A Graceful Swann, Surprising Ensminger Court Entrance And Many Memorable Stories From The 2014 Beko BBL Allstar Day In Bonn

When looking back at the first half of the 2013-2014 Beko BBL season, one could study each team in the league and find many early season highlights that have made the Beko BBL season so far exciting and a product of high quality. For example, the Brose Baskets Bamberg hauled in ex Los Angeles Laker Ellias Harris to help in the stretch run of the season, FC Bayern Munich has been controlling the league and seem still to have much gas in their tank to upgrade their play, Alba Berlin have a player in Levon Kendall that is moonlighting as a smooth singer, rookie head coach Tyrone Mccoy has formed a playoff caliber team and meshed together different new characters on the court which has brought instant success to the Artland Dragons, Edgar Sosa pulled an Alex King in Eurocup play nailing seven three pointers, Gordon Herbert is coaching a playoff team at the moment and developed the German three of Barthel, Voigtmann and Klein further in Frankfurt, the Neckar Riesen Ludwigsburg have added extra NBA flair with Coby Karl to add to the legend basketball name Stockton, Josh Parker has emerged as a consistent scorer in Weissenfels and one of those rare players to go from Pro B stardom to Beko BBL stardom, Phoenix Hagen is having sophmore blues after surprisingly reaching the Beko BBL playoffs last season, SC Rasta Vechta is the little darling of the league fighting to stay in the league and Richie Williams also has come from the Pro B via the Pro A and has become a top five point guard, Darius Adams is quietly leading the league in scoring playing for 15th ranked Bremerhaven, medi bayreuth and the s.Oliver Baskets Wurzburg have the Koch brothers as coach and both are reeling not to go down to the Pro A, and the Walter Tigers Tuebingen are in desperate need of a savior as they rest in 18th place with currently no real direction of how to get the Tigers out of quicksand as they are slowly being sucked in. However none of these single moments for each team can equal the many amazing occurrences that happen each year at the Beko BBL allstar game where everybody in the German basketball community come together to celebrate their passion for a day.

The 2014 Beko BBl Allstar game was set in Bonn where it had been before in 2010. It was my 8th visit to a Beko BBL allstar game after I missed the game in Nurnberg last season when I was stranded in London as some snow had covered the region and Heathrow airport had to be closed which left me dancing with loads of Basketball thoughts and what I was possibly missing in Nurnberg last season. I somehow got over this personal basketball tragedy and before I knew it, it was time for the 2014 Beko BBL allstar game in Bonn. One of the great aspects of the German basketball allstar game is that it isn´t just a journey to some location, two hours of basketball, but it is a day long event. Fans can enter the arena at 15.15 and experience the whole atmosphere leading up to the tip of at 20.15. This time around, it seemed like the interest was a tick greater, because I couldn´t remember from previous visits to games in Cologne, Manheim, Bonn, Trier and Ludwigsburg, that the traffic around the location was so clogged as I was on the ramp next to the Telekom Dome, but it still took 15 minutes until I could turn off the engine in the dirt area of the parking lot. The official opening of the gates for the fans was at 15:15 and I got in at 15.18 meaning I was three minutes late and that could mean a lot depending where I would be standing in line for the 15.45 scheduled autograph signing session of the basketball players. I got my press pass rather swiftly and quickly ran up the stairs to the location and was rather happy to land fourth in line. I quickly met many familiar faces from around the league. I had a short, but interesting chat with basketball journalist Sebastian Finis who revealed to me that he also had that kid aspect in him and wanted to get some autographes of some players he had interviewed in the past. After a few minutes and my promise that I would snap a photo with Angelo Caloiaro and him, I took a few steps to my right and glanced back and the cue in the line was about 30 yards already. Yards instead of feet and I am already looking forward to the AFC championship game between the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos. The players finally arrived, but 10 minutes late at 15.55. I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the autograph area as it was dark and felt like one was in a club. You just had that feeling that you and the player was more one on one and one could enjoy your few seconds a bit more. I get older each year, but my love for handing a player a piece of paper and asking for an autograph hasn´t eluded me as I keep doing it when I have the chance. A few days ago, I was face to face with the Toronto Raptors in Boston which is a different feeling where one is in awe and now I was rapping with Beko BBL players which in a sense is a different more relaxed feeling, because I know many of the players. It is always nice to be able to receive a personalized autograph in my name without asking the player for it. One could notice a difference between the national and international players that many of the older players like a Julius Jenkins, David Logan or Tony Gaffney were relaxed and more vocal, while the young national players like Danilo Barthel, Maximilian Kleber or Daniel Theiss looked like first year university students in a seminar with that bashful look on their faces with the hopes of no professor calling on them. Here and there, I was happy to take a photo for a fan. One nice memory was this woman who gave me her Ipad and desperately wanted a photo with Heiko Schaffartzik, Lucca Staiger and Anton Gavel. I took about 8 shots and she seemed the more pleased with each new photo. After the photo session, I joked telling her, look you have the first picture with three FC Bayern Munich players for next season as I was riding the immense speculation that Gavel will be spend his free time along side the Isar river and playing for Svetislav Pesic next season. The players were behind curtains and  a funny  experience was Boston native Tony Gaffney granting an autograph wish through the opening of the curtain while Per Guenther pressed his head through for a photo with a fan. Per Guenther congratulated me on the pick up of Dane Watts for the Fraport Skyliners, my Boston homie Tony Gaffney and I were talking Patriots as he predicted a 35-21 victory for the Patriots against the Denver Broncos and Jared Jordan and I who went to opposing prep schools in the Hartford area talked briefly about the Farmington area. It seemed like Phoenix Hagen Larry Gordon who is leading the league in rebounding with 8,0rpg at 196cm was having the most fun as he had a nonstop smile plastered on his face. He is one of those guys where you can´t turn that smile off.

The autograph session went for about an hour and one could see countless happy faces on small kids who had their dream moment meeting their favorite stars. Early in the program, it was announced that two time Beko BBL slam dunk champion Benjamin Salu Tadi who won in 2011 in Trier and 2102 in Ludwigsburg failed to qualify for the second consecutive year. In the last two years, the Beko BBL had brought in professional dunkers. On the one had, the fans want to see spectacular dunks, but on the other hand bringing in professional dunkers reduces the chances of a Beko BBL player of winning the coveted dunk title. With still much time to kill before the start of the NBBL allstar game, it was time to talk to people, make new contacts and just observe all the basketball people who were in the arena to take in the festivities. The people I noticed during Allstar day were guys like Ludwigsburg guard Keaton Grant, German basketball federation press speaker Christoph Buker, 1993 Euro champion with Germany Henning Harnisch who heads the basketball academy, Marko Beens, Chris Ensminger who said hello outside the VIP room, Mario Probst who heads the Neckar Riesen Ludwigsburg youth department, Jens Staudenmayer the ex referee who called 850 games and now heads the department sport for the Beko BBL, Ralph Held assistant coach of the EWE Baskets Oldenburg, Oliver Herkel manager of Phoenix Hagen, Alexander Meilwes CEO of the Artland Dragons, Artur Kolodziejski from ratiopharm Ulm, Dennis Schroeder agent and ex North Carolina Tar Heel Ademola Okulaja, Oldenburg players, Dominik Bahiense De Mello, and Jannik Freese, Telekom Baskets Bonn player Andrej Mangold, and German national coach Frank Menz. I also observed a player whos face I knew, but after seeing so many players this day, I just couldn´t place the name. He had that wide smile I knew and I first thought it was ex Fraport Skyliner Johnathan Jones, but when he got up, he was so short that the name David Holston popped into my head. Aggy Mock of TBB Trier who is the physical trainer and only guy that has his own mascot was there dressed as the mascot, and could have had a hair and beard contest with the SC Rasta Vechta mascot that was a rasta man. The NBBL allstar game began at 16.45 where the best young players under 19 face off to show their best skills under the watchful eyes of team managers and scouts. The south won 66-55 in front of a sold out house before even dinner time in Germany. The south was led by  Max Ugrai (s.Oliver Baskets Akademie) with 14 points and Daniel Mayr (Science City Jena) chipped in with  12 points and  9 Rebounds. The North was led by  Jan Niklas Wimberg (Baskets Akademie Weser-Ems) with 22 points and Alba Berlin player Ismet Akpinar chipped in with 13 points. I couldn´t watch much of this as I was doing interviews with players, but the good play of Wimberg and giant Mayr wasn´t surprising as they belong to the best to what the game had to offer. “Daniel Mayr is the son of German basketball legend Rolf Mayr and he reminds me of Tibor Pleiss. He Will be a good player one day”, stated Telekom Baskets Bonn sport director Andreas Bottcher.

After the NBBL Allstar game, came the two big highlights before the main spectacle Beko BBL Allstar game with the three point shooting contest and slam dunk contest. The three point shooting contest contestants were Jermaine Bucknor of TBB Trier, CJ Harris of the Neckar Riesen Ludwigsburg, Edgar Sosa of ratiopharm Ulm, Lucca Staiger of FC Bayern Munich and Per Guenther of ratiopharm Ulm who jumped in for the 2011 winner Jacob Burtschi who had to withdraw on account of back problems. It is always hard to predict a winner since all these guys are shooting in the high 40´s and often it has to do with the shooting condition of the player on that day and how well they can get aquainted to the rims on short notice. Many surely had Per Guenther on the radar to win it all, but I grabbed into a hat and picked Edgar Sosa who had hit seven three pointers recently in a Eurocup game. Jermaine Bucknor contributed 12 points while Edgar Sosa got hot early, but cooled down late to get only 15 points. The two Germans per Guenther and Lucca Staiger dueled and each were tied with 19 points. Staiger who has been labelled as a shooter all his life and once connected for 116 points in a youth game at Ehingen might have had the edge over Guenther, but the German national player Guenther really has improved his shooting in Ulm the last three years going from 27% in 2011 to 39% in 2012 and to a ridiculous 56% last season leading the league from the parking lot. He came into the event shooting 47,7% from downtown. However it was Chris Paul friend CJ Harris who stole the show from both Germans as he was last to shoot and might have had an advantage in that he knew what he had to beat. Harris and his sidekick Keaton Grant who singlehandedly beat the Fraport Skyliners in their living room with a fierce display of fire power this season. Harris who played at Wake Forest won the contest with 21 points nailing the title with a money ball shot which counts for two points. After the shooting contest came the Slam dunk contest which might be the highlight of the day out jumping the 40 minute game which follows.

The three point shooting contest consisted of five very interesting candidates with ex Fraport Skyliners Ryan Brooks who can fly when we chooses to, Fraport Skyliner Ramon Galloway who probably booked his ticket in the three OT win in Ulm with a poster dunk, Will Clyburn of ratiopharm Ulm who has been a spectacular player how whole young career, the Eisbaeren Bremerhaven´s Brian Harper who was given the name air Harper while his stay in Trier and SC Rasta Vechta forward Rashad Bishop who was the least unknown player of the lot and seemed a bit lost with the dunking crowd. The judges were comprised of a nice mix of Chris Ensminger, Ademola Okulaja and Henning Harnisch who gave their votes to the quality of each dunk with 1 being the worst and 10 being perfect. The dunking contestants were also joined by Polish amateur Rafal Lipinski who later would give the meaning white men can jump a new meaning. If there is one athlete who knows the meaning saving the best for last is New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady who has had over 30 fourth quarter come from behind wins in his football career. One may have thought that the dunkers would slowly heighten the effect and how spectacular the dunks would be with each new dunk, but instead the dunkers saved their best for first than last as they performed mouth watering crushing dunks as the arena seemed in ecstasy. Philadelphia native Ryan Brooks started coming into the arena in a dark captains suit and didn´t make three a charm, but his fourth dunk that rocked the arena. Next up was American Rashad Bishop who disappointed having to always settle for the sure easy dunk as time was slipping away. It seemed like Bishop had gotten lost in the hair of the rastaman mascot of SC Rasta Vechta and couldn´t find the rim. Next up was Will Clyburn who was innovative as he had teammate Per Guenther lay under a ball basket with a hole in it and threw the ball up as the American came flying over the basket catching the ball and driving it through the rim. Fraport Skyliner Ramon Galloway was next up as he was the only player to wear a Skyliners jersey over his dunking jersey and he needed no assistance as he took the ball with an unbelievable sense of naughty self confidence and made a nasty dunk that had Isaiah Swann jumping up and giving a special dance that one probably only knows in Germantown, Maryland where he comes from. Next up was ex TBB Trier forward Brian Harper that has the skinniest legs ever seen on the court and he had some assistance from ex teammate Canadian Jermaine Bucknor who dribbled the ball tossed the ball up over the Bremerhaven mascot dunky and Harper took the ball in flight and dunked the ball home. Then it was time for amateur Lipinski who took the ball with authority and flew over the Beko BBL mascot with much airtime and making a spectacular dunk. In the final, it was Lipinski, Ramon Galloway and Will Clyburn. Galloway started and couldn´t master a very spectatcular dunk, but still got all 9´s from the judges. Clyburn then got help from Guenter again as he threw the ball off the side of the back board and the American took it in mid air and jammed it home. Only one guy saved the best for last and that was Lipinski who had  a trick up his sleeve and brought 212cm center Dirk Madrich to the zone and he took the ball and dunked over him. This dunk quality electrified the crowd and the judges gave all 10´s except for Ensminger who had the audacity for a change giving him 11 points and the players on the court couledn´t hold back their excitement for the effort of the amateur who was really a professional dunker. The final results were Lipinski with 76,3 points, Clyburn with 74 points and Ramon Galloway with 70,6 points. Lipinski celebrated by hanging onto the back of Artland Dragons mascot Tobi as the arena was going berserk. ”Being at the Allstar game was  a great experience especially seeing new faces. I was in the States and got in at 7am and had 45 minutes to prepare and I am happy that I could jump. Lipinski is a great dunker. I had fun and the time of my life”, stressed Fraport Skyliner Ramon Galloway.

At 20.15, it was finally time for the Beko BBL Allstar game. The best player game ovations went to the Bonn players Gaffney, Jordan and Veikalas. Dirk Madrich was getting pumped doing push ups, young Germans Daniel Theis and Maxi Kleber had a staring contest at center court even though it was a quick photo shoot while ex Tv Langen forward Robin Benzing was practicing left handed hook shots. Heiko Schaffartzik when introduced ran to center court got on his back and moved his legs in a bicycle motion while when Madrich was introduced, he just walked slowly to the center as if he was a tired basketball warrior that is still waiting for getting that surprise Rasta haircut. Since they went to the international-national format in the 2011-2012 season, team international had a 2-0 record. Last season the game was more of a blow out, but that was not the case in Bonn. One can never expect much defense in these types of games as the fans want to see a show and offense is what they get. The game started with a great defensive play as Theis blocked Gaffney. The game was filled with an abundance of ally-ops and what better people to have on the court than Jared Jordan and tony Gaffney who have made this play a type of art in Bonn. Guenther and Theiss also hooked up with an ally-op proving that lobbing and dunking is also done in Ulm. Swann got hot late in the first quarter dropping two three pointers as team international led 22-20. In a timeout, it was time for the mascots to have fun as Tobi the Dragon stole the skate board from FC Bayern Munich mascot Berni as he was enjoying his new toy only to be pounded by Phoenix Hagen mascot Felix. Team national stayed well with team international and only trailed 31-30 after 10 minutes. Team national was shooting better from outside and had the rebound edge, but still trailed.

In the second quarter German basketball legend Henning Harnisch took the seat next to me and noticed my appreciation for the play of Danilo Barthel and also lauded his play and laughed when I mentioned on more than one occasion that I had never seen so many ex Alba Berlin players on the court. It was Fraport Skyliner Danilo Barthel that had two nice plays scoring with a hard penetration to the bucket and then blocking ex Euroleague player David Logan. However team international was able to cruise out on a 10 point lead and keep the lead for a while until team national came storming back. After Texas native Brandon Thomas gave team international a 47-36 lead with a three pointer, team national came back going on a 13-2 run to tie the game at 49-49. It was one Skyliner and two ex Alba Berlin that sparked the run. Barthel scored inside while Staiger scored inside and nailed a jumper while Andreas Seiferth contributed with a dunk and lay in. Then came one of the big moments of the whole 2014 Allstar day as suddenly there was a pause in play as Jared Jordan suddenly had disappeared and then returned to the court followed by Beko BBL legend Chris Ensminger who retired last season after a 15 year career in Germany and top rebounder in the league from 2001-2005. Ensminger played a few minutes to the overwhelming delight of the fans. Ensminger tied the game at 51-51 with a massive dunk and there surely were some fans that were hoping that he had hung up his short coaching career at Gotha and coming out of retirement and continue on the quest and playing until he is 50 and possibly playing with his sons. After Guether gave team national the 60-55 lead, it was Chris Ensminger that scored his second bucket since his arrival posting up against Heiko Schaffartzik and giving the mismatch a total new meaning. Maxi Kleber and Isaiah Swann exchanged three pointers at the end as team international trailed 65-63 at halftime. Team national was still shooting and rebounding better and the question was when would team international shift up some gears and start to take control of the game? At halftime Chris Ebsminger was honored for his 15 year Beko BBL career as highlights were seen on the screen and Beko BBL boss Jan Pommer gave him a special jersey with four shades of the four teams that he played with in Germany with MBC, Bamberg, Paderborn and Bonn that will forever be retired and left at the Beko BBL office in Cologne.

The third quarter remained extremely tight and it belonged to Bryce Taylor who scored 16 points and team international was able to get a better lead in the last few minutes. Some nice plays in the third quarter was Jared Jordan dribbling through the legs of Dirk Madrich and teammates Benas Veikalas and Tony Gaffney hooking up for one of the countless Bonn ally op productions on this night. One of Taylor´s 16 third quarter points was an ally op dunk and Jordan who else was the pass recipient. Team international was able to break away a bit in the stretch run of the quarter as Larry Gordon hit a few buckets and Swann lite up the scoreboard with two consecutive three pointers. Schaffartzik also got into the scoring mode connecting on a floater and nailing a three pointer. Thomas ended the third quarter with a bomb from downtown as team international led 97-88. A highs coring third quarter by team international gave them the higher shooting percentages, but team national was still dominating the boards. In the fourth quarter, team international kept the lead as team national was able to cut the deficit to one point, but team international closed out the game with a 8-4 run to win 121-116. Swann and Gordon hit big shots in the early going of the fourth quarter as team national trailed 106-99 as they missed too many easy shots while team international remained more consistent with their shooting. Team national cut the lead to 109-107 after Gaffney missed two free throws and Staiger nailed two consecutive three pointers. Team international also did the better job winning most one on one matchups as Gaffney easily scored twice inside. Gavel nailed a big three pointer as team international led only 113-112, but team national couldn´t get big stops that they really needed. Gaffney and Taylor hit three pointers and Jordan scored inside as team international led 121-112 with less than a minute to go and the hopes of team national getting that first win dwindling. Gavel and Theis scored the last points of the game as time ran out. “Being an allstar was a great experience for me. It was great being here as a player and not a fan. They won because they hit open shots and Swann and Taylor were unstoppable. It was hard stopping them one on one, because that is the style that the Americans have known their whole life”, stressed Fraport Skyliner forward Danilo Barthel who finished with eight points, four rebounds and one block. As voted by the fans, New Yorker Phantoms Braunschweig guard Isaiah Swann won the MVP award scoring 25 points nailing seven three pointers. One could see from the start that he had that MVP look and was aggressive from the first minute showing a special gracefulness with his shooting touch and deserved it. All in all it was a great day for basketball and now the fans can get ready for an exciting second half of the season.





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