From November 2014 until October 2016, the Fraport Skyliners were able to have a very stable time in that there was little roster movement as head coach Gordon Herbert had brought in the right mix of players which translated into a Eurochallenge Final 4 appearance, Fiba Europe Cup title and two BBL playoff appearances in a row. In this time, the club had grown massively with their team chemistry as the two point guards Justin Cobbs and Jordan Theodore as well as the big German 3 of Johannes Voigtmann, Danilo Barthel and Konstantin Klein were the main components that held the team together and in a way guaranteed success. However this season was another story as suddenly head coach Gordon Herbert who has been known for reeling in the right point guards in the last years with guys like Dashaun Wood, Justin Cobbs and Jordan Theodore was dealt the wrong card in Markel Starks who had to depart early as another American Kwame Vaughn was brought in. Overall players coming and goings continued to be as prevalent the way new American President Trump has fired cabinet employees in his first two weeks of office as ex Maryland(NCAA) forward Ekene Ibekwe and buzzer beater champion Antonio Graves had to pack their bags. On December 11th, the Fraport Skyliners were sinking quickly in the standings after a brutal 77-57 loss against FC Bayern Munich at home and head coach Gordon Herbert had 10 long days to figure something out until the next game in the Champions League against Slovenian team Helios. Herbert had some candidates to choose from and also heard the same normal bla bla from agents telling how great their clients were and in the end chose AJ English who like Justin Cobbs two years ago was also a rookie and known to having shot out the lights at Iona(NCAA).Ex Skyliner Sean Armand surely didn´t play a role in helping make Herbert´s appetite grow for his ex teammate and the 2004 BBL champion decided to haul in English and one could carefully say the rest is history for the time being. English very much like Cobbs two years ago has been Veni, Vidi Vici as he has come seen and conquered. Since the arrival of English, he has been nothing short of spectacular helping the team to an 8-0 record and helped move to the Champions League playoffs and has scored in double figures in each game, made a buzzer beater and in the lone game Frankfurt lost in Oldenburg, he was unable to play. During the Pro B game of Fraport Skyliners farm team Juniors against the Dragons Rhondorf where the BBL players often watch and support when they have time, English was able to deny in his soft voice that he is the savior for the team. “I don´t believe that I am the savior, but just another piece to the puzzle. You need to have the right pieces for success. The team just has been meshing together in the time that I have been here”, warned AJ English.
English is a 24 year old 192cm combo guard from Middletown, Delaware who is the son of ex NBA player AJ English who played for the Washington Bullets from 1990-1992 and is playing his rookie season and started his professional career in Italy with Enel Basket Brindisi (Italy-Serie A) playing 8 games averaging 7.9ppg, 2.0rpg, 2.6apg, 1.1spg, 2FGP: 38.7%, 3FGP: 25.0%, FT: 75.0%. In his time there, the team went 4-4 and decided to make changes. The club had talented rookie Nicolas Moore who had a stellar career at SMU(NCAA) and was also on the radar of some NBA teams and also experienced 33 year old guard Phil Goss who has made a name for himself in Italy having played in Rome and Venice and English seemed to have gotten lost a bit in the mix and found himself unemployed in mid December. In his eight games with Enel Basket Brindisi, he was able to score in double figures in three games including 15 point games against Brescia and VF Pescaro. He started his professional career against Dolomiti with a 0/6 performance from the Parking lot, and was never able to fully gain a rhythm with his bread and butter as he shot only 32% from outside. Despite only being with Enei Basket Brindisi for a short time, the American didn´t see his departure as one that was due to poor play. “I didn´t necessarily have to go, but I had just come out of school and they wanted me to play a certain role. I can play the positions 1-3. They wanted me to play one position like you see in the NBA where guys are signed for one particular strength. I guess I wasn´t ready for that role, but I am happy that Frankfurt took me and saw me as a point guard, but also a guy that can also play the two position”, commented ex Iona(NCAA) guard AJ English.
English was picked up by the Fraport Skyliners in December 2016 to help turnaround the season and one has to think what could have been in the teams season had he been reeled in earlier as there had been interest from them. Head coach Gordon Herbert didn´t even need to talk to ex player Sean Armand who had been teammates with English at Iona(NCAA) about his qualities as his son Daniel had seen him play last April. “Daniel saw English play at the last Portsmouth Invitational, but Brindisi had been very quick in signing him for this season. Later I spoke to Brindisi´s general manager and he had told me that he might become available soon”, stressed Gordon Herbert. The American needed no time to make his mark in Germany as he impressed in his first game against Helios scoring 12 points and connecting on four three´s and six days later in his first BBL game hit Science City Jena for 12 points and filled up the stat sheet for the second game in a row with a steal and block. English credits not only his quick start, but 8-0 record with Frankfurt to head coach Gordon Herbert. “The BBL suits my style and I give a lot of credit to coach who has shown that guys like Armand and Theodore could function under him and I see the same with me. It is easy to work with coach as he explains everything which makes my job easier. Coach pushes me and gets the best out of me”, warned AJ English. Coach Herbert also sees a lot of potential in English and also sees something very special in the American that one doesn´t see often and makes comparisons to two ex Skyliners who definitely left their mark in Frankfurt. “English has fit in well and is a good player. He reminds me of an Andy Rautins and Jordan Theodore in that he is so mentally tough. He always wants the ball and is never afraid. He wants to be a difference maker”, warned Gordon Herbert.
There have been those moments in Skyliner history where certain players have made a lasting impression with one shot as guys like Eric Chatfield and Justin Gray won games with buzzer beaters against ratiopharm ulm and the s.Oliver Wurzburg and even an ex Skyliner in Antonio Graves hitting them with one with the Artland Dragons a few years ago. It didn´t take AJ English long to permanently become enshrined in Skyliner Nostalgia as he made an incredible buzzer beater in Tuebingen which was the most incredible ending to a contest there since the amazing Romeo Travis alley-oop shot that beat Bamberg seven years ago. With 1,5 seconds to play, it was English that had the ball and knew from coach Herbert that he had time for that one dribble and shot an off balance shot in traffic that saw nothing but net.
It was surprising that English hadn´t been blinded all night long by the pig pink colors of the Paul Horn arena, but it wasn´t so much the colors of the arena that he remembers most, but the way from above down to the court. “That arena reminded me of a pit and that feeling we had when we played at Northern Iowa. That was my first real buzzer beater that I made. I remember making one at the boys and girls club. It was a great feeling and I am just glad that it went in. All I remember was coach telling me that I would have enough time to square my feet and be able to shoot it”, added AJ English. English finished the game with 21 points on six three´s and his success with Frankfurt continued after that as he helped beat Giessen 65-61 and steered 14 points in the win. Then in a span of a little more than two weeks when the BBL was celebrating the Allstar break, English was an instrumental figure in the club advancing to the Champions League playoffs. The Fraport Skyliners were in a dog fit with Israeli team Ironi Nahariya, but stayed mentally tough disposing of Bakken at home, then made the biggest surprise overcoming the Greek hell in the loud Aris arena and winning on the road and then beating Ironi Nahariya in a do or die game in Frankfurt. In the three games, English contributed with 24,19 and 14 points. One guy who has really profited from the presence of English is Kwame Vaughn. He had been very up and down and notorious for holding onto the ball too long which had the shot clock down one too many times, but in the last few weeks has really shone especially in the Champions league and had his best game as a Skyliner in the crushing win of the Walter Tigers Tuebingen last weekend scoring 19 points dishing out nine assists, grabbing five rebounds and getting four steals. Vaughn now can concentrate more on the playmaking with English on the court and not force as much. “We help each other out and push each other. I think that I take pressure off him with my game so he can concentrate more on his game”, added AJ English. Gordon Herbert also has seen a change in the game of Vaughn since the arrival of English. “They have both played very well in the last four games. They both can score, pass, create for others and simply compliment each other well. They play off each other well and are a lot better when they are together on the court than when they are not”, stressed Gordon Herbert.
When inspecting the game of AJ English closely, he is more than just a pure scorer. The best example was from the last big win at home against the Walter Tigers Tuebingen. English didn´t have any last second buzzer beater heroics this time, but still played an instrumental part in the game as he was a major force coming into the game in the first quarter with Frankfurt down 11-2 and stinking up the Fraport arena with their play worse than a dead skunk could on the side of the road. English didn´t play as many minutes as teammates Kwame Vaughn or Shawn Huff or have their stats, but the American made key plays, shots, passes and got the team ball movement rolling in the last 5.08 of the first quarter which helped turn around the game and lead the team on the right path to victory where they would never look back: English defines himself as a combo guard, but his masterful passing skills have already stood out this season as he has made some great passes, but great passer´s haven´t been a rarity with the Fraport Skyliners as Johannes Voigtmann belonged to the top BBL passing big men in the past and 17 year old German gem Isaac Bonga has already sparkled with his typical unreadable no look passes. Despite having impressed many with his passing, he still sees that basketball trait as one that goes unnoticed. “A hidden strength in my game is my passing. I really like to pass the ball. I played pitcher and quarterback in the past so passing is something I know how to do. I always looked up to the passing abilities of a Chris Paul or Rajon Rondo, but also to guys like James Harden and Russell Westbrook who aren´t flashy, but get the triple doubles”, smiled AJ English. Another thing that doesn´t get noticed right away in his game, but if you look closely, English has a keen sense of knowing how to fool his defender in that he uses his upper body to perfection. He has the ability to beat his defender on most occasions simply, because he goes where he wants to without letting his upper body reveal what direction he will go. He doesn´t tend to lose his balance and is adept as drawing fouls. “He uses his body very well. He is a lot stronger than what people think”, stressed Gordon Herbert. Ex Telekom Baskets Bonn point guard Jared Jordan described English best by saying that he is like a snake slithering to the basket. Herbert also has been pleased by the defense of English in the last games and is excited to see how his defense along with that of Vaughn with Quantez Robertson in the middle will continue to develop to make an already very harmonious defense even better.
Before turning professional, English played at Iona(NCAA) from 2012-2016 playing a total of 112 NCAA games and was able to improve his scoring stats each season. He played his first two seasons with ex Fraport Skyliner Sean Armand and after averaging only 7,0ppg as a freshman, he really broke out in his second year playing 33 games and averaging 17.2ppg, 3.9rpg, 4.3apg, 1.0spg, FGP: 40.6%, 3PT: 35.4%, FT: 76.6%. He won the MAAC tournament as a freshman with Armand and in their second season together and last with Armand, English even had a higher scoring average, but never was able to eclipse the three point accuracy of Armand at Iona(NCAA), but still cherishes the two years in New York with Sean Armand. “He was the first guy I came across at Iona. We lived together that first summer and he took me under his wing. He showed me the ropes at Iona(NCAA) and I am really thankful for that”, added AJ English. In his last two years with Armand testing the professional ranks, English really took off making big strides in his stats as in his junior year, he averaged 20.1ppg, 5.2rpg, 5.1apg, 1.4spg, FGP: 48.2%, 3PT: 37.7%, FT: 78.5%. That season he played 34 games scoring in double figures in 30 games and scored 20 points or more in 17 games and had massive outings against Northern Texas with 37 points and poured in 32 points against Siena. As a senior his game took another huge leap as he averaged 22.6ppg, 5.0rpg, 6.2apg, 1.6spg, FGP: 51.9%, 3PT: 37.0%, FT: 83.6%. He scored in double figures in 27 of 28 games and scored 20 points or more 18 times. He had two massive explosions as he tore up Fairfield with 46 points on 13 trey´s and hit Monmouth for 45 points.
Even if high scoring Sean Armand was gone his last two years, his huge stats weren´t self-evident as he was surrounded with massive talent. “I still had a lot of scorers around like David Laurey and others. The biggest difference between my last two years and first two years was that I was older and had the ball more and my teammates helped me. My teammates looked at me to pick up the team when it was down. I knew that I had to keep the team together so it wouldn´t collapse”, stressed AJ English. He surpassed 2000 points in his last NCAA game as Iona lost to Iowa State 94-81 as he steered home 27 points, seven rebounds and six assists in the loss. He also finished his senior season as the MAAC leading scorer and assist man. English will also always be grateful to being taught the basketball language on and off the court by Iona head coach Tim Cluess. “He let me know every day that every game was a big one”, added AJ English. After Iona he played at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament (Pre-NBA Draft) playing 3 games and putting up very respectable numbers with 17.3ppg, 3.0rpg, 6.7apg, 1.3spg, 1.0bpg, but remained undrafted but Sports Illustrated named him one of the countries 10 best players that went undrafted. He then played NBA Pro Summer League in Las Vegas (Golden State Warriors): 5 games: 4.0ppg, 1.2rpg. The whole experience was important, but he understood that the NBA is still too early. “Every game was packed and we usually played in prime time. I learned that I had to be aggressive at all times and you have to show up every night and throw the punches because your always alone. I understood that I wasn´t ready for the NBA, but it is still my dream to play in the NBA”, warned AJ English.
So far AJ English has been spared the big guns and Tiger type teams, but seen the BBL antelope teams like Science City Jena and the Walter Tigers Tuebingen, but in the next two weekends, the American will be put to the test of what he is really made of as he will face top teams FC Bayern Munich and the Brose Bamberg. Will English be able to continue to put up solid numbers or will he succumb to the pressure somewhat and the tougher quality of players as his perfect 8-0 record with the Fraport Skyliners seems to be in danger. Four days before the big game in Munich, Gordon Herbert was relaxing on his couch at home, but still had some strength left after the nightly practice to stay positive about the teams chances and English being a factor in MUnich “I was talking about this game with assistant Klaus Perwass and we know that we will face a very physical team that have very good players and are well coached. I believe that this will be a good challenge for English in moving forward. English is the type of guy that wants to take on that challenge. It will be interesting to see how he can deal with the physicality of Munich”, warned Gordon Herbert. There is one similarity that Sean Armand and AJ English have had at Iona and now as professionals and that is their deadly three point shooting. Armand had some huge scoring games, but surprisingly in his rookie season with Frankfurt he never hit for more than six three´s and that was in the 22nd game in a win against ratiopharm Ulm while English hit for six trey´s already in his third game. English probably hasn´t studied the Frankfurt head to head stats between Armand and himself, but one thing remains for sure, he has a sense of humor and has that ability to blurt out funny lines as if he had been secretly an intern for Jimmy Fallon at the Tonight Show last summer. When informed that I had had used the nickname for his ex teammate Sean “you want buckets here you go” Armand two seasons ago in the Eurochallenge telecasts and that I would use this nickname for him AJ “ You want three point bombs from the parking lot here you go” English, he countered with this funny remark. “You can´t say bombs overseas. I don´t want to get in trouble”, smiled AJ English. One thing is for sure, bombs or not, English will be firing away from downtown all season long and at the end of each shot, it will be a ball that will be dropping through the hole destroying his opponent only with points which in basketball is deadlier than bombs.