It has been more than 11 years since manager Gunnar Woebke of the Fraport Skyliners last sipped champagne after winning the second club title in the team´s history since it entered the league in 1999 and since then they have come close a few times to winning a third losing against the Brose Baskets Bamberg in the 2005 and 2010 finals both in 5 games something a Malik Badiane and Pascal Roller will surely never forget. The Beko BBL gets more competitive each season, the top teams seem to get bigger budgets while the Fraport Skyliners continue to be in the lower bracket of the league in terms of budget. Every now and then the team has had great spurts like last season as new November arrival Justin Cobbs led a team from almost last place to the playoffs and the Eurochallenge final 4. That moment of glory has arrived back with the Fraport Skyliners this season as currently the team is riding a 9 game winning streak and in reality should be in 11-0 had they been able to execute on the last play in Oldenburg and against the s.Oliver Baskets Wurzburg which would have got the team the victories. In the last few weeks it has been the same story after a game in the Fraport arena as the experienced FC Bayern Munich players who know the league snuck out of the catacombs like embarrassed little kids who had to enter school with their parents a no go since always while Americans Alex Renfroe and KC Rivers had more of the NBA style answering questions like professionals should or last weekend when the Brose Baskets Bamberg who were even a bit more perturbed as some exited with their heads bundled up in their hoodies as if they were to enter the Siberian winter when it was really only about 12c in Frankfurt. Beko BBL and Fiba Europe cup teams keep coming and leaving the Fraport arena as losers and if one didn´t see the game and put the two coaches side by side one wouldn´t really have known who had lost except for maybe a bit more of a ruddy expression on a Svetislav Pesic, but really if one watches a Gordon Herbert closely he pretty much always exhibits the same expression with the focused and straight ahead mentality and wanting to forget that amazing win as quickly as possible and get ready for the next basketball war. Gunnar Woebke paces up and down the catacombs calmly not getting excited about the amazing season start and just greets paying customers and sponsors and savoring every moment like a proud little kid that just got the high score on PS4. It is still very early, but there is something very very special about this team and the question is is this finally the year where the team wins it´s third title? Their best chance lies in the Fiba Europe Cup as well, but the Beko BBL is slowly noticing this extraordinary special basketball fairy tale that is being made in Frankfurt.
The coaching staff and the players make success, but really if one is truthful most of the credit has to go to head coach Gordon Herbert and his coaching staff that have created this so successful team so early despite start problems which has grown into the little darlings of the Beko BBL. The Fraport Skyliners have always been a team that has been liked all around. Maybe 10 years ago it was different with the Freak City fans, but that has all calmed down over time as fans in Germany really have had a liking to the team. A big reason for this has been the philosophy of the club in the last 4 years to go the German route and develop young German players which has gotten much respect from all around. They followed the TBB Trier model which was successful for some years and in Frankfurt it has turned three young talented German players with Johannes Voigtmann, Danilo Barthel and Konstatin Klein into national players. The Fraport Skyliners organization also has a special aura and something sympathetic about the organization. Over the years it has developed players further like a Mario Kasun, Dashaun Wood and Michael Thompson who belongs to the top guards in the France Pro A and recently scored 41 points. One also can´t forget that the heart and soul for 11 years was German national player Pascal Roller who finished his career in 2011 and even had a Beko BBL awards named after him on account of his sportsmanship. When you saw Roller on the floor it just left a positive taste. On top of that they have supplied the Beko BBL in the last years with many unforgettable nights as they dismantled top teams like Alba Berlin, Bamberg and FC Bayern Munich back home with paper bags over their heads on more occasions than one in their own living room. Plus the Fraport Skyliners play a very exciting brand of fast basketball where they let their aggressive defense spark their offense. It took their offense a while to get going, but in the last three games against FC Porto, Brose Baskets Bamberg and ZZ Leiden has finally come into its own. The Fraport Skyliners is just an organization that you have to like and even if you don´t right away, just one glimpse at their faithful mascot Dunking Kong erases any last doubts as cuteness has been written on his face since the day he arrived.
Last season it was Justin Cobbs that got this team going while this season there hasn´t been one player, but it has been a team effort from day one led on by the coaching expertise of Gordon Herbert. The Fraport Skyliners had massive injury woes, but were able to step it up in difficult times and still win games which speaks for the moral of the players. The team continuity and chemistry which has been built last season was already there this season and was able to carry over a bit onto the new players. When you have true professionals like Quantez Robertson and Aaron Doornekamp and energizer from the bench Mike Morrison on the floor, young players will look up to them and be motivated one tic more. You can talk to any player in the Beko BBL in the last 12 years that have played with ex Skyliner Derrick Mr ballerina” Allen including Gordon Herbert and they will say that D.A is the hardest working player that they have seen. Well you can also put Quantez Robertson in the D.A bracket. The Cincinnati native Robertson is about as big a role model as you will ever see as he averages 35-36 minutes a game in the Beko BBL averaging 9,9ppg, 2,8rpg and 3,3apg and if he could would play 40 minutes every night just to help get that win, he would. He is shooting 50% in the Fiba Europe Cup play from the parking lot as his shooting has been instrumental in the 4-0 Frankfurt start as he is averaging 17,0ppg, 5,0rpg and 1,7apg. Robertson is the motor of the team and new heart and soul Pascal Roller of the team and just does everything needed to win games. He joked years ago that he wanted to play point guard and now does when it is needed as his ball handling is sound and his passing and step back three pointer are more consistent than ever. Robertson has matured into a complete player and the only thing missing now is making that Michael Jordan dunk from the free throw line with an added Tez tongue to spice up the highlight reel. Doornekamp is averaging 13,4ppg, 5,9rpg and 2,1apg and has taken the next step and had to take on more responsibility this season and currently is the most effective player on the club and the second leading scorer on the team and in the top 10 of the best three point shooters in the league at 54%. His aggressiveness on the court has risen one notch more this season as the only thing missing is that ice hockey stick to move out the bigger guys inside like a 205cm Nicolo Mello who he scored over with ease last weekend. Mike Morrison who is playing his second season in Frankfurt and took 13/8 Eurochallenge stats with Joensuun Kataja Basket (Finland-Korisliiga) to Frankfurt in 2014 and last season was more of an energizer from the bench getting big rebounds, blocks and dunks, but this season with the injury to Voigtmann early had to step up and did scoring in double figures in 6 of the first 8 BBL games and had 17 points against Dutch team Leiden. He is averaging a strong 10,0ppg and 4,9rpg
The Fraport Skyliners also made great decisions not bringing in NCAA rookies who don´t know the league and often play for their own stats to make a statement in their first season, but somehow found some extra cash to reel in experienced players with John Little and Jordan Theodore. Little has belonged to the top defenders in the Beko BBL for years, has won a title with the 2010 Eurochallenge with BG Goettingen and can hit the three pointer even if his three air balls in Fiba Europe Cup play against KrKA Novo Mesto was a night to forget. He had games already this season like against Bamberg where his big three pointer was timely and that will continue to happen. With Robertson he forms a very potent defensive attack and gives the Skyliners defense a new dimension that keeps coming at the opponent like an angry pit bull and little buddy wanting his dinner. His ex coach John Patrick stated that Little is a winner and ex teammate Euroleague player Taylor Rochestie of Macabbi Tel Aviv had only lauding words to describe the Illinois native. “This guy is something else. I have said many times that he is a player that deserves any and all respect he is given. He can control a game by himself and gives more to the team than stats will show, I would always want him on my team”, added Santa Barbara, California native Taylor Rochestie. Getting that right point guard is always difficult, but Frankfurt played the cards right something which Gordon Herbert has had real talent in getting the right point guards the last years reeling in New York native Jordan Theodore on recommendation of Sean Armand who was a rookie in Frankfurt last season. Theodore who played at Seton Hall, played for three losing teams before Frankfurt with Antayla and Mersin in Turkey and last season in France with Bourg Baskets where he was second in the France pro A in assists with 6,1 and is currently the top scorer on the team averaging 15,0ppg, 2,4rpg and 4,8apg and in the Fiba Europe Cup play 11,5ppg, 2,3rpg and 3,0apg. His Beko BBL stats are comparable to Cobbs last season. Of course the comparisons will always continue with Cobbs as he was the better shooter while Theodore has the quickness to finish better. Theodore had big games with 28 points against BG Goettingen and 22 against FC Bayern Munich where he turned on the special New York microwave scoring 14 of the last 17 Frankfurt points and 21 of his 22 in the second half. He has been up and down, but he keeps saying after every game that he is still getting a feel for the style of the Beko BBL. It is still early and I am more than sure that Theodore will step up his game more and develop further as the season progresses. Theodore is a guy like Herbert that is never satisfied and will make sure he gets even better. It wont be surprising if You see Theodore and Doornekmap in the gym at 7AM in the morning working on their shot. The Frankfurt big three of Voigtmann, Barthel and Klein have fought injuries, but are healthy and back in the lineup since a few weeks. Their return back to the lineup coupled with their further development from last season will continue to spark the team. Voigtmann after being the second big man at Euro 2015 behind Utah Jazz center Tibor Pleiss wants to make another step this season. Even after two consecutive games where he threw some balls away that no one would ever have thought he could be capable of doing, he belongs to the best big man passing players in the league and with his unbelievable versatile play on the floor takes other defenses apart with his roaming spreading the floor. He is averaging 9,7ppg, 6,3rpg and 2,0apg. Barthel has been plagued with back problems in the last year and there is hardly a Skyliner that gets banged up as badly as he does as the Heidelberg native goes to places on the court where many players wouldn´t. He has returned back well and is averaging 11,0ppg and 4,5rpg and 1,3apg. Klein is averaging 8,2ppg, 2,0rpg and 2,2apg and shooting 47% from downtown. His inside out game with his feared first step and unending attacking mode coupled with his consistent three pointer makes him a very important scoring option at any time. This is the season where Klein wants to follow Barthel and Voigtmann and make his breakthrough. Tomas Dimsa continues to have a nagging foot injury, but turned some heads in the games he played and is averaging 7,8ppg. His shooting and athleticism are his strength and Robertson already might have got a bit jealous after he was the recipient of two ally-oop dunks from Theodore. Max Merz continues to be a solid guy from the bench trying to be as effective as possible. Recently he came in for Theodore who was struggling and registered three assists. His first order of business is to play defense and then get the offense going. He makes mistakes at times where one wonders why did he penetrate against a guy 15 cm´s taller, but he is still learning. Johannes Richter has suffered the most as there seems to be no minutes left as he is third in line after Voigtmann and Morrison. Richter needs to continue to work hard in practice and get Pro B minutes. But why not give Richter some minutes at position four?
Of course the staunch basketball insiders and basketball experts will know that Gordon Herbert is a top coach and by many standards the best in the Beko BBL right now, but really nobody outside these experts know about how brilliant Herbert is. Without watching hours of game film to break down the amazing Herbert coaching acts, one can break it down in easier terms. It´s no secret that Herbert has been able for years to get the best out of whatever he had to work with. Experience seems to have proved that he is at his best with a roster that isn´t necessarily the most talented. His attempt to bring a title to Alba Berlin in the 2011-2012 season failed as they were embarrassed by little budget team s.Oliver Baskets Wurzburg in the playoffs. Success wasn´t achieved as his roster of experienced and some over paid players didn´t seem to be able to adapt to the philosophy where ego´s and expectations of players stand at a total different dimension then what he has seen with the Fraport Skyliners. This season with Frankfurt Herbert has once again had a roster with no super star and of lesser known players, but all guys have understood his philosophy which is defense, defense defense and defense even when your dreaming at 3:00 am in a cozy warm bed, it´s defense which will in turn get the offense rolling. This is something that is stressed day by day and the players heed to him as faithfully as the New England Patriots do when Bill Belichick speaks. The defense has been more potent in the past as currently it is giving up 72 points a game in the Beko BBl and 63 points in the Fiba Europe Cup which was dragged up a bit due to the 81 points against FC Porto, but then diminished again with the big win in Leiden. The great thing about the Fraport Skyliners roster is that they don´t only have some very talented defensive players that have had the correct mind set coming in, but share a unique combination of skill and effort and wanting to defend and having fun doing it. Often you have those talented players that bring that extraordinary defense to the table, but somewhere along the way don´t always bring the effort on each play. That isn´t the case with the Fraport Skyliners as with the gritty pit bull John Little and freak athlete Quantez Robertson have half the rent already accounted for when they terrorize opposing offenses. In addition with Theodore they have a very skilled defender who for whatever reason doesn´t get the credit he should with his consistent defensive play since coming out of Seton Hall. Currently he is third in the Beko BBL in steals at 2,0 and is grabbing 1,3spg in the Fiba Europe Cup. Theodore could be the hidden strength in the defense, because he is overshadowed by the stellar play by Robertson and Little. These three are the minds while the team has above average defenders as Konstantin Klein is like a second miniature version of John Little as his aggressiveness is always on and Doornekamp won´t shy away from anyone while the inside players are all willing to mix it up. Morrison makes big plays, Barthel bleeds for rebounds, Voigtmann can play like a guard and get in the passing lanes and lead the fast break while Johannes Richter is a solid shot blocker. Oh and let me not forget Max Merz. Just when you thought your safe, your not because the German is always around so be beware. Having all this skill and will to want to defend makes the coaching job of Herbert a bit easier. He puts it all together during practices and during games and always has a potent defensive game plan for each opponent that works game in and game out. The defensive chemistry is there already now and will get better as time goes by. The nasty aggressiveness on defense that the Fraport Skyliners exhibit on every possession wears down the opponent as they simply outwork them. A hidden strength is the ability of Herbert is to prepare his team perfectly as his scouting work which is aided by assistant Klaus Perwas is immaculate. Without this expertise, the team wouldn´t be where it is now. After the wins against Tuebingen and Wurzburg, players from both losing teams admitted feeling that Frankfurt knew one too many times exactly what they were going to do. Frankfurt had done their homework while their opponent is back on the bus home wondering what they could have done differently. Maybe Herbert is only destined to lead less talented teams to success than a big team. In any respect the Canadian deserves more credit for the amazing job that he is doing. After the win against Bamberg ex assistant coach to Herbert Simon Cote couldn´t refrain from lauding the great play of Frankfurt. “Frankfurt play so hard and Herbert is so underrated as a coach”, stressed Simon Cote. The Fraport Skyliners play so hard, because they feel that Herbert believes in them and that brings them forward on the court. The question is how far can their winning streak go on? The club has the ability to go 6-0 in Europe Cup play, but the big big test will be in a few weeks when Alba Berlin visit Frankfurt, but the first big test will be this weekend when they go to Bonn to play the Telekom Baskets where they haven´t won since January 2005. If Herbert can exit the court after 40 minutes with a win then it will be obvious that this is a special team, because in the past more talented Frankfurt teams couldn´t leave with a victory. But even if the Fraport Skyliners end their 10 year drought and snap their losing streak in Bonn nothing will change after the game as Gordon Herbert will like always still be staring down at the ground not letting anyone feel like he was happy with a massive win and already he will like always already be a step ahead of the competition thinking about the next opponent and uttering the golden words to Klaus Perwas “Klaus you got the KrKa Novo Mesto video yet”?