynum. The secret to the success has been a combination of coach Leibentah who found the right mix to follow his system and a group of nonselfish players that play for each other and always want to win. Before the season, Leibenath was humble suggesting he wanted to win more games than he lost. Now a month before the playoffs, he has won four times more than lost. The team is coming off a bitter third place at the 2012 Beko BBL cup where they had Bamberg on th ropes, but lost a bitter 99-96 game in OT. They will be motivated to finish the season strong and get revenge in the playoffs.
Since ratiopharm Ulm entered the Beko BBL in 2006, the Frankfurt Skyliners have a 6-5 record against them. They won in overtime 87-83 in 2007 with Murat Didin. The Eric Chadfield buzzer beater will for some reason always be stuck in the minds of people, which had an eerie similarity to the buzzer beater of Justin Gray against the s.Oliver Baskets Wurzburg this season. The Deutsche Bank Skyliners have a positive 2-1 record in the Ballsporthalle. In 2009-2010, Frankfurt lost 74-69, but got a strong game form ex Skyliner Lorenzo Gordon who scored 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. In the first meeting last season, The Deutsche Bank Skyliners dominated the game and put on a scoring display led by 23 points by Seth Doliboa as the club prevailed 95-82.Frankfurt shot an astronomical 57% from the field and easily won the rebounding fight 34-25. Ratiopharm Ulm did a great job only having seven turnovers. In the return game in Frankfurt last season, Ratiopharm Ulm lost 84-77 as Skyliner American Seth Doliboa had another monster game pouring home 18 points and 15 rebounds. Last season, Frankfurt lost a 87-82 nail bitter in the Kuhberg arena, but returned home to win 74-67 as Dashaun Wood poured in 17 points and 12 assists. In the first meeting of the season, the Fraport Skyliners lost a winnable game 81-75 in the old Kuhberg Halle where Dane Watts made the two big buckets at the end showing NBA player Jon Leuer that guys from Missouri can play basketball. Ratiopharm Ulm had five guys in double figures, shot better and rebounded better. Frankfurt was led by Justin Gray with 14 points. After the spirited 66-60 win in Artland, the Fraport Skyliners seem to be on a mission to get into the 2012 Beko BBL playoffs no matter what. The team is on a 5 day training camp on the Spanish island Mallorca to add some team building and extra togetherness for the stretch run. The team continues to live from their aggressive defense and will need another top performance against ratiopharm Ulm. “Frankfurt has to play there game and keep Bryant out the lane and control the boards and play there tempo. They also have to control Swann and Esterkamp as well. Ulm just has to play their game and go inside out. They have great guard play but they are a great team and I believe they can get a lot out of going inside-out”, warned John Bynum. “The biggest key for Frankfurt will be containing zeek(Isiah Swann). He has the ultimate green light in Ulm and when he gets hot it can be demoralizing to teams and the game can be over as fast as it started. Do that and keep their home crowd into the game and I think they will have a good chance to pull off an upset that is vital for them in making a push to the playoffs”, stressed 2012 Beko BBL cup finalist Tony Gaffney. Fans could see the comeback of Justin Gray who has been out of action since November. The leader of the team who got struck on the knee needed 4 and a half months to recover, but has been practicing with the team since two weeks and looks ready to go on Sunday.
Ratiopharm Ulm is led by Isiah Swann who is a 26 year old guard from Germantown, Maryland and is playing his fourth professional season. He is a athletic, left-handed point guard who is capable of putting up big numbers. He played at Florida State(NCAA) from 2004-2008 reaching the NIT Elite 8 in 2007. In 2008-2009, he started his professional basketball career in Italy for Aget Imola (Italy-Lega2, starting five): 15 games: 13.6ppg, 2.8rpg, 3.1apg, 3.1spg, FGP: 47.7%, 3PT: 42.9%, FT: 71.9%; left in Jan.’09, in Feb.’09 moved to Harem Scafati (Italy-Lega2): 1 game: 4pts, 1reb, 2steals, 1block; in March ’09 signed at Altshuler Saham Galil Gilboa (Israel-Premier League): 13 games: 7.3ppg, 2.4rpg, 1.2apg, FGP: 38.7%, 3PT-3(46.3%), FT: 87.5%. In 2009-2010 he played for Altshuler Saham Galil Gilboa (Israel-Premier League): 27 games: 8.5ppg, 2.3rpg, 1.9apg, 1.3spg, FGP: 41.5%, 3PT: 42.7%, FT: 81.5%. Last season, he played for Rio Grande Valley Vipers (D-League): 3 games: 7.3ppg, 2.0rpg, 1.7apg, in Dec.’10 moved to Maccabi Rishon Le-Zion (Israel-Premier League, starting five): 24 games: 12.7ppg, 3.4rpg, 4.0apg, 1.3spg, FGP: 45.3%, 3PT: 39.1%, FT: 84.1%. Currently he is averaging 20,5ppg, 2,3rpg and 1,8apg. John Bryant is a 24 year old 208cm center that was born in Berkeley, California and grew up in San Pablo. He played at Santa Clara university coming in in 2005 as well known players Doron Perkins and Kyle Bailey had just graduated. He played 124 NCAA games getting WCC Player of the Year in 2009. In his last three years, he was able to average double figures in points. In his senior year, he tore up the NCAA playing 33 games: 18.1ppg, 14.2rpg, 1.1apg, 2.5bpg, FGP: 59.6%, FT: 78.7%. In 2009 he was drafted by the Erie BayHawks (D-League,2rd(31) and played 48 games: 13.2ppg, 9.5rpg, 1.6apg, 1.5bpg, FGP: 49.3%, FT: 77.6%. In the summer 2010, he played NBA Summer League in Las Vegas (Milwaukee Bucks). “He has a great feel for the game. This is his first season and who would of thought that he would play so well? He stays with his strength and takes high percentage shots. He has a very high basketball IQ with scoring and rebounding. I think that he could compete at any level in the world.”, stressed ex teammate Travis Walton. Last season for Ulm he played 34 games: 14.6ppg, Reb-1(10.9rpg), 1.1apg, Blocks-2(1.5bpg), FGP: 60.4%, FT: 74.2%. Currently Bryant is averaging 13,8ppg, 11,3rpg abd 2,0apg.
Steve Esterkamp is a 30 year old 198cm forward from Cincinnati, Ohio that is playing his ninth season in Germany. He is a great shooter and great competitor, has also a very solid mid-range shot, brings a lot of toughness to his team, is a solid rebounder from the wing position, is a excellent free throw shooter throughout his career, plays always extremely hard and to win, not afraid to take the big shots at the end of the game and always finds ways to get the job done. He is probably best remembered for playing with the Paderborn Baskets from 2004-2009 helping the team reach the beko BBL in 2006 winning 50 games in a row in the second Bundesliga. In Paderborn, he was part of the three Muskeeters with Marius Nolte and Tim Black. Esterkamp played a total of 159 games. In 2009, he helped force Alba Berlin to a 5 game playoff series that they eventually lost. He then went to Bremerhaven in 2009, but got hurt and never played a game there. Last season, he got his career back on track playing for ETB Wohnbau Baskets Essen (Germany-ProA, starting five): 13 games: 16.2ppg, 5.2rpg, 2.6apg, FGP: 54.1%, 3PT: 39.6%, FT: 73.2%. Currently he is averaging 12,5ppg, 3,5rpg and 2,3apg. Per Guenther is a 3year old 185cm point guard that was born in Giessen and grew up in Hagen. He has very good speed and can dribble with both his hands he is very good in shooting from the arc and he has very good organizational skills, he watches the court with one glance and can assist his team-mates on a blind method pretending that he will shoot. He has an inborn charisma of a leader from a young age so he leads his team without having any problem. He played for BBV Hagen from 2003-2006 and with Phoenix Hagen from 2006-2008. In his last season in Hagen, he raised eyebrows with his play playing 29 games: 14.5ppg, 1.9rpg, 2.4apg, 2FGP: 55.8%, 3FGP: 35.7%, FT: 80.1%. He has improved his play each season as in 2009-2010 he played 34 games: 6.6ppg, 1.8rpg, 2.5apg, FGP: 48.5%, 3PT: 33.8%, FT: 80.3%. Last season, he became into a real scoring option, but still keeping his playmaking qualities in front of him. He got into three games at the World Championships in Turkey in 2010. Last season the German national player played 34 games: 12.4ppg, 1.2rpg, 3.2apg, FGP: 50.3%, 3PT: 27.9%, FT: 84.2%. Currently Guenther is averaging 8,8ppg, 2,8rpg and 3,0apg.
Dane Watts who is a 25 year old 203 cm who is playing his fourth season in Germany and who is a modern day forward doing the job inside and outside. He played at Creighton from 2004-2008 playing with NBA player Anthony Tolliver. In his senior year, he averaged 11,3ppg, 6,4rpg and 1,0apg. Last season, he quietly had a very solid BBL rookie season in Ludwigsburg averaging in 20 minutes averaging 8.9ppg, 3.8rpg, FGP-1(68.4%), 3PT: 30.8%, FT: 68.7% in 32 games. It wouldn´t be a surprise if most followers of German basketball didn´t even know that he led the BBL in field goal percentage at 68%. in 2008-2009 as a rookie. He is a team player that still has a lot of potential and could become a scoring option in Tuebingen. „“Dane has a lot of potential and has all the qualities that a big player of today needs. He can shoot, is athletic, has good ball handling and defends well“, joked Jay Thomas. In 2009-2010, Watts played 34 games: 10.2ppg, 5.4rpg, 1.5apg, FGP: 57.1%, 3PT: 37.6%, FT: 71.0%. Last season he played 33 games: 13.7ppg, Reb-4(7.6rpg), 1.1apg, 1.2spg, FGP: 57.9%, 3PT: 36.7%, FT: 54.5%; in May’11 moved to Hyeres-Toulon Var Basket (France-ProA): 3 games: 7.0ppg, 6.3rpg, 1.7apg, 1.0spg. Currently he is averaging 8,3ppg, 6,0rpg and 1,0apg. The team brought in Keaton Nakivil who is a 22 year old 203cm forward from Madison Wisconsin. At Wisconsin he played together with Skyliner Jon Leuer and played a total of 107 NCAA games. In his senior year, he played 34 games: 9.7ppg, 4.2rpg, 1.2bpg, FGP: 49.6%, 3PT: 45.7%, FT: 83.8%. He reached the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2008 and 2011. “Keaton “The Anvil” Nankivil is going to play a big role in Ulm’s success this season. He is a rookie but has been picking up on the European game quickly. He is a team player with high basketball IQ and is automatic from 3pt land. He might drop an anvil on somebody’s head in transition this year if they are not careful”, stressed teammate Dane Watts.
26 year old 200cm forward Sebastian Betz is a a young, hardworking wing who provides energy, defensive effort and consistent three point shooting. He started his professional basketball career in 2003 with Bamberg playing there until 2008. In five years, he was only able to play four games never being able to shake the Dirk Bauermann rotation. Mike Taylor scooped him up in 2007 and the German is playing his fifth season in Ulm. His best season so far has been 2008-2009 as he played 36 games: 5.2ppg, 1.5rpg, FGP: 50.0%, 3PT: 35.6%, FT: 54.9%. Last season the German played 34 games: 4.1ppg, 2.8rpg. Currently he is averaging 3,8ppg and 1,3apg. The team brought back 27 year old 191cm forward Rocky Trice from Georgia that is palying his third season in Ulm and could probably make a living touring the world dunking, but is too versatile and valuable to basketball to do that. He was signed shortly before the season started and gives that extra push on defense and on the transition game. He has made a big splash in Germany tearing up the PRO A three years ago with Cuxhaven and two years ago with BG Goettingen leading the team into the playoffs averaging 11.7ppg, 5.4rpg, 1.5apg, Steals-1(2.6spg), FGP: 49.0%, 3PT: 26.7%, FT: 69.6% in 34 games. In 2009-2010 the South Carolina alumnist played 33 games averaing12.8ppg, 6.3rpg, 2.2apg, Steals-1(2.4spg), FGP: 49.0%, 3PT: 28.4%, FT: 75.0%. Last season, he played 24 games: 11.1ppg, 5.7rpg, 2.3apg, 1.2spg, FGP: 50.0%, 3PT: 37.5%, FT: 78.6%. At the moment the guard is injured. The team also brought back 21 year old 190cm guard Tommy Mason-Griffin who was born in Houston Texas. He came to the team at the end of last season and played 10 games: 5.7ppg, 2.1rpg, 3.2apg, FGP: 51.2%, 3PT: 25.0%, FT: 87.5%. He James Madison High School / Houston, and hast he distinction of having played only one year of NCAA ball with Oklahoma playing 31 games: 14.1ppg, 2.9rpg, 5apg, FGP: 39.8%, 3PT: 42.4%, FT: 81.3%. before coming to Ulm, he played shortly with Sioux Falls Skyforce (D-League): 5 games: 2.6ppg, 2.2rpg, 1.8apg:
The team also has 20 year old 208cm center Michael Wenzl and his two year younger brother Andreas. Michael Wnezel played 4 BEKO BBL games in 2009-2010 averaging 1,0ppg and played for the Basketballakademie Ulm (Oberliga): 21 games: 13.8ppg. Last season for Ulm he played 24 games: 1.3ppg; also a license to play for BG Illertal/Weissenhorn (ProB, starting five): 18 games: 10.4ppg, 5.1rpg, FGP: 53.8%, FT: 49.3%. The team also has 21 year old 196cm shooting guard Marcel Heberlein that started his basketball career in 2007 with TV Konstanz (Regionalliga). He then played for Erdgas Ehingen/Urspringschule (ProB): 3 games: 4.0ppg, 1.0rpg, left in Dec.’09, also played at HolidayCheck Baskets Konstanz (Regionalliga): 25 games: 12.0ppg. Last season he played for ratiopharm Ulm (1.Bundesliga): 5 games: 0.8ppg, also a license to play for BG Illertal/Weissenhorn (ProB, starting five): 11 games: 12.4ppg, 4.3rpg, 2.5apg, FGP: 38.5%, 3PT: 36.2%, FT: 70.2%, also played at HolidayCheck Baskets Konstanz (ProB): 14 games: 10.6ppg, 3.1rpg, 1.1apg, FGP: 46.7%, 3PT: 35.9%, FT: 64.9%. The team also brought in 21 year old 201cm forward Femi Oladipo who has already had many stations in his young career having played for SG Urspringschule/Schelklingen, VFL Stade, Eisbaeren Bremerhaven, BSG Bremerhaven (2. Regionalliga), Oldenburger TB (Germany-Regionalliga) and last season for Crailsheim Merlins (ProA) 27 games: 7.5ppg, 4.9rpg, 1.8apg, 1.1spg, FGP: 57.2%, FT: 40.4%.