Can Allan Ray Fill The Shoes Of Isaiah Swann This Season With ratiopharm Ulm?

Since the arrival of ratiopharm Ulm in the Beko BBL in 2006, the club has always displayed interesting and somewhat potent rosters that were formed thanks to ex head coach Mike Taylor who is coaching Maine in the D-league and often had the appropriate feeling and trusted magic wan that was able to haul in capable players according to the minimum budget that the club possessed.  In the Mike Taylor era, he was able to find young lesser known players just starting their basketball career like Dru Joyce, Romeo Travis, Christian Burns, Lee Humphrey, Per Guenther or John Bryant who all were able to produce in the Beko BBL. The influx of strong players coming to Ulm continued after the departure of Mike Taylor as head coach Thorsten Leibenath came on board. Last season, the club had a special player with Isaiah Swann that had special offensive qualities who was a big factor in the success of ratiopharm Ulm. Granted head coach Thorsten Leibenath and the rest of the team also contributed to the team taking the ride to the final, but how often was Swann able to bring that extra spark and needed production in key situations of games helping the team propel the team to needed victories. At least two to three wins were on the account of Swann´s scoring rampage and scoring in bunches that he displayed frequently. Swann left ratiopharm Ulm after last season with money signs dancing in his head as he is making three times as much in Turkey this season. This season, the team got a player in Allan Ray who arrived to replace Swann and show that he can be that ray of light in needed situations this season. Ray is a 28 year old 188cm guard form the Bronx, New York that is a an explosive scoring guard, tremendous leaper, finds the open man, beats foes off the dribble or with a jumper, has range beyond the 3-point arc and is a conscientious defender. Ray played a season for the Boston Celtics playing 47 games: 6.2ppg, 1.5rpg, FGP: 38.6%, 3PT: 41.4%, FT: 76.4%. In the last years, he has concentrated on his basketball in Europe and has played for top teams in Italy and France and was always dangerous with his scoring abilities. It will be interesting to see this season, how important he will be in crucial situations and how much the club will rely on his scoring qualities in key situations to win ball games. He is still seeking his full scoring touch, but he did explode against the Eisbaeren Bremerhaven this season with 31 points. Ray teammate Dane Watts already had a positive feeling about the ex NBA player before the season commenced. “I remember him playing at Villanova when I was in school. He was a great scorer and player for them. Im sure that he will fit in with our team and bring a lot of high level experience”, added Dane Watts. Head coach Thorsten Leibenath can be thrilled if Ray doesn´t only help the team win with his offense. “I think my defense is a hidden strength in my game.. Coach gives me a lot of confidence. I usually have to defend the others teams best player. I bring intensity and much pressure and just try to wreck the other teams offense”, warned Allan Ray.

In 2010-2011, ratiopharm Ulm finished a less than satisfying season at 14th place with a record of 12-22. They started off the season with a four game losing streak and right away were reeling to get out of the Beko BBL cellar. The team simply wasn´t consistent and really missed having a comfortable 6-7 game winning streak. It also didn´t help matters that they closed out the season losing 10 of their last 12 games. It was no secret that the team was capable of putting up many points putting up 80 or more points 19 times. Many of their box scores read like NBA scores, but Ulm often was simply outshot. They also had problems closing out games losing six times by five or less points. The club was simply unable to get their offense and defense on the same page last season. Differences to last years team are noticeable. “I think they are solid in more positions this season and dont have any let ups when someone comes in the game. They are a deeper team and have more options. As far as style goes I just think they are more patient and get the most out of each possession. They are a better defensive team and they have a lot more structure as well”, added John Bynum last season.

Ratiopharm Ulm moved out of the beloved tiny Kuhberg halle which was always like hell for opponents, because at times it felt like the fans were sitting in the laps of the players or were a secret sixth man on the court, simply because the fans are so close to the floor. On December 10th 2011 the team moved into the new 6,200 arena which seats double as much as the Kuhberg arena. As a result, the team budget was doubled to three million euros. With the departure of Taylor came a known face in the beko BBL with Thorsten Leibenath. The German had a lot to prove, because this will be his third team he is running in the Beko BBL and will be best remembered for missing the playoffs two consecutive times with The Artland Dragons that had two deep talented rosters and playoffs written all over, but instead missing the playoffs on the last day each time and sending Dragon fans to the cafes early to talk over their basketball misery over coffee. Leibenath started his head coaching career in  reaching the British BBL final in 2007 after being assistant coach in Giessen for many years. He now started a new coaching gig in Ulm and has showed that he has matured as a coach keeping ratiopharm Ulm very consistent and behind the Brose Baskets Bamberg at times last season with Alba Berlin wondering if they are seated in a very unentertaining movie without salted popcorn. Ratiopharm Ulm did a massive summer cleaning keeping only Americans John Bryant, Rocky Trice and Tommy Mason Griffin and Germans Per Guether and Sebastian Betz. Guys like Robin Benzing, Coleman Collins, Lee Humphrey, Sean Sonderleiter and Travis Walton all departed.

The team brought in a healthy core of Americans with double double candidate Dane Watts, scorer Isiah Swann, Beko BBL veteran Steven Esterkamp that got another chance after sitting out a year and playing in the PRO A with Essen last season and Skyliner Jon Leuer teammate at Wisconsin Keaton Nankivil. On paper the club looked like a playoff team, but ratiopharm Ulm manager Thomas Stoll was careful not to get too excited at the start last season. “The league is stronger this year. Of course the fans can dream of the playoffs, but we just want to finish better than 14th place last season”, stressed Thomas Stoll. “We want to win more games than we lose. Maybe we can be near the playoffs”, added ratiopharm Ulm head coach Thorsten Leibenath at the start of the season. The Ulm fans were dreaming of the playoffs after the strong 3-1 start. The club started the season with an impressive win in Bayreuth possibly the loudest arena in the league, then came home and beat playoff candidate Artland Dragons, then lost by a slim margin of 64-59 showing that they already have understood how to play strong defense early in the season against the leagues best Bamberg and then beat the always tough defensive minded TBB Trier on the road getting a monster game from John Bryant with 27 points, 16 rebounds and five assists. Instead of suffering a tail spin the team was  strong all season having winning streaks of seven, six and five games. “They are a solid team with some great players at each position. They will be a team in my opinion that will be in the playoffs if they continue to get better and work together as a team. I wouldnt call them a sleeper anymore but I am sure no one expected a lot from them this season. I do think they can make a push for the playoffs and I think they have great guard play and solid back ups at each position. They have guys who can shoot the ball and a great inside game with Bryant in the middle. As far as weaknesses the only thing I see would be what would happen if Bryant or Watts both got into foul trouble at the same time”, warned John Bynum last season. The secret to the success has been a combination of coach Leibentah who found the right mix to follow his system and a group of non selfish players that play for each other and always want to win. Before the season, Leibenath was humble suggesting he wanted to win more games than he lost. However at the end of the season he proved all doubters wrong as the team finished in second place with a record of 27-7.They had an impressive playoff run routing the New Yorker Phantoms Braunschweig 3-0 scoring an average of 94 games in the three game series. Next they swept the s.Oliver Baskets Wurzburg 3-0 stopping their impressive season, but then ran out of gas against the Brose Baskets Bamberg finding out what it is like being swept 3-0. They had no real chance in the first two games, but lost a bitter 97-95 game three as Bamberg won their fifth league championship.

After such an impressive season, the question is can one top last season. The only step up is winning the league championship this season, but that is never easy considering the league gets more competitive each season. One can take the famous Bill Shankly phrase “never change a winning team” and apply it perfectly to ratiopharm Ulm as they did their best keeping important components like 2012 Beko BBL MVP John Bryant who can serve up a double double as well as Jared Jordan can an ally-op pass. The team also kept hard working Dane Watts who gives Bryant a lot of support on the boards, allrounder Steven Esterkamp, best German Per Guenther who has progressed as a player each season since 2008, role player Keaton Nankivil who can hurt you with his annoying three point shooting and oldest active Ulmer there since 2007 Sebastian Betz. The team lost scoring ace Isaiah Swann and Rocky Trice, but got more than sufficient compensation with ex NBA player Allan Ray, American guard Lance Jeter coming for the injured Tommy Mason-Griffin, German national player Philipp Schwethelm on loan from FC Bayern Munich who is starting to shine under Leibenath and bug German talent Daniel Theis who has already been inserted into the starting rotation despite little Beko BBL experience. The biggest strength of ratiopharm Ulm this season is the huge euphoric atmosphere that the team got last season that so far this season has held on as the team is near the top of the Beko BBL standings. Another strength is the deep roster and that many players were kept keeping some team chemistry form last season and the brand of players that they have where each plays for each other and where egos aren´t the most important thing despite stars like Brayant, Guenther and Ray. Important is also that the roster of players have many different qualities that help make this one of the more balanced teams in the Beko BBl with each player able of doing much on the court. Ratiopharm Ulm can only beat themselves this season. The question will be can they hold up against the pressure of continuing to win over a whole season. The double game function of Eurocup and injuries could take a toll on the team in the second half of the season and an injury to John Bryant could really hurt the club since his game fuels ratiopharm Ulm. The defense also could be a factor as the team is still finding a defensive identity as they have given up an average of 88 points in the first nine games. If they were only an average scoring team, then they would be near the cellar of the Beko BBL standings. But one thing is clear and Thorsten Leibenath can have more room to joke this season after the strong season last season. “I don´t think anyone will predict us as a team being in the cellar this season”, said Thorsten Leibenath.”Ulm has made another step forward. They found the right players once again this season. They can hit three pointers each second. Ulm is showing stability and when all players think the same then they are able to improve. They deserve to be at the top of the league now”, stressed Fraport Skyliner head coach Muli Katzurin.

Since ratiopharm Ulm entered the Beko BBL in 2006, the Frankfurt Skyliners have a 7-5 record against them. They won in overtime 87-83 in 2007 with Murat Didin. The Eric Chadfield buzzer beater will for some reason always be stuck in the minds of people, which had an eerie similarity to the buzzer beater of Justin Gray against the s.Oliver Baskets Wurzburg this season. The Deutsche Bank Skyliners have a positive 2-1 record in the Ballsporthalle. In 2009-2010, Frankfurt lost 74-69, but got a strong game form ex Skyliner Lorenzo Gordon who scored 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. In the first meeting last season, The Deutsche Bank Skyliners dominated the game and put on a scoring display led by 23 points by Seth Doliboa as the club prevailed 95-82.Frankfurt shot an astronomical 57% from the field and easily won the rebounding fight 34-25. Ratiopharm Ulm did a great job only having seven turnovers. In the return game in Frankfurt last season, Ratiopharm Ulm lost 84-77 as Skyliner American Seth Doliboa had another monster game pouring home 18 points and 15 rebounds. Last season, Frankfurt lost a 87-82 nail bitter in the Kuhberg arena, but returned home to win 74-67 as Dashaun Wood poured in 17 points and 12 assists. In the first meeting of last season, the Fraport Skyliners lost a winnable game 81-75 in the old Kuhberg Halle where Dane Watts made the two big buckets at the end showing NBA player Jon Leuer that guys from Missouri can play basketball. Ratiopharm Ulm had five guys in double figures, shot better and rebounded better. Frankfurt was led by Justin Gray with 14 points. The Fraport Skyliners got revenge in the return game in Frankfurt winning 77-64 in their strong second half of the season. The Fraport Skyliners were led by Michael Thompson with 16 points while Jacob Burtschi had 15 points. The Fraport Skyliners enter the game coming off a unsatisfying 91-65 loss in Berlin. The team shot allright over 40%, but were killed under the boards and had a poor 19 turnovers. Dion Dowell continued to be a spark plug as he had 18 points, but overall there was too little team production, but the team was weakened because American Zach Peacock was injured. Another bright spot was the spirited play by young German Konstantin Klein who had 10 points and showed his increasing self confidence on the floor. Ratipharm Ulm are playing superb basketball having a 7-1 record in the last eight games with a more than convincing 96-66 win at home against the EWE Baskets Oldenburg. Ratiopharm Ulm is defending better in the last five games giving up an average of 76 points up while in the first five games, they gave up an average of 84 points. The Fraport Skyliners will have to get back to defending well the way they did in Bamberg and against Braunschweig, because ratiopharm Ulm is a scoring machine averaging 89 points per game. “It is not about quality that we focus on, but on individual readiness for the game. We have to focus more on ourselves than on Ulm. If we play 100% and lose than I can be satisfied, but not when we give 100%. It is not important who you play, but how you play”, warned Muli Katzurin.

ratiopharm Ulm is led by John Bryant who is a 25 year old 208cm center that is playing his third season in Ulm and was born in Berkeley, California and grew up in San Pablo. He played at Santa Clara university coming in in 2005 as well known players Doron Perkins and Kyle Bailey had just graduated. He played 124 NCAA games getting WCC Player of the Year in 2009. In his last three years, he was able to average double figures in points. In his senior year, he tore up the NCAA playing 33 games: 18.1ppg, 14.2rpg, 1.1apg, 2.5bpg, FGP: 59.6%, FT: 78.7%. In 2009 he was drafted by the Erie BayHawks (D-League,2rd(31) and played 48 games: 13.2ppg, 9.5rpg, 1.6apg, 1.5bpg, FGP: 49.3%, FT: 77.6%. In the summer 2010, he played NBA Summer League in Las Vegas (Milwaukee Bucks). “He has a great feel for the game. This is his first season and who would of thought that he would play so well? He stays with his strength and takes high percentage shots. He has a very high basketball IQ with scoring and rebounding. I think that he could compete at any level in the world.”, stressed ex teammate Travis Walton.  In 2010-2011 for Ulm he played 34 games: 14.6ppg, Reb-1(10.9rpg), 1.1apg, Blocks-2(1.5bpg), FGP: 60.4%, FT: 74.2%. Last season, he played  42 games: 14.1ppg, Reb-1(9.4rpg), 1.3apg, 1.3bpg, FGP: 57.3%, 3PT: 40.7%, FT: 71.7%. . Per Guenther is a 24 year old 185cm point guard that was born in Giessen and grew up in Hagen and is playing his fifth season with ratiopharm Ulm. He has very good speed and can dribble with both his hands he is very good in shooting from the arc and he has very good organizational skills, he watches the court with one glance and can assist his team-mates on a blind method pretending that he will shoot. He has an inborn charisma of a leader from a young age so he leads his team without having any problem. He played for BBV Hagen from 2003-2006 and with Phoenix Hagen from 2006-2008. In his last season in Hagen, he raised eyebrows with his play playing 29 games: 14.5ppg, 1.9rpg, 2.4apg, 2FGP: 55.8%, 3FGP: 35.7%, FT: 80.1%. He has improved his play each season as in 2009-2010 he played 34 games: 6.6ppg, 1.8rpg, 2.5apg, FGP: 48.5%, 3PT: 33.8%, FT: 80.3%. Last season, he became into a real scoring option, but still keeping his playmaking qualities in front of him. He got into three games at the World Championships in Turkey in 2010. In 2010-2011 the German national player played 34 games: 12.4ppg, 1.2rpg, 3.2apg, FGP: 50.3%, 3PT: 27.9%, FT: 84.2%. Last season, he played  41 games: 10.5ppg, 1.8rpg, 3.0apg, FGP: 53.7%, 3PT: 39.4%, FT: 83.1%.

Allan Ray played at Villanova from 2002-2006 playing a total of 120 NCAA games. In his senior year, he played 32 games: 18.5ppg, 3.6rpg, 1.4apg, 1.2spg, FGP: 38.9%, 3PT: 37.2%, FT: 88.9%. He reached the final eight and sweet 16 for Villanova.  In 2007, he came to Europe and played in Italy for teams like  Lottomatica Virtus Roma, Carife Ferrara  and  Fabi Shoes Montegranaro until 2011. Last season he played for  Krka Novo Mesto (Slovenia-Telemach League, starting five): Adriatic League: 1 game: 10pts, 1reb; EuroCup: 2 games: 18.5ppg, 1.5rpg, 4.0apg, 1.5spg, later that month moved to Elan Bearnais Pau-Lacq-Orthez (France-ProA, starting five): French League: 22 games: 15.2ppg, 2.5rpg, 2.5apg, FGP: 50.4%, 3PT: 39.5%, FT: 89.6%; EuroChallenge: 3 games: 14.3ppg, 6.3rpg, 1.0apg. Keaton Nakivil is a 23 year old 203cm forward from Madison Wisconsin that is playing his second season with ratiopharm Ulm. At Wisconsin he played together with Skyliner Jon Leuer and played a total of 107 NCAA games. In his senior year, he played 34 games: 9.7ppg, 4.2rpg, 1.2bpg, FGP: 49.6%, 3PT: 45.7%, FT: 83.8%. He reached the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2008 and 2011. “Keaton “The Anvil” Nankivil is going to play a big role in Ulm’s success this season. He is a rookie but has been picking up on the European game quickly. He is a team player with high basketball IQ and is automatic from 3pt land. He might drop an anvil on somebody’s head in transition this year if they are not careful”, stressed teammate Dane Watts. Last season, he played 42 games: 8.1ppg, 4.3rpg, FGP: 47.3%, 3PT: 42.9%, FT: 78.6%. Phillip Schwethelm is a 23 year old 201cm forward that is playing his first season in Ulm being loaned from FC Bayern Munich.  He started his basketball career with Cologne in 2004, where he played until 2009. He played Euroleague at the age of 17. He helped Cologne win the Beko BBL title in 2006. He played for the Eisbaeren Bremerhaven from 2009-2011 and in 2010-2011played 36 games: 10.0ppg, 4.0rpg, 2.1apg, FGP: 49.1%, 3PT: 44.9%, FT: 72.9%. He has been a member of the German national team since 2010. Last season he played  EuroCup: 6 games: 1.3ppg, 1.7rpg, 1.3apg; German League: 30 games: 3.2ppg, 2.2rpg. This past summer, he played Qualifications to European Championships 2013 – 7 games: 4.1ppg, 2.7rpg. Steve Esterkamp is a 31 year old 198cm forward from Cincinnati, Ohio that is playing his tenth season in Germany and second in Ulm. He is a great shooter and great competitor, has also a very solid mid-range shot, brings a lot of toughness to his team, is a solid rebounder from the wing position, is a excellent free throw shooter throughout his career, plays always extremely hard and to win, not afraid to take the big shots at the end of the game and always finds ways to get the job done. He is probably best remembered for playing with the Paderborn Baskets from 2004-2009 helping the team reach the beko BBL in 2006 winning 50 games in a row in the second Bundesliga. In Paderborn, he was part of the three Muskeeters with Marius Nolte and Tim Black. Esterkamp played a total of 159 games for Paderborn. In 2009, he helped force Alba Berlin to a 5 game playoff series that they eventually lost.  He then went to Bremerhaven in 2009, but got hurt and never played a game there. In 2010-2011, he got his career back on track playing for ETB Wohnbau Baskets Essen (Germany-ProA, starting five): 13 games: 16.2ppg, 5.2rpg, 2.6apg, FGP: 54.1%, 3PT: 39.6%, FT: 73.2%. Last season for Ulm he played  42 games: 10.2ppg, 3.4rpg, 1.7apg, FGP: 48.3%, 3PT: 44.0%, FT: 76.1%.

Dane Watts who is a 26 year old 203 cm who is playing his fourth season in Germany and who is a modern day forward doing the job inside and outside. He played at Creighton from 2004-2008 playing with NBA player Anthony Tolliver. In his senior year, he averaged 11,3ppg, 6,4rpg and 1,0apg. Last season, he quietly had a very solid BBL rookie season in Ludwigsburg averaging in 20 minutes averaging 8.9ppg, 3.8rpg, FGP-1(68.4%), 3PT: 30.8%, FT: 68.7% in 32 games. It wouldn´t be a surprise if most  followers of German basketball didn´t even know that he led the BBL in field goal percentage at 68%. in 2008-2009 as a rookie. He is a team player that still has a lot of potential and could become a scoring option in Tuebingen. „“Dane has a lot of potential and has all the qualities that a big player of today needs. He can shoot, is athletic, has good ball handling and defends well“, joked Jay Thomas. In 2009-2010, Watts played 34 games: 10.2ppg, 5.4rpg, 1.5apg, FGP: 57.1%, 3PT: 37.6%, FT: 71.0%. In 2010-2011 for Tuebingen he played 33 games: 13.7ppg, Reb-4(7.6rpg), 1.1apg, 1.2spg, FGP: 57.9%, 3PT: 36.7%, FT: 54.5%; in May’11 moved to Hyeres-Toulon Var Basket (France-ProA): 3 games: 7.0ppg, 6.3rpg, 1.7apg, 1.0spg. Last season, he played 38 games: 9.6ppg, 6.7rpg, 1.4apg, FGP: 52.9%, 3PT: 24.6%, FT: 58.1%. Lance Jeter is a 24 year old 190cm guard from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania that is 32 games: 11.7ppg, 4.4rpg, 4.5apg, 1.8spg, FGP: 47.3%, 3PT: 35.2%, FT: 72.8% playing his first season in Germany and ratiopharm Ulm. He played at Nebraska(NCAA) and in his senior year played 32 games: 11.7ppg, 4.4rpg, 4.5apg, 1.8spg, FGP: 47.3%, 3PT: 35.2%, FT: 72.8%. Last season he turned professional and played for  Lasaulec Aris Leeuwarden (Holland-Eredivisie): 32 games: Score-2(16.8ppg), 3.8rpg, Assists-5(3.4apg), 1.3spg, FGP: 59.6%, 3PT: 36.7%, FT: 73.0%. 27 year old 200cm forward Sebastian Betz is  hardworking wing who provides energy, defensive effort and consistent three point shooting. He started his professional basketball career in 2003 with Bamberg playing there until 2007. In five years, he was only able to play four games never being able to shake the Dirk Bauermann rotation. Mike Taylor scooped him up in 2007 and the German is playing his sixth season in Ulm. His best season so far has been 2008-2009 as he played 36 games: 5.2ppg, 1.5rpg, FGP: 50.0%, 3PT: 35.6%, FT: 54.9%. Last season the German played 42 games: 3.3ppg, 1.5rpg. The team also picked up German Daniel Theis that is a 20 year old 203cm power forward. He started his basketball career in 2009 for the  Spot Up Medien Baskets Braunschweig (ProB). He already played a game for the New Yorker Phantoms Braunschweig in the 2010-2011 season as he had a double license. Last season he played : 21 games for the Phantoms: 3.4ppg, 1.9rpg; played also at Spot Up Medien Baskets Braunschweig (ProB): 25 games: 18.4ppg, 8.9rpg, 1.3apg, 1.1spg, Blocks-1(2.2bpg), FGP: 61.4%, 3PT: 30.3%, FT: 72.4%. The team also has young Germans Marcel Heberlein and Till Joscha- Jonke.

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