All good and sometimes less pleasant things come to an end sometime like the wild baby hit me one more time days of American singer Britney Spears before becoming a mom, actor Jaleel White famous for his whining line “Did I do that” from his days at the sitcom Family matters to finally getting some respect at age 34 for a new sitcom called “Love that girl” or Alba Berlin losing their seven year Beko BBL champion title run in 2004 to the hands of Bamberg. On December 9th ratiopharm Ulm will move into the new ratiopharm arena across town in Neu-Ulm and will depart from the Kuhberg Halle which had a small like American style high school gym where the loudness and fan presence near the court will always be remembered. With the good play of ratiopharm Ulm perhaps the team should think twice about leaving the loved Kuhberg halle. “I feel very good in this gym, but I am sure that we will feel good in the new arena as well”, smiled ratiopharm Ulm headcoach Thorsten Leibenath. Young Skyliner Danilo Barthel has had a great season so far, but found himself with a big DNP, but still had memories of the Kuhberg Halle. “I always had good games here with the NBBL teams, but never played in front of so many people as tonight. If they can get an atmosphere in the new arena like here then that should be good”, commented Skyliner forwar Danilo Barthel. For Skyliner Jon Leuer, he was more used to playing 15,000 NCAA arenas, but liked the high school gym atmosphere. It was a very small gym and the fans were really in to it. It would have been nice if we had won, but I am glad that I am not coming back”, expressed Jon Leuer.
The Fraport Skyliners entered the Kuhberg Halle having a less than satisfactory 2-3 record since ratiopharm arrived in the Beko BBL in 2006 and wanted to leave the small place with their first win as the Fraport Skyliners and somehow escape being trampled by the Incredible Hulk John Bryant and getting flooded by the waves of the surfer dude look alike Dane Watts, but returned back to Frankfurt with their second loss in a row with a bitter 85-79 loss in the last minute. After the game new coach Thorsten Leibenath had a grin as wide as three Michael Hakim Jordans put together and didn´t need to give difficult analyse about why ratiopharm Ulm won. “We hit tough three pointers all night long and were very consistent at the free throw line which helped us win a close game like this. We also won the rebounding”, stressed ratiopharm Ulm head coach Torsten Leibenath. The Fraport Skyliners played a lot better than again Bonn, but were missing that added luck and making the big play down the stretch. “We couldn´t execute our offense at the end or get the needed stops. Dane Watts hit two tough running shots at the end”, stressed Skyliner guard Justin Gray.
Before the game, Dane Watts and Johannes Herber had a long chat talking about their Tuebingen days, Quantez Robertson might have been asking Isiah Swann his secret about how he shoots the three so well, and ex NCAA Wisconsin teammates Jon Leuer and Keaton Nakivil might have been asking each other what they had liked best about Germany so far. When the game finally did get under way, The Fraport Skyliners had the better start quickly getting the 7-3 lead. Justin Gray beat the Ulm zone and Jon Leuer showed his quickness from the baseline dunking home a two handed dunk. However then as quickly as Borussia Dortmund had led 1FC Koln in the opening minutes, ratiopharm Ulm showed how explosive their offense can be going on a 13-0 and lead 16-7. Ulm scored a lot inside as ex Paderborn forward Steve Esterkamp scoring inside with his left hand, German national player Per Guenther hitting a jumper, Watts scoring inside twice and Guenther again with a penetration lay in. The aggressiveness that Frankfurt had had in the first minutes now suddenly seemed to have disappeared as they weren´t physical and Ulm was rebounding very well. Skyliner guard Jimmy Mckinney then brought some daylight to the offense going on a 5-0 run with a tough runner and then dropping a bomb from the corner as Frankfurt trailed only 16-12. But as fast as Mckinney answered, Esterkamp responded with a three pointer. Esterkamp and Marius Nolte had been teammates from 2004-2009 with Paderborn and have a strong friendship, but on the court Nolte seems to have another game face on then his buddy Esterkamp. There was one instance in the game where both guys had some physical contact with Esterkamp shrugging it off with a smile, but Nolte just snaring. “Marius can never be mad at me. He is just a great competitor. We are best friends off the court but on the court we play to win. He just wasn´t in a good mood on the floor”, added Steven Esterkamp. Ratiopharm Ulm then ended the first quarter with a pretty play as American Tommy Mason-Griffin penetrated from the right seemed like he would shoot, but then whipped a pass to the wing where he found a parked Keaton Nankivil who ran and stuffed the ball home as ratiopharm Ulm led 23-13. “ Our guards gave good pressure on them, Bryant and Watts were strong on screens, we ran our plays and executed well on transition”, stated injured ratiopharm Ulm Antonio Anderson who played with NBA star Derrick Rose at Memphis. Ratiopharm Ulm was shooting 60% from the field and 50% from outside while The Fraport Skyliners were shooting 31% from the field and 40% from outside. Ratiopharm Ulm had the 11-6 rebound edge and both teams coughed up the ball three times a piece.
In the second quarter, The Fraport Skyliners responded by crawling out of their hole going on a 9-1 furious run to trail only 24-21. Frankfurt increased their intensity, hit their shots consistenly and were stronger under the boards. Leuer started the run on a nice pick and role play with Justin Gray with a lay in high off the glass, Michael Thompson then hit an open three pointer after excellent ball movement, Nolte scored inside and Gray hit a pull up jumper. Griffin and Herber exchanged three pointer and Bryant and Gray then exchanged buckets as the game was knotted at 28-28. Ratiopharm then was able to keep the tight lead as they hit some very difficult contested shots. Nankivil hit a tough three pointer as Leuer seemed glued to his pal and Esterkamp found nothing as net hitting a bomb with two seconds left on the shot clock and Gray breathing down his back as Frankfurt trailed 36-32. It was the first head to head meeting as professionals between Leuer and Nankivil. “It was fun playing against him. We are best friends and played four years at Wisconsin. It was great to compete against him and when he gets hot, he can hit threes all night long”, stressed Jon Leuer. Nakivil and Leuer then traded baskets as ratiopharm Ulm still led 39-35. In the past Per Guether was only dangerous with his penetration, but now has developed a consistent outside shot nailing one as ratiopharm Ulm cruised into half time with a 44-37 lead. “We got off to a slow start. Basketball is a game of runs. We defended well and stuck together. Watts, Esterkamp and Nankivil hit tough shots”, expressed Antonio Anderson. Ratiopharm Ulm was shooting 53% from the field and 60% from the three point line while The Fraport Skyliners were shooting 44% from the field and 45% from the three point line. Ulm had the 17-15 rebound edge and both teams were doing a respectable job with the turnovers having only four a piece.
Ratiopharm Ulm continued to keep their hot shooting going as Per Guether continued to work for his shots getting open and burying them as ratiopharm Ulm led 48-39. Quantez Robertson upped his defense getting some key steals and increasing the intensity on the defense which sparked the offense. Robertson hit a floater after a steal and Mckinney then scored on the fast break and Tez made another steal giving the ball to Gray who glided into the lane and in the last second found Tez for an easy lay up as Frankfurt trailed only 50-46. Then it was Swann and Mckinney who traded three pointers as ratiopharm Ulm led 55-49. Then it was time for German national player Tim Ohlbrecht to give his spice to the soup. He has struggled this season, but showed spirited rebounding in the first half and now in the waning minutes of the third quarter defended the Incredible Hulk John Bryant well and scored on a dunk and tip in showing his muscle inside as the Fraport Skyliners trailed only 57-55. However as had been present so often in the game, when Frankfurt had cut the lead down to only a few points, they were unable to regain the lead and get valuable stops as Tommy Mason griffin hit a three pointer as ratiopharm Ulm had the 61-55 lead after three quarters. “We played good, but weren´t able to get enough stops to take the lead. We never gave up fighting”, warned Justin Gray. Ratiopharm Ulm was shooting 51% from the field and 54% from the parking lot while The Fraport Skyliners were shooting 45% from the field and 33% from the parking lot. The Fraport Skyliners regained the rebound edge 24-23, but had 10 turnovers while ratiopharm Ulm only had nine turnovers.
In the fourth quarter, it was ratiopharm Ulm American Isaiah Swann who hit another one of his long three pointers as if he was at the Ulm Minster and Tim Ohlbrecht and John Bryant exchanged buckets as Frankfurt still trailed 66-58. However now the game seemed to change in favor of the guests as The Fraport Skyliners forced a 10-0 run to take the lead again after having it last early in the first quarter 68-66. Beko BBL rookie Michael juice Thompson nailed a three pointer, Robertson then hit a high rainbow, Thomspon displayed his juicy floater and Gray hit atypical off balance bomb from the corner. However it didn´t take long for the ratiopharm version of downtown Ulm Minster Isiah Swann to hit another three pointer and the Ulm lead 69-68. However Leuer showed some toughness responding with a clutch three pointer as Frankfurt led 71-69 with two minutes to play. Bryant then took Ulm on a mini 4-0 run with four free throws as Frankfurt trailed 73-71 after gray had missed a shot and Mckinney had turned the ball over. Nolte then tipped out a offensive rebound which helped give Frankfurt another possession as Herber nailed a three pointer and Frankfurt led 74-73. Then it was Dane Watts to the rescue as he made a pretty floater as ratiopharm Ulm led 75-74 and would never trail again. Then Nolte missed a difficult lay up and Watts scored again on the next possession with a turn around shot as Frankfurt trailed 77-74. “I don´t recall winning a game in Germany ever with two shots in a row. I am just happy that my teammates showed confidence in me to take these shots. I am just happy that I can help the team win. I always felt that we would win this game”, stressed Dane Watts. Frankfurt then had the chance to take the game into overtime with a three pointer on the last possession, but ratiopharm Ulm fouled Leuer and he only hit one of two free throws. Ulm captain Esterkamp then sealed the game with two free throws and a four point Ulm lead with a few seconds remaining. “We gave a good team effort and it was so close at the end. I feel we could of won this game”, stressed Skyliner sport director Kamil Novak. “It was the little mistakes at the end and not hitting big shots that cost us the game”, stressed Skyliner forward Danilo Barthel.
Ratiopharm Ulm was led by Isaiah Swann with 20 points. Steven Esterkamp and Per Guether produced 14 points a piece. John Bryant and Dane Watts chipped in with 10 points a piece. The Fraport Skyliners were led by Justin Gray with 14 points and seven assists. Jimmy Mckinney and Jon Leuer contributed 12 points a piece. Ratiopharm Ulm shot very consistent over 50% from the field and from outside while The Fraport Skyliners shot 45% from the field and only 36% from the parking lot. Ratiopharm Ulm won the rebounding battle 33-29. Frankfurt did a good job with the ball movement dishing out 18 assists. The Fraport Skyliners were much improved from the Bonn game, but lack a dangerous fast break game. “We rebounded better and slowed them more down on transition. We are so focused with securing the rebound that we get away from running. We have to focus more on pushing the ball forward”, warned Michael Thompson. Ratiopharn Ulm is 4-1 and have really quickly established more structure into their game, a revamped defense from last season and a more controlled offense with less one on one basketball. They also have learned how to succeed in crunch time situations. “We played with a lot perseverance and never panic. In these close situations, we have a lot of trust in our teammates to make the right plays”, warned Dane Watts. The Fraport Skyliners may be 2-3, but can achieve a lot, but seem to be missing one important ingredient. “Frankfurt has a lot of pieces with shooters, scorers, inside/ out play, but something is missing that will bring this team together. They know how to create, but have to learn to come together as one”, stressed Steven Esterkamp. The Fraport Skyliners next play 8 time Beko BBL champion Alba Berlin on October 29th.