In a hectic Beko BBL season where the majority of the teams are fighting week in and week out for points in the standings and a few elite that are also playing international club games and undergoing even more stress on a weekly basis, it is always a relief when you can elect one day in the season where you can forget your basketball problems for one day and just come together as a community and have fun. This past weekend, the Beko BBL staged their yearly Allstar game in Ulm and if one has been a part of it the last years as I have, I can say that this years version was a big success once again. One can never expect the Beko BBL Allstar game to equal the fight, grit and competitiveness of a regular league game as the main course on the menu is scoring, entertainment and fun where defense is as unimportant for the players, coaches and fans on this day as it is for Tom Brady hearing the bashing from the Baltimore Ravens camp after their 35-31 loss last weekend about certain Patriots plays that had ineligible recievers when its all about knowing the rule book. The 2015 Beko BBL Allstar game festival was a hit from the start until end and I will chronicle my 14 hour basketball experience.
The day started at 12:00 with the departure from Frankfurt with one of the finest sports photographers in Frankfurt Reinhard Roskaritz along for the ride as he was going to his first basketball Allstarday hungry to capture the finest moments on the court. In the past it was always interesting to see which Beko BBL team cars one sees on the highway making the same trip, but this time, I saw no teams cars possibly because we had left so early. We left a very warm Frankfurt and it felt like early spring even if the sun didn´t want to sneak through the clouds, but shortly before Ulm near the highway exit to Nordlingen that made their debut in the Beko BBL in 2008 and now play in the German Pro B, the sun finally was able to appear and the thermometer outside rose to 17c in early January. It was only a shame that we were unable to enjoy any of the early spring weather, but basketball was on the menu on this day and the beautiful mild temperatures were soon forgotten as we got into the fancy and state of the art ratiopharm Ulm arena at 14:50.
Once entering the arena I was given my press pass and press kit with all the important details and infos for the event. Then I greeted Beko BBL press secretary Dirk Kaiser and exchanging some words. Then about 30 feet from the entrance I walked into the modern Ulm arena and for a few moments just enjoyed the early atmosphere as some NBBL players were doing the same as they were preparing for their Allstar game at 17:00. This was my second time in the Ulm arena as I had sweet memories after witnessing the amazing 3OT win last season by the Fraport Skyliners where ex NBA player Andrew Rautins had possibly his best all around game for his team before getting injured and never returning. I found my seat for the day which was behind one of the baskets. Then I continued to walk around and meet various people affiliated with basketball in Germany. Allstar day is also always a great day for non players just to meet colleagues, old friends and make new contacts.
The doors opened at 15:30 for fans and the next order of business was the players autograph session scheduled for 16:00. The first fans that squeezed through the entrance were hurrying up the stairs in the foyer as the autograph session was to be held on the first floor. Last year in Bonn at the Allstar game, the players had been two to a round standing table while this season in Ulm, they had it set up differently with two long tables for each team which made it more difficult to take photos something that was practiced much in Bonn. This was perhaps a down note to the autograph session simply, because it didn´t give fans the chance to take phots, but at least one could still get autographes. I can always see the excitement in the eyes of the young kids who might be meeting their idols face to face for the first time. Even if I am not a kid anymore, I collected autographes back in the day in the States from professional baseball, basketball, ice hockey and football players and I have to be honest once an autograph hound always an autograph hound. It is something that just doesn´t go away no matter how old you are. When I grew up then retired 2 time Boston Celtic NBA champion David Cowens was my neighbor so seeing NBA legends like Larry Bird or Robert Parish over at his house for a backyard barbeque was nothing seldom and quickly collecting autographes became a part of my life. They might not be the same as Topps trading cards, but the Beko BBL autograph cards of the players is a worthy substitute. I went patiently down the line and got an autograph from each player. Alba Berlin forward Reggie Regging looked rather pooped and really needed a bed to get some shut eye as he had experienced a tough trip from Lithuania to Germany and just arrived in Germany a few hours earlier after a loss in Euroleague play. David Holston was as always jovial and since he was at the end of the table rows, he was a constant photo target and each time he sported his winner smile that could work in a tooth paste commercial any day. Other than that the players were rather quiet, but traded words with fans when asked questions. At the end of the two table rows were the Fraport Skyliners twin towers Johannes Voigtmann and Danilo Barthel who gladly signed with twin tower one and two.
Since I was done quickly and had received my autographes after being eighth in line, I now had time to browse around, talk to people and conduct interviews. Since the players were busy with autographs, I had to find other options and could of interviewed many of the basketball people that were in attendance or NBBL players. When back in the arena, I spotted a lonely Marvin Omuvwie who had a big honor as a NBBL/Pro B player to be elected to compete at the dunk contest. After the interview with the German, I walked around and waited until the autograph sessions were over so I could grab some more players for interviews for this website. I still had some time before the autograph session was over so I continued to look around which basketball people I could spot and it was quite a few people. Earlier as I was waiting in line at the autograph session to commence, I greeted the mom of Danilo Barthel who never misses a game of her son. She seemed very excited about seeing her son play, but at the same time a bit perturbed that former NBA player Jon Brockman never apologized for the altercation against Barthel in a game in Ludwigsburg recently. Soon after I spotted ex Giessen 46er Florian Hartenstein with his family. He coaches the Artland Dragons JBBL team now and was there to see his son Isiah compete in the NBBL Allstar game. I also spotted Beko BBL boss Jan Pommer, new German national team head coach Chris Fleming, ex Bonn guard Artur Kolodziejski who now works in the Ulm organization, ratiopharm Ulm manager Thomas Stoll, German basketball boss Ingo Weiss and Fiba employee Kamil Novak. I also saw ex German national player Ademola Okulaja who has found a home as a Fiba agent and represents NBA player Dennis Schroeder and Daniel Theis of Bamberg as his top two players. He arrived early to watch two other clients duel in the NBBL Allstar game with Niklas Kiel and Mahir Agva of Ehingen. Okulaja was in good spirits and ready to watch his players play. I snuck down to the court shortly before the NBBL jumpball to wish Armin Musovic and Jan Moritz Overdick good luck as I often see them play week in and week out.
The Beko BBL Allstar autograph session ended around 17:20 and the players were led back down to their respective dressing rooms. I now had about an hour time to conduct some more interviews and I had prepared some interviews with players that I really wanted to talk to like Bamberg guard Brad Wanamaker, medi Bayreuth forward Javon Mccrea and Ludwigsburg guard Kerron Johnson. Those interviews went well and will be featured on this website in the next days. Unfortunately in this time of conducting interviews, I was unable to examine the NBBL Allstar game. But I did get a stat sheet so I could get a vague idea of who did well. The NBBL north beat the NBBL team south in a nail bitter 67-63. Team North was led by Haris Hujic with 15 points. Alba Berlin big talent Moritz Wagner steered 14 points and nine boards while Jannes Hundt had 12 points and Jan Niklas Wimberg contributed 11 points and seven rebounds. Team South was led by Mahir Agva with 14 points and five rebounds and Lennart Okeke of the Fraport Sklyiners had 10 points. The Fraport Skyliners trio played well as Niklas Kiel had nine points and eight rebounds while Armin Musovic had eight points.
With the 2015 Beko BBL Allstar game only two hours away the next highlight on the agenda now was the three point shooting contest with Danilo Barthel, David Bremblay, Phillip Schwethelm, David Holston, Patrick Richard and an amateur. Each player gets one minute to shoot all the balls from the certain stations. In the first heat Chicago native David Holston set the stage with a hot 21 points while medi Bayreuth German David Brenbly and home favorite Philipp Schwethelm stayed on the heels of the Artland Dragon connecting for 19 points a piece. Patrick Richard had 13 points while the amateur candidate had 10 points. Fraport Skyliner Danilo Barthel disappointed with only 8 points. He didn´t start well into the contest and it just wasn´t to be for the Heidelberg native. In the second round, David Holston cooled down a bit and finished third with 16 points, Philipp Schwethelm came in second with 17 points and Beko BBL rookie David Brembly won the three point contest with 21 points. Next on the agenda was the slam dunk contest which is something that never is missing from an Allstar game. This season the slam dunk contestant field was filled with ratiopharm Ulm American Will Clyburn who was taking part in his second consecutive dunk contest, David Brembly who had triple duty on the day in the three point, slam dunk and Allstar game, NBBL/Pro B player of Weissenhorn Marvin Omuvwie and two time slam dunk contest winner Salu Benjamin Tadi that won in 2011 in Trier and 2012 in Ludwigsburg who won in the qualifying round that morning. The jury was well represented with Chris Fleming, Artur Kolodziejski and Alba Berlin legend Henning Harnisch. It seems like the ideas and originality in the dunks have ebbed in the last years, but this years contestants did have some innovation presenting the fans with some unforgettable dunks. In the first round the most innovative dunk came from David Brembly in cooperation with teammate Javon Mccrea. The NFL playoff game between the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens may only have been fourhours away, but there was already some American football flair in the Ulm arena as Brembly slipped on a football helmet hiked the football to Mccrea who slipped to his left waited a split second and waited until Brembly raced to the court and then in Tom Brady manner flicked up a football ally-op which his teammate slam dunked into the basket. Another sweet dunk in the first round was a combination between Will Clyburn and David Holston. Holston dribbled from the wing and threw up the ball hitting the side of the back board which Clyburn caught and dunked home windmill styled. Salu Benjamin Tadi didn´t qualify for the final because he was unable to finish his summersault dunk and instead of making a sure dunk to get some points, he continued to attempt making the summersault dunk, but failed and didn´t get any points. In the final fans saw Will Clyburn battle David Bremblay. For the first time, the final was held at halftime of the Allstar game. Each contestant had one dunk. Brembly offered a double pump reverse dunk which gave him 62,7 points while Clyburn had more innovation having Holston once again as the ball feeder as he dribbled up to the hoop and threw the ball up hitting the shot clock and Clyburn finished with a reverse dunk connecting on the third try. Clyburn finished with 65,3 points winning his first Beko BBL slam dunk contest.
The 2015 Beko BBL game began at 20:30, but one had a long break from 19:45-20:30 since the slam dunk contest was backed up to halftime. This gave journalists a chance to get some energy in the press room with the classic Schwaben food Spaetzle. I took some time to talk NBBL basketball with Telekom Baskets Bonn press secretary Joerg Baehren and before we knew it it was time for the game and I rushed to my seat. Offense offense offense is something you will see happen at any Allstar game anyway and its no different in Germany. When looking back the last 20 years, only 8 times out of 40 tries has a side scored under 100 points. Since 2012 the Beko BBL changed the format to National vs international and international came into the 2015 Beko BBL game riding a 3-0 record against team national. Except for two years ago in Nurnberg where team International won by 18 points, team national has been on the heels of team international losing in Ludwigsburg and Bonn by only five points. Spectacular dunks were many on this day while three point accuracy played no role as team national shot a disappointing 28% while team international a pathetic 22%. The game was very close in the first quarter as team international led 22-21. In the second quarter team national fell apart as Javon Mccrea went to work and took team national apart inside. At halftime team international led 57-42. In the second half, team national continued to fight, but could never regain the lead and trailed 80-71 after three quarters. In the fourth quarter one could see that team national really wanted to get their first win. On a routine call, German Heiko Schaffartzik was less than pleased and had massive discussions with the referee and one could see in his eyes how focused he was to get his team going again. Team national cut the team international lead to 5 points on a few occasions, but as is so often the case it was the little things that doomed team national again losing for the fourth straight time 110-101. BG Goettingen Raymar Morgan made some big plays and FC Bayern Munich big man John Bryant sealed the win for team international with free throws. “At the end we wanted to win, but at the same time have fun. They made a run at the end, but John Bryant made big free throws”, stressed Bamberg guard Brad Wanamaker. After the game Wanamaker was hugging his MVP award tightly and seemed content about being named MVP. “I didn´t expect to win MVP. I just came to Ulm to have fun and compete”, added Philadelphia native Brad Wanamker. Team international coach Sasa Obradovic looked dapper wearing a tailor made dark blue suit and looked extremely fresh despite having lost in Euroleague play in Kaunas Friday night. Alba Berlin took a bus from Kaunas to Vilnius and the Allstar participants flew to Munich and drove to Ulm on Saturday. “I think that this was the best German team ever. Coach Leibenath had his team prepared and they were very competitive. This just shows how the game of basketball continues to grow in Germany”, stated Sasa Obradovic. The Serb has been involved with basketball since 30 years and there was no way he was going to miss this day despite the tough travel conditions. “It was a bit windy in Munich and the landing wasn´t easy”, smilied Sasa Obradovic.
The 2015 Allstar game had many spectacular plays including many dunks and other plays including a pretty Per Guenther ally-op pass to Niels Giffey for the dunk, a Heiko Schaffartzik ally-op pass to Johannes Voigtmann for the slam dunk, Mccrea dunking over his teammate Brembly, Mccrea on a break away throwing the ball off the back board for Clyburn to catch and dunk home, Daniel Theis blocking Morgan and the BG Goettingen American giving that bewildered stare he once already had presented during the slam dunk contest when Marvin Owuvwie hung on the rim for seemingly minutes, and multiple Daniel Theis dunks. The Beko BBL put on another fantastic show for the fans. The event was very well organized and the league can be proud of another job well done. We drove back to Frankfurt at 22:40 with a comfortable stop at Mcdonalds. I even got a history lesson at 1:45am shortly before Frankfurt courtesy of my driver and photographer Reinhard Roskaritz. Shrotly before reaching Frankfurt airport on the A5 highway there is a parking lot on the side called Bernd Rosemeyer. I learned from my driver that back in the late 1930´s, the first highway in Germany was built. And between Darmstadt and Frankfurt is the longest straight away on the highway in Germany. This highway was built mainly so it could give a good route for war supplies to be transported. German Bernd Rosemeyer was a German race car driver and was the first man to drive 400 Kilometers. On January 28th, 1938 he reached the speed of 429 kilometers and was caught in a wind flurry and crashed into a tree and died. A monuement has been made at the spot where he died and the parking lot was made in his memory. We reached Frankfurt at 2 am and the 14 hour basketball day flew by as quickly as Anton Gavel can gun a shot into the net.