At this time last season, Ratiopharm Ulm with Jeff Gibbs, Romeo Travis, Dru Joyce and co were gleaming in the playoff range while 12 months later and on the eve of Superbowl 44, the club is toiling in 13th place, but coach Mike Taylor and the team can put their feet up and enjoy the game with a smile and be relatively happy with the current fortune of the team. The team was unable to keep key players from last season and got a facelift that totally left the club unrecognizable just like actress Melanie Griffith except for the friendly wide smile of coach Mike Taylor and a few players as he had to build a new winner in Ulm. Nobody was really expecting the team to reach the playoffs and seemed more concerned and interested about the season that Robin Benzing would have.
“I am happy with how Ratiopharm Ulm has played. We had some tough loses against Phoenix Hagen and The Giessen 46ers. I think if we would have won those games, most people would have said that we are playing well and we would have 10 wins and be pretty close to being saved for next season. We need two more wins and then we will be ok for next season”, stressed ratiopharm Ulm manager Thomas Stoll.
The biggest highlight this season for Ratiopharm Ulm besides having Robin Benzing and Per Günther start for the 2010 BEKO BBL South team was getting the green light for a multi functional arena for 2011. The future of Ratiopharm Ulm basketball was hedging on this new arena. If they wouldn´t have gotten the ok, basketball might have abruptly ended in Ulm as basketball did in Cologne and Seattle some years ago. Instead a few months ago, the basketball future of Ratiopharm Ulm was saved with the announcement of the building of the new arena.
“We plan to officially open the new arena in December 2011, but possibly earlier. We hope that it becomes one of the top four arenas in Germany. We started eight or nine years ago and it was a lot of hard work. We had to convince a lot of people that this would be a good investment and work. In the last years, it was difficult with the pressure of having success on the basketball court as well as coping with the financial crisis, but in the end we are all very happy now. Now I can go to Gunnar Wöbke (Deutsche Bank Skyliners manager) and get him going with getting a new arena for his team”, joked Thomas Stoll.
It was not a surprise too any one that it would not be a cake walk for Ratiopharm Ulm this season especially in the early part after the team lost so many strong players last season like fan favourite Mr Ulm Jeff Gibbs, calm point guard Dru Joyce, Mr comical Romeo Travis, defense specialist Keith Triplett, the human shark Sean Finn, the heart and soul of the team Emeke Erege and versatile Dan Fitzgerald. The team has a small core remaining from last season with German National player Per Guether who is still finding his game rhythm, forward Sebastian Betz and 2006 and 2007 NCAA champion with Florida Lee Humphrey. The team has had a slow start currently in 13th pl ace with a record of 8-13. They had some big wins against Bamberg, Bremerhaven, BG Goettingen and Oldenburg, so they are definitely a team that can beat any team on any night.
”Ratiopharm Ulm has many talented players that can go one on one and play to their strengths, can get up and down the floor, can defend and are athletic. I remember in our win at home, our zone trap bothered them for alittle in the first quarter, but once they settled, they jumped on us. They showed how explosive they can be as they got up by 16 points in the second half. We fought back and were lucky to win on the free throws by Chase Griffin”, stressed Quentin Pryor.
“Ratiopharm Ulm is a good team with great guards and a solid big man with Coleman Collins”, stated ex Paderborn Basket Steven Wright.
However the record of 8-14 speaks for itself as Ratiopharm Ulm not only has problems on offense and defense, but is also inconsistent. The team has never won more than two games this season and have a 1-9 record on the road.
“We have been struggling on the road and get good minutes in the first quarter, but are not able to finish strong or compete for 40 minutes. We run too many plays on offense and guys are confused. It has been difficult to integrate the new players. We have a thin bench, an eight man rotation and guys like Sebastian Betz and John Bryant aren´t getting enough minutes”, stressed Ratiopharm Ulm German Jerome Bridgewater.
“Being inconsistent goes back to their one on one play. Often they break plays when they shouldn´t or try to make plays that aren´t there”, commented Quentin Pryor.
Ratiopharm Ulm can definitely score points, but the offense seems too one dimensional at times.
“Our offense is too reliable on Christian Burns. Other guys need to step up their games. At times Burns should take better shots. He could be a lot more effective. He lives from his incredible speed as many four position guys can´t stop him”, warned Jerome Bridgewater.
Ratiopharm Ulm also is not the strongest defensive team in the BEKO BBL as they have allowed more than 80 points 13 times.
“We are weak on defense and have problems getting any boards. Collins has problems stopping guys in the post, Trice gambles too much about what could happen next, Burns is undersized for the four spot and Rowland and Gunther aren´t physical enough”, expressed Jerome Bridgewater.
Ratiopharm Ulm manager Thomas Stoll understands that the club has certain flaws, but sees the success coming down the road.
“We have no superstars, but this is a team that is fighting to win in each game. Guys like Christian Burns, Rocky Trice and Coleman Collins sometimes see plays to late and that is because of a lack of experience. You can´t compare these guys to a Derrick Allen or a Jeff Gibbs who have so much more experience. Getting experience doesn´t come from one day to the next. We reached the playoffs last season, but it took us three years to do so. It just isn´t realistic to think we can reach it again this season. Our budget isn´t so high. We think that our young players will give us success as soon as they get experience. Our goal this season is to stay in the league not the playoffs”, stated Thomas Stoll.
Mike Taylor is not only known as a good players coach and motivator, but also a first class recruiter as he put together another strong team that could be one of the most talented teams in the BBL this season with potent Americans and Germans. The most spectacular signing was 25 year old 191cm forward Rocky Trice from Georgia that could probably make a living touring the world dunking, but is too versatile and valuable to basketball to do that. He has made a big splash in Germany tearing up the PRO A two years ago with Cuxhaven and last year with MEG Goettingen leading the team into the playoffs averaging 11.7ppg, 5.4rpg, 1.5apg, Steals-1(2.6spg), FGP: 49.0%, 3PT: 26.7%, FT: 69.6% in 34 games. This season he is averaging 12,0ppg, 5,8rpg and 2,0apg. He has scored in double figures 17 times. The team also picked up 23 year old 206 cm American Coleman Collins who is a big man that runs the floor well and played in the BBL in 2007-2008 with ENBW Ludwigsburg averaging 10.6ppg, 4.1rpg, 2FGP: 58.3%, 3PT: 31.3%, FT: 70.1% in 33 games. He almost made the Phoenix Suns last season, but played in the D League for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants averaging 11.2ppg, 5.4rpg, 1.2apg, FGP: 48.4%, FT: 75.1% in 46 games. This season, Collins is averaging 11,7ppg, 4,8rpg and 1,2apg. He has scored in double figures 13 times.
The team also signed 24 year old 203 cm Christian Burns who is a real bruiser and played in Portugal last season for FC Porto Ferpinta (Portugal-UZO Liga, starting five): 22 games: Score-3(18.9ppg), 7.3rpg, 1.5apg, 1.1spg, 1.1bpg, FGP: 51.9%, 3PT: 21.4%, FT: 69.7%. He currently is the leading scorer of Ulm averaging 15,9ppg, 6,5rpg and 1,2apg. He had his break out game in a one point loss in Hagen with 23 points and 14 rebounds. “He has scored in double figures 16 times.
“Burns is a tough cover, because he is not your typical pick an dpop player. He has the handle of a guard so he can break down any big off the dribble. He is pretty physical and has a nice mid range jumper”, stressed Quentin Pryor
The team started with American rookie Kevin Kanaskie, but he had problems adjusting to the fast type of play in the BEKO BBL and had to depart. The club returned an old known face to Ulm with American Austen Rowland who had played there in 2006-2007 as he led the BEKO BBL in assists with 6,0. He registered 18 assists in a game against TBB Trier. Last season, he played in Austria for Furstenfeld averaging 9,4ppg, 1,8rpg and 4,2apg. He won the Austrian Cup in 2009. He has court vision and can do everything a point guard should be able to do. It was a very smart pick up by Mike Taylor. Currently Rowland is averaging 9,7ppg, 1,3rpg and 3,7apg. He has scored in double figures in three games, but has only been with the team for a short time. German national player Per Günther started the season as the starting point guard, but now has taken a step back coming from the bench, but he has taken this new change with class. He is averaging 6,5ppg, 2,1rpg and 2,8apg. He has scored in double figures in four games this season.
Ratiopharm Ulm rounded the roster with getting 27 year old 201 cm forward John Bryant who has a lot of experience having played in the States, England, and Australia. He is a powerful player, who provides a strong defensive presence inside. He has great leadership and work ethic. He is a guy that will help the young guys and give 180% each time he comes into the game. This season he is averaging 3,3ppg and 3,7rpg. The team also got an old friend back with 25 year old 180 cm guard Christian Grosse who played in Ulm from 2001-2007 and then played in Rhoendorf and then retired in 2008. Now he is back and ready to warm the bench and hope for playing time. Mike Taylor also has youth to develop with German Jerome Bridgewater, Nemanja Kekic and Darko Jukic from Denmark.
The team brought back 25 year old 188 cm guard Lee Humphrey, who is probably best known for breaking the netting in a college game on account of his fast shot. Last season, he played 36 games averaging 10.9ppg, 1.1rpg, FGP: 46.7%, 3PT: 43.9%, FT: 77.6%. When he is hot, he can be as efficient from three point land the same way Pascal Roller is from the free throw line. He is still looking for his consistency with his shot this season as he is averaging 9,2ppg, 1,5rpg and 1,2apg. He is shooting 42% from the field and 39% from three point land. 24 year old 200cm forward Sebastian Betz is a a young, hardworking wing who provides energy, defensive effort and consistent three point shooting. Last season, he was about as consistent as a player could be coming in and often scoring very much in limited time as he averaged 5.2ppg, 1.5rpg, FGP: 50.0%, 3PT: 35.6%, FT: 54.9% in 36 games averaging 10 minutes per game.
The Deutsche Bank Skyliners had their second meeting with ex TV Langen player Robin Benzing, who made such a giant leap as a player last summer in the German National team, but many Frankfurt fans were unhappy that Frankfurt was unable to sign him. The reasons and speculation why Benzing was not able to put on a Skyliner shirt this season have been varied, but the idea that Murat Didin did not want him are false.
“Who wouldn´t want a god given talent? We wanted him more than a German beer or champagne”, stressed Murat Didin.
Benzing made his mark in the German National team training camp and reached the pinnacle of starting many games for Germany at The European Championships in Poland. In 6 games, Benzing averaged 5.5ppg, 1.7rpg, FGP: 53.3%, 3PT: 33.3%, FT: 91.7% after tearing up the PRO A last season averaging 22.2ppg), 5.0rpg, 2.0apg, 1.2bpg, FGP: 53.1%, 3PT: 40.5%, FT: 80.0%. Benzing is 20 years old and has been labelled as a diva by some except for his new coach Mike Taylor who has no problem keeping him grounded.
“Robin Benzing keeps himself in line because he is an excellent player and quality person. When I think of Robin, ‘diva’ is no way I would ever describe him. Robin is a hardworking team player who has tremendous talent and great potential. What impresses me is how grounded he is after all of his success this summer with the National team. I absolutely love to work with Robin and believe in him completely. Robin will earn his success because he works for it and I am happy to help him improve”, stressed Mike Taylor.
So far in four games, Benzing is averaging 12,0ppg, and 1,8rpg. For captain Pascal Roller, after seeing Benzing on TV and practicing with him last season, he will play his second pro game against him.
“Benzing made a huge jump with the National team. I didn´t really get to know him so well since he wasn´t at many practices, but from what I saw, he is a very mobile power forward and can shot from outside. If he has the goal to play international, then he has to get stronger”, added Pascal Roller.
Benzing has played very solid this season as he is averaging 11,9ppg, 2,2rpg and 1,1apg. His shooting is not top notch yet at 37% form the field and 31% from outside, but players are already getting a lot of respect for him.
“Robin is very talented. He is still young and I am sure he will improve his rebounding with time and work”, stressed Quentin Pryor.
If The Deutsche Bank Skyliners will keep an extra eye on Robin Benzing seems not to be an issue.
“We have no special plan just to stop Benzing. We are concentrating on all their players. We are looking to stop Ratiopharm Ulm and will have no special defense on him”, stressed Murat Didin.
The game also was the Ballsporthalle debut of ex TV Langen forward Robin Benzing who was being watched by ex teammates like Marco Voller of TV Langen and finished with two halves like night and day. At halftime he had three points on 1/6 shooting, but in the second half scored 17 points shooting 5/5. He is seen as one of the biggest talents in Germany and didn´t let the history between him and the Skyliners put a damper in his game. He was in good spirits after the game and had only positive words for the Skyliners and Murat Didin.
“It was nice to be here and a lot of fun. I spoke to Didin before the game and we have a normal relationship with each other. I didn´t have much space to get inside and didn´t put any pressure on my game after my slow first half. I just kept shooting, because sooner than later my shots will fall”, stressed Robin Benzing.
Coach Murat Didin was in high spirits long after the game in the VIP room enjoying a nice vegetarian dish and speaking about Robin Benzing in the best terms as if there had never been a problem.
“All is good with Robin. We talk and there is nothing strange or new with our relationship. It’s good. He is an exceptional basketball talent and has a special gift from god with basketball. It is great that he is playing in Germany. If he had been in a serious basketball program like Ricky Rubio with 16 or 17, then he would be playing Euroleague now. It is nice to see that he is moving in a right direction”, warned Murat Didin.
Grayson Moyer had some duels with Benzing and was very impressed with the youth.
“Benzing is a good player. He does a bit of everything on the court. He is tall and athletic and goes hard to the basket to draw the foul. If you leave him open just for a second then he will hurt you with his shot. He is so tall that you can´t get a hand up quick enough when he is open for a second”, added Grayson Moyer.
Without the big clutch shots form Benzing in the fourth quarter, Ratiopharm Ulm would have been out of the game at the halfway point of the quarter.
“Robin played well. He made the big plays. He is so tall and long that he can easily draw fouls and stretches out the defense” Not only in games does he make big shots, but also in practice. He has been the only guy to make this trick shot where he shoots the ball above the rafters lets the ball bounce and fall into the basket. It reminds me a bit of the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird Mcdonalds commercials”, stated Lee Humphrey.
Manager Thomas Stoll is also very happy with the play of Robin Benzing.
“Robin makes mistakes, but is developing nicely in Ulm. He is one of the big talents in Europe and we are happy that he is in Ulm. It is no secret that he has flaws rebounding, but his body has gotten stronger. He has the potential to be a good rebounder and has gotten big rebounds in the last games. He is definitely better than Dirk Nowitzki was at this age. He also had to get used to a new role in Ulm after playing 40 minutes in Langen. He always gives 100%. The success hasn´t gone to his head. His agent Marko Pesic keeps him grounded”, stressed Thomas Stoll.
The Ratiopharm Ulm manager also keeps track of sweet Benzing memories and knows how valuable a player he is for his size.
“We have too many nice players on the team, but lacking a Chris Ensminger type of player that takes no crap from anyone. Recently Benzing took an elbow from Heiko Schaffartzik, but instead of just taking it, served an elbow back showing that he will not take anything from any opponent on the court. We often have NBA scouts at practice and that doesn´t faze Robin. It is incredible to watch his spin moves and fade away jumpers which you don´t just see from a player his size”, expressed Thomas Stoll.
Ratiopharm Ulm lost the season series to The Deutsche Bank Skyliners losing in Ulm 95-82 and in Frankfurt 84-77. Ratiopharm Ulm has made improvement from the start of the season where Frankfurt was able to do much more damage in the zone.
“Our transition defense has gotten a lot better since the loss in Ulm and I feel that we are playing more like a team”, stressed 2006 and 2007 NCAA champion with Florida Lee Humphrey.
In the second meeting against The Deutsche Bank Skyliners, Ratiopharm Ulm played a lot like Frankfurt in that they always stayed with the opponent. However, when high noon arrived in crunch time, Ratiopharm Ulm was unable to make any Frankfurt miracles happen like in MBC or Duesseldorf.
“The Frankfurt experience was too much for Ratiopharm Ulm. Frankfurt once again found a way to win. Frankfurt limited the Ulm transition baskets and getting to the hoop. Frankfurt made some big plays and the Reese shot sealed the win”, added David Teague.
At key moments in the last two minutes when Ratiopharm Ulm could of gotten to 83-81, the team was unable to make a successful set play, but fell back to one on one play as Christian Burns missed two runners in the lane. That is a shot that often fell for him during the game, but in crunch time, the club simply had too little options to fall back on. Burns is the 4th best scorer in the BEKO BBL and finished with 15 points and six rebounds.
“Burns is so quick with the ball. Very few four guys can cover him. He can finish strong and shoots very well. He is one of the most underrated players in the league and deserves more credit”, stressed Giessen 46er David Teague.
Rocky Trice had a great start in the first half, but then fouled out in the second half. He finished with five points, four rebounds, four assists and four steals.
“Trice was all over the court. He always has a hand on a loose ball and that is one of the reasons why he leads the league in assists”, stated David Teague.
German National player Per Günther finished with eight points in 22 minutes. He did a good job running the offense and is always getting better.
“It wasn´t easy for Per to come back after the injury. I am sure that he would of not played so much under Murat Didin. He is only 22 and will go his way. Per is a great guy and still needs to learn to make better decisions, but back up Austen Rowland is the perfect guy to show him the tricks”, added Thomas Stoll.
American Coleman Collins who has been known to be a little soft was very versatile and finished with 13 points, six rebounds and four assists.
Ratiopharm Ulm will surely not make the playoffs this season, but they are a team that will continue to grow as a team and the long term goal of the club is to build another playoff team. If Robin Benzing will be playing in a Ratiopharm Ulm uniforn next season is unknown at the moment, but if he leaves then the fans should enjoy it while it lasts. The team has made some big upsets and might surprise a few more teams this season including 8 time BEKO BBL champion Alba Berlin this upcoming weekend, but with the shortage of team experience should not make any big runs against the very strong and tight BEKO BBL competition in the second half of the season. The most important thing is that the team will stay in the league and keep building a winning team for that new arena. Coach Mike Taylor looks like he will grow old in Ulm and ever since he wrote a sixth grade essay saying he wanted to be a professional basketball coach one day, it looks like he will continue to eat, drink and sleep basketball until that one day when he finally wins a professional basketball championship. For some reason, I don´t see Mike Taylor ever liking any other colors besides the orange and white or winning that first title anywhere else then in Ulm.