Last season there were many up and down experiences for the 2004 Beko BBL champion Fraport Skyliners and the only thing missing to really make this season a tad more bizarre would have been having ex Skyliner Malick Badiane return and have a “who can catch the basketball better with Aziz Ndiaye,Hollywood legend Arnold Schwarzenegger watching a game and declaring Johannes Voigtmann his long lost son, Danilo Barthel white men can jump Barthel actually tearing down a rim on one of his crushing dunks, Konstantin Klein growling into the ear of German national player Heiko Schaffartzik and actually causing him hearing loss in one ear or Oklahoma native Jacob Burtschi having a fight over hair pieces with ratiopharm Ulm forward Keaton Nankivil. Before the season commenced, I predicted that anything could happen to the Fraport Skyliners in the standings as it was to be a grab bag season for Gordon Herbert and company. Back in the day even at the most boring children´s birthday parties like at the local pizza place munching on soggy pie, trying to find humor at the bowling alley while trying to hit a strike and stay clear of the gutter, riding lame donkeys up and down the tiny backyard in your home or playing boring board games while counting each second to when it was time to go home, there was almost always a constellation prize for kids when the party was over with the traditional grab bag or party favor. This going home present was a way to say thanks for coming and by the way here is a gift for you. Gifts range from tiny toys, candy and pencils. Once you are of a mature age and are able to visit a wedding, there a person has the chance to get a more sophisticated gift like classic favors that can go from the classic sugared almonds or delicious chocolates to candles and scented soaps. Modern gift trends include CDs with the most desired music of the bride and groom, shot glasses filled with colored candy or beautiful picture frames with a photo of the couple. So what did all this grab bag jibber jabber have to do with the 2013-2014 Fraport Skyliners? Well this was a team that had been constructed in a way that it would been hard to make a real defined prediction what this team was able to achieve and it was sort of like getting a grab bag served at a function and not knowing what was inside it. Guessing how many wins the Fraport Skyliners would achieve last season was no different than having had to predict how many cheese balls legendary comedian Chris Farley could have eaten in the cheese ball machine in a minute, how many times Allen Iverson would utter practice in a practice 2 press conference or how many goals soccer god Christiano Ronaldo would hammer into the goal this season. Just the notion of not knowing what this club was capable to achieve made the season so exciting and unpredictable for the Fraport Skyliners.
The Fraport Skyliners ended the 2013-2014 Beko BBL season in 11th place with a record of 14-20. The club made no secret that they wouldn´t abstain from giving healthy minutes to German players. In a league where it seems like you can´t make the playoffs without having top import players, the route that the Fraport Skyliners were moving in didn´t really give good chances of making the playoffs again since their last visit in 2011 with Beko BBL MVP Dashaun Wood. Despite going this path, the club still had guru head coach Gordon Herbert who had always had a good touch with making contending teams with not always the top talent. If one looks at what he did with the Opel Skyliners from 2002-2004 molding a championship team in a few years and from 2009-2010 taking over from Murat Didin in the last two months and being separated from a title with one possession and the 2010-2011 season reaching the semi-finals despite fighting with injuries throughout the season, then one could of still had that hope of reaching the playoffs again, but so much happened in the season that was leading away from the playoff party favor and the season pretty much was decided by injuries and the crunch-time phobia that seemed to cripple them in the second half of the season.
The Fraport Skyliners started off the season 0-2 losing in Bayreuth and at home to 2013 Beko BBL finalist Oldenburg, but then won in Bremerhaven where ex Eisbaer Jacob Burtschi had 16 points to help in the win and then defeated Wurzburg at home. The injury woes started in Bremerhaven as they lost Quantez Robertson who would miss a few months. Ex NBA player Andrew Rautins quickly demonstrated his huge worth to the club scoring 32 and 28 points in the two wins as his presence would open up so much space for his teammates. The team then lost an ugly battle in Munich and let Ludwigsburg rally in the second half as Americans Keaton Grant and CJ Harris played cat and mouse with Frankfurt. The next big blow came as the club fired American Dawan Robinson. Robinson had been one of the key players in the come back season in 2012-2103 as he did what he wanted to and it worked. Muli Katzurin just let Robinson operate while possibly accepting the work ethic and attitude of the Philadelphia native. However Gordon Herbert wasn´t about to do that as he didn´t bear or accept the way Robinson operated and took the risk of continuing the season without an experienced point guard. May people questioned this move, but after the departure of Robinson came the best run of the season for the Fraport Skyliners as they finished 2013 with a record of 7-2 and very very quietly people were talking about a team that played for each other and playoffs was a slight reality in the minds of some. Frankfurt had some huge wins on the road in Trier and Tuebingen and solid wins at home against Artland and Phoenix Hagen. The club added two American rookie guards with Jarred Dubois and Ramon Galloway who helped fill the void for the departed Robinson. In the wins against Artland and Hagen, the club got valuable contribution from many players as it wasn´t only Rautins who was responsible for the win. Especially the young Germans Danilo Barthel, Johannes Voigtmann and Konstan Klein were taking responsibility. After a 30 point blow out in Weissenfels, the club returned home and destroyed Braunschweig. One of the season highlights followed as Frankfurt won a triple OT thriller in Ulm. Rautins played 50 minutes scoring 24 points and grabbing 11 rebounds while dishing out 8 assists. This win seemed like it could be the turning point of the season. They returned home to beat pesky SC Rasta Vechta 70-67 as winning crunch time games here and earlier against Phoenix Hagen seemed like a piece of cake which wouldn´t be the case in the second half. The club ended 2013 with their heads high, but also lost Americans Jacob Burtschi who wouldn´t return until mid March and Rautins wouldn´t return at all. If that was a bad omen, no one fully realized until the club had extreme difficulty to shake losing streaks soon in 2014.
As 2014 rolled along, a frequent phrase in Skyliner country was when will the team finally get their first win? The second half can be summed up easily with a seven game losing streak, 2 big home wins against FC Bayern Munich, a six game losing streak and solid 3-1 record to finish the season. Frankfurt got blown out in Bamberg by 30 as four Germans were in the starting five. Then they came home and lost to 8 time Beko BBL champion Alba Berlin where a common phrase often in this season was “This was a good learning experience for the kids”. Then started the crunch time phobia of not being able to win losing by two in Oldenburg, by two at home against MBC and by one point in Ludwigsburg. In Artland, Frankfurt played very solid for 30 minutes, but then were hit by big three pointers by Chad Toppert who connected seven times and in Ludwigsburg, one could state that the team surely would have won had it not been for the flopping of ex NBA player Coby Karl that stole the momentum from Frankfurt. A further injury to American Dane Watts also hurt the team. Watts had a strong 22 point debut in Oldenburg, but then got an elbow to the head in Ludwigsburg and never returned to action. Then came the two strongest back to back performances of the season beating Munich and Ulm at home keeping both teams to an average 64 points. They couldn´t hold the momentum and a six game losing streak followed as they lost in crunch time to Tuebingen, Braunschweig and Phoenix Hagen. The club didn´t play particularly smart in Loses in Wurzburg and at home against medi bayreuth, but with a month to go, with so much stress having happened in the season, the team found numerous ways to lose games which just seemed to be in their nature. The club did finish the season with a bang playing solid team basketball with home wins against TBB Trier and Bremerhaven and the Kevin Bright buzzer beater in Vechta belongs to one of the team season highlights. A side note to a very interesting grab bag season of Frankfurt was the release of Ramon Galloway with three games left. Misfortune and loses simply came hand in hand this season. The club lost the last game of the season in Berlin playing a strong first half where youth definitely challenged the Alba Berlin experience, but Frankfurt lost energy and strength in the second half as the men were too much for the boys.
In order to have long term success, you sometimes have to sacrifice in order to get to that juncture. The Fraport Skyliners had decided to develop their youth and despite the Skyliner season, they were able to do that. The Frankfurt record was effected by the many long term injuries to Rautins, Burtschi and Robertson. The team never had the full squad which severely dented the season team chemistry. It didn´t matter if it was a Ramon Galloway, Jarred Dubois or Jacob Burtschi that had chances to win games, but didn´t, the club simply was missing an experienced go to guy who not only takes on responsibility in crucial situations, but also has the ability to come through. Rautiins was that player and with his presence the club surely would of won crunch time games. Galloway and Dubois were rookies who usually wouldn´t be put in a situation like that. The Fraport Skyliners definitely made exceptional promotion for the big three Germans Danilo Barthel, Johannes Voigtmann and Konstantin Klein. Barthel made the biggest jump getting most improved player by the Beko BBL. His focus and straight ahead attitude coupled with his intense face expression is one of a kind. Barthel took on responsibility and could make his debut this summer for the German national team. Voigtmann also developed further. His inconsistency is still a factor, but his versatility as a big man is rare and no center passes the ball as well as him. He also will could be invited this summer to the German national team. Klein was a bit in the shadow of the two, but at times was very consistent in scoring despite having a small slump at the end of the season. Quantez Robertson played his fifth season and as always was the minister of defense and had to take more of a responsibility on offense. His stats were a bit down from last season, but it took him sometime to get back to his old self from his injury. There were countless games where his energy kept Frankfurt in the game or helped them win games like his steal with 7,3 seconds to in Vechta which led to the Bright game winner. Jacob Burtschi played his second season in Frankfurt. After a solid start, he got injured and when he returned seemed not to have that scoring gene in him as he usually had. However his team play as always spoke volumes and his unselfishness was inspiring. If they would invent a new basketball stat for the extra pass then he would get it. His 10 point 13 rebound effort got unnoticed in the triple OT win in Ulm as he wasn´t totally fit in that game. With consistent off season conditioning, Burtschi should return reborn next season. The Senegalnator Aziz NDiaye is definitely a project averaged 4,8ppg and 4,1rpg as a rookie with his season highlight being his 16 point 10 rebound effort in the Hagen win at home. He often showed brilliant blocks and defensive intensity, but then again couldn´t catch the easiest lob pass or missed easy dunks. Rookie Kevin Bright also had the injury bug and his season highlights were his 23 points six three pointers against Ludwigsburg and his 23 points and seven three pointers in his buzzer beater win in Vechta. Bright has a lot of potential, but definitely needs to showcase more of a game besides his shot. After playing three games last season, 20 year old Max Merz played 25 games this season averaging 10 minutes a game. His best game was his 10 points in 20 minutes in Braunschweig. He made another step with his experience gained in the Beko BBL. He pushes the ball very well, but his decision making is still suspect, but totally normal at his age. American rookie Jarred Dubois had an up and down season. He started the season very well scoring in double figures in five of seven games including being a key factor in the Ulm and Vechta wins with 19 and 17 points. Then came a lull period and he finished the season with some strong games at home against Trier and Bremerhaven. At times, he seemed invisible and the offense wasn´t flowing under his playmaking. However his scoring ability in key situation was definitely appreciated. Germans Johannes Richter and Stefan Ilzhoefer will continue to have time to develop with their double licenses next season.
The Fraport Skyliners are definitely going in a very positive direction. It might be a quiet offseason as so many guys are returning. With Barthel, Voigtmann, Klein, Robertson Ndiaye, Merz and Burtschi, a nice chunk of the team chemistry is remaining. Apparently the team will do what it cans to get Andrew Rautins back on board. With the needed new parts, Gordon Herbert could have a very interesting roster next season. There is already a little team chemistry intact with the group returning and really there is no better chemistry at the 4-5 than Barthel and Voigtmann. Just watching them develop further will be worth the price of admission. Getting that perfect point guard will be very important. If one looks at the last two Frankfurt playoff runs, one had a Aubrey Reese and Dashaun Wood that carried the team. It is no secret that a Gordon Herbert likes that combination of skills and character. Good skilled point guards are as frequent on the market as there are Germans goalies in the Bundesliga, but the combination of character and skill can be found, but not skill and great character. One of those guards that would fit perfectly into the Skyliner system and family is SC Rasta Vechta point guard Richard Williams. He belonged to the top five point guards and there is seldom a player that wants to win as much as him and his heart thumps basketball. Gordon Herbert obviously shared my taste after weeks of negotiating finally was able to land the name of Richard Williams on the dotted line and chef of next seasons offense. The Fraport Skyliners grab bag season wasn´t rewarded with a playoff spot as Party favor, but the German kids were simply too young for that party favor, but added experience last season should bring them closer to that playoff party favor next season.