Usually around this time in mid September, Fraport Skyliner captain Quantez Robertson would be going through his normal pre-season routine with the club getting in synch with his new teammates, learning the new plays, finding chemistry with the new point guard that was hauled in late, annoying his teammates in practice with his never ending superb man on man defense and getting reacquainted with the Footlocker store in the NWZ mall where he lives only a short walk from the Skyliners training facility looking for the newest trendy shoes to help enhance his footwear. However September 18th, 2016 wasn´t any other ordinary day in the home stretch of the pre-season, but a very special and out of the ordinary as the Cincinnati native could have been able to achieve something that guys like ex Skyliners Pascal Roller, Mario Kasun, Robert Garrett or Tyrone Ellis hadn´t done. These great players all won one a title for the Skyliners in one calendar year, but never two in that period. It took Robertson 7 seasons to win his first professional title and almost 5 months later, he had the golden opportunity to win a second with the Intercontinental cup. “It felt good trying to bring a second title to Frankfurt in the same year. Even if it felt like a normal BBL game, we were playing for a lot more. It definitely felt like a playoff game with the atmosphere in the arena”, stated ex Auburn guard Quantez Robertson. For ex Mississippi(NCAA) forward Zach Graham, he didn´t feel any real pre-season anxiety, but had only title in his thoughts. “I just love to play this game. It is every player´s dream to play in a title game and we had fun and came home with the gold”, added 2016 Fiba Intercontinental Cup MVP Zach Graham.
The Intercontinental cup pits the best teams from Europe and South America and the Fraport Skyliners got a crack at attempting to win their 4th club title only because Euroleague winner CSKA Moscow were banned on account of their quarrel´s with the FIba. One may think that nothing besides football rules in South America, but there are many very competitive teams with many ex NBA players making one last memorable pay check before retirement and where they start spending weekends more often in Las Vegas than having to ice their knees every day after practice. With Guaros de Lara, Frankfurt faced off against a very tough team with 5 import players including ex NBA player Damion James who was a #1 Draft Pick of the Atlanta Hawks and played with Kevin Durant as a freshman at Texas(NCAA). After weeks of amazing late summer weather, fans were awoken Sunday to rain and very cool temperatures, but in the Fraport arena no one had their thoughts about the last warm days, but were excited about not only being back in the cozy living room so early again, but moreover attempting to win another club title before the new season had even started. Guaros de Lara were the favorite, but the Fraport Skyliners showed for 37 minutes that they had the game to stay with the more experienced team and had every chance to win their fourth club title, but in crunch time succumbed to a lack of experience, costly mistakes and non-execution on offense. “We played well for about 25 minutes. In this time we were moving the ball well, getting good shots and playing somewhat good defense. However in the last 15 minutes we lost our rhythm and they did a good job pounding the ball inside and getting to the free throw line. They also stepped up their defense played more physical and forced us to take tough shots. We are a young team and will get better”, warned ex Georgetown guard Markel Starks. Guaros De Lara surely didn´t play their best game, but when it counted most, they came through making some big shots and buckling down on defense. “It feels great to win this title. We came together only two and a half weeks ago and we traveled thousands of miles to get to Frankfurt and worked very hard the last weeks with two a day practices and at the end we took care of business and got our goal of getting the cup”, stressed ex Mississippi(NCAA) forward Zach Graham.
Despite Germany having a late summer in September, it ended a few days early and so that no fans could find any excuses about not being able to come to the Fraport arena as the day was overcast and mild, but no summer vibes as the Skyliners living room was nicely filled and nobody forgot how to get a special atmosphere as it felt like the playoffs last June against ratiopharm Ulm had never ended. The Fraport Skyliners started with two German kids with Niklas Kiel and Stefan Ilzhoefer as well as new player Markel Starks and the backbone of the team with Quantez Robertson and Mike Morrison rounded out the squad on the court. The Fraport Skyliners used their sound experience early in the first minute as Quantez Robertson scored inside showing quickly who´s boss and then fed Mike Morrison for the easy lay in and Frankfurt led 4-2. Then both teams would exchange leads as Zach Graham nailed a trey which was matched by ex Ludwigsburg guard Stefan Ilzhoefer as Frankfurt led 7-5. Frankfurt then extended their lead to 9-5 as Paderborn native Niklas Kiel was in the right place at the right time scooping up a ball that Robertson couldn´t control and making the easy lay in. Frankfurt was doing a good job mixing up their game with good shots in the set play and running transition whenever they could as well as not letting ex NBA player Damion James get his way. However the Venezuelan team then showed just how explosive they can be as they cruised out on a 12-3 to break open the game and take the 17-12 lead. In the run, they were sparked by Zach Graham who scored seven points showing his exquisite inside/out play as he scored on a lay in, nailed another shot from downtown and converted a sweet alley-oop from 29 year old 2016 Venezuelan Olympian Heissler Gullient who flicked up the perfect pass. Frankfurt got a Shavon Shields bucket in the last minute , but Luis Bethelmy made a lay in at the end to give Guaros De Lara the 19-16 advantage. “I thought that we started well. We were able to match their physicality. We had good ball movement and got some easy shots, but so did they”, added ex Carleton(CIS) guard Philip Scrubb.
The game remained tight in the second quarter as there were a few lead changes, but the Fraport Skyliners brewed up a nice run half way through and went into halftime with the 39-32 advantage. Mike Morrison who played at George Mason(NCAA) got the first points for Frankfurt as he converted an easy lay in after hauling down the lob pass from Shields. Frankfurt continued not to shy away from the big bodies inside and just continued to attack without fear. Guillent reacted with a runner while Morrison displayed his good passing skills firing a riffle pass to Robertson from the high post for an easy bucket as Frankfurt cut the Guaos de Lara lead to 21-20. The Venezuelan team had no rhythm on offense at this phase as Frankfurt didn´t give any room inside and were guarding the perimeter fiercely, but couldn´t muster anything on offense as they coughed up the ball two times in a row. After Luke Martinez who played at Wyoming (NCAA) hit an off balance shot, Shields responded with a trey to dead lock the game at 23-23. Shields continued to score in bunches showing that he can pull a Tez coast to coast sprint and lay in for the Frankfurt 25-23 lead. Guaros De Lara then got some easy buckets inside as ex Ludwigsburg center Gregory Echenique had to take up the slack for the nonexistent Damion James and drew two fouls in a row and nailed all four free throws to tie the game at 27-27. Branko Cvetkovic who won 5 titles with BC Astana (Kazakhstan-D1) then scored inside as Frankfurt trailed 29-27. The Fraport Skyliners then stepped up their game ending the second quarter with a 12-3 run to lead 39-32. In the run, the Fraport Skyliners profited from some costly turnovers from the Venezuelan team and on offense just spread around the ball as 5 different players scored. Kiel started the run with a trey, Starks then found Robertson for a tap in alley-oop bucket, ex Pittsburgh(NCAA) guard Antonio Graves finished the transition with a basket, Max Merz snuck inside for a bucket and Starks buried a three pointer displaying some keen Jordan Theodore like self-confidence not hesitating for a split second, but just teeing off right away. Guillent closed out the second quarter with a timely trey. “Frankfurt played very well and forced tough shots on defense and limited easy baskets. We had good athletes on the perimeter playing good defense and we were being physical on James and being successful”, stated Fraport Skyliner guard Philip Scrubb. The Fraport Skyliners were shooting 53% from the field and 55% from outside while Guaros De Lara was shooting 48% from the field and 37% from outside. Frankfurt had the 17-10 rebound edge and only four turnovers while Gauros De Lara had five turnovers.
In the third quarter, the Fraport Skyliners held the momentum and lead, but Guaros De Lara were quietly cutting the lead down and fought all the way back to 52-51 after 30 minutes. Guaros De Lara got out of the gates fast going on a 5-0 run to cut the Frankfurt advantage to 39-37. Graham who had scored 11 points in the first quarter, but was held scoreless in the second quarter hit free throws and Windi Graterol who played at 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro with Venezuela hit a trey. Frankfurt then got on the board with a Mike Morrison lay in as Robertson dished him the perfect pass off the pick and roll as Frankfurt led 41-37. Just how irate and pissed off ex NBA player Damion James was easily written on his face as his mood and anger got worse with every new missed shot. He was held scoreless in the first half and was angry and finally scored his first point at the free throw line. Starks then hit a 20 footer from the wing as James was too late as Frankfurt led 43-38. James probably couldn´t remember the last time it took him 23.04 minutes until he scored his first field goal, but he finally did at the 6.56 minute mark of the third quarter as he muscled his way to the hoop around Ilzhoefer to cut the Frankfurt advantage to 43-41. However Frankfurt continued to do a good job staying calm on the offensive end and running their plays and made shots as ex Walter Tigers Tuebingen forward Mahir Agva drained a 20 footer and Starks connected on an off balance shot as Frankfurt led 47-41. However James was just getting heated up and became a one man destruction team as he made free throws and scored twice inside cutting the Frankfurt lead to 49-47 and demonstrating why he had made it to the NBA as he made two very difficult shots in traffic that most BBL players wouldn´t even dream of attempting. Guaros De Lara continued to put massive pressure on Frankfurt inside as ex USC(NCAA) forward Davon Jefferson scored inside also. Guillient and Robertson traded baskets at the end as the Fraport Skyliners led 52-51. “Starks played good and once he gets more comfortable in our system, he will be even better. He reminded me a bit of how Jordan Theodore was able to take over at certain times of games last season. We needed him to do that and he did”, stressed Philip Scrubb. The Fraport Skyliners were shooting 52% from the field and 41% from the three point line while Guaros de Lara was shooting 47% from the field and 33% from the three point line. Frankfurt had the 23-17 rebound edge and eight turnovers while Guaros De Lara had seven turnovers.
In the fourth quarter, the game remained a nail bitter until the last two minutes where Guaros De Lara took over as their experience led them to the 2016 Fiba Intercontinental cup. The Fraport Skyliners got instant offense from ex Artland Dragon Antonio Graves who made a lay in and dropped a trey as Frankfurt led 57-51. However Frankfurt couldn´t keep up the momentum on defense relinquishing a Guaros De Lara mini 4-0 run as Cvetkovic and Bethelmy took apart the Frankfurt defense inside for two easy lay ups cutting the Frankfurt lead to 57-55. Starks then did what a good point guard has to do drawing the defense to him and then dishing off a quick no look pass to Morrison who hammered home a two handed stuff for the 59-55 lead. However Guaros De Lara tied the game at 60-60 with Graham free throws and a James bucket on transition. After Shields made a lay in traffic, it was James that secured free throws and ex Club Trouville Montevideo (Uruguay-LUB) forward Nestor Colmenares made a lay in to give Guaros De Lara the 64-62 lead and they would never look back. Frankfurt stayed on their opponents heels, but couldn´t regain the lead due to Robertson and Shields missed free throws as Guaros De Lara led 65-64. Then with two minutes to go came the major turning point of the game as Graham made a difficult runner coming from the right and Heissler Guillient nailed a huge step back three pointer from somewhere between Germany and Venezuela giving Guaros De Lara the 70-64 advantage with 46 seconds to play. “It felt good when the ball left my hand. Of course it is most important to play together as a team, but I really wanted to take this kind of shot at this moment”, smiled Heissler Guillient. The Fraport Skyliners had their chances and never gave up as Shields dropped a trey to cut the Guaros De Lara lead to 70-67 and Frankfurt then forced a turnover not allowing the Venezuelan team to inbound the ball to get the ball back, but Shields coughed up the ball right away leading to Graham free throws and the 72-67 lead. Robertson made it interesting again with a coast to coast lay in cutting the lead down to72-69, but Damion James sealed the title with clutch free throws. “There was a moment in the fourth quarter where I thought about our interview last night and the question of how important experience would be. We showed at the end that we had more experience and put it all together and got the win”, smiled Zach Graham. “I think that to a degree we were missing some experience at the end, but it came down to not getting stops when we needed to”, added Markel Starks. “We let them get to the free throw line and had too many turnovers. Guillient hit a huge shot”, stressed Quantez Robertson.
Guaros De Lara were led by Zach Graham with 19 points. Damion James added 17 points and Heissler Guillient added 10 points. The Fraport Skyliners were led by Shavon Shields with 16 points. Quantez Robertson added 12 points and six rebounds while Markel Starks added 11 points, five rebounds and six assists. Guaros De Lara shot 44% from the field and 33% from the parking lot while the Fraport Skyliners shot 49% from the field and 41% from the parking lot. Frankfurt won the rebounding duel 31-28 , but had 11 turnovers while Guaros De Lara had eight turnovers. Zach Graham was awarded the MVP trophy and after the game he met ex Auburn(NCAA) standout Quantez Robertson in the runway and remembered an encounter back in college and suddenly both Americans were reminiscing about the good old days. “Zach had a nice game. He shot the ball well at the start and it´s tough to guard a guy like that that can score from outside and drive to the rim. He reminded me that we had played each other in college. We always had mixed results against Mississippi(NCAA) and it was always hard to play at Mississippi”, stressed Quantez Robertson.