Imagine being at the most exciting children´s birthday parties in 2014 where kids were at a Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees game and getting to go into the dressing room after the game and getting a jersey from Derek Jeter, being at a Justin Bieber concert and having a contest to predict how many girls will pass out or abstaining from celebrity glitz, which can be as exciting going on a river boat excursion down a river with many little surprises along the way, it seems like going home and having that special experience would be enough. However even at amazing birthday parties there is almost always a constellation prize for kids when the party is over with the traditional grab bag or party favor. This going home present is a way to say thanks for coming and by the way here is a gift for you. Gifts range from tiny toys, candy and pencils. That was back in the day while today there seem to be more sopfisticated gifts like personalized Kids birthday lollipops, mini classic gum ball machines, personalized kids crayon set or the kids personalized birthday notebooks. But before I get to the 2014-2015 Fraport Skyliners season, could one imagine how German national player and Fraport Skyliner forward Danilo Barthel would react if he got a spider tee shirt or mug or even more horrifying for him his own spider aquarium for his personal enjoyment at home. Ever since his spider phobia was reveled, one had better never mention the hairy 8 legged beast. So what does all this grab bag talk have to do with this years team? Well last seasons team had been constructed in a way that it was hard to make a real defined prediction what that team will be able to achieve and was sort of like getting a grab bag served at a kids party and not knowing what is inside it. Guessing how many wins the Fraport Skyliners would achieve last season was no more difficult than predicting who would be the US top scorer in any game at the 2014 World Championships in Spain, exactly how long New England Patriot Tom Brady will play as he seems ready to seek the record for oldest active NFL quarterback or what could be the next new internet and self advertisement after the ALS ice bucket challenge. Before the start of the 2013-2014 Beko BBL season, I stated that having the notion of not knowing what this club was capable to achieve made the season so interesting and exciting in the Beko BBL.
This notion of the 2013-2014 season being interesting and exciting definitely held its own as it was grab a bag season. With all the untimely injuries to guys like ex NBA player Andrew Rautins, Jacob Burtschi, and Quantez Robertson missing combined a total of 43 Beko BBL games, Dawan Robinson leaving after a few weeks into the season and head coach Gordon Herbert having to go with two inexperienced rookies with Jarred Dubois and Ramon Galloway at the guard position or the team´s phobia of losing close games in the second half of the season to start 2014 losing 13 of 15 games, but somehow beating top teams FC Bayern Munich and ratiopharm Ulm showed what kind of talent this team had. In these 13 loses, they lost last possession games in Oldenburg, at home against MBC, lost by a point in Ludwigsburg, lost by a point at home against the Walter Tigers Tuebingen and by a point in Braunschweig. Five loses by a combined seven points probably left head coach Gordon Herbert a few sleepless nights. However the club ended the season in 11th place and if one would have won 4 of the 5 games that they lost in crunch time, they would have slipped into the playoffs. The Fraport Skyliners organization could have been very pleased with their season ending despite the unlucky circumstances that they had. After 40 minutes the only thing that counts is the win and not the what could have been.
The question this season will be, will it be a Grab Bag season reloaded 2.0 or will there be a DJK basketball playoff insurance? What exactly the DJK basketball playoff insurance means I will get to later, but let me examine how the club roster stands this season. For German soccer fans the injury to Marco Reus was a huge shock on the eve of the team leaving to go to Brazil for the World Cup, while a few weeks later the departure of Jacob Burtschi citing personal and injury reasons was for many Skyliner fans just as much of a jolt. Burtschi still is on the roster and there is always a dim hope that he may return. If he doesn´t return, Jacob Burtschi will go down as having been the ultimate team player in their history. Dane Watts is another curious issue as to why they didn´t keep him. Perhaps the club was unsure about his physical future after missing a whole year and then having the concussion in Ludwigsburg, but in the end Top Spanish club Sevilla believed in his abilities and signed the Missouri native. The club also said farewell to Jarred Dubois, Ramon Galloway and Aziz NDiaye. For a while there was hope that Andrew Rautins may return, but he chose the bucks in Italy. The club kept a healthy core of players starting with Quantez Robertson who now is the oldest player on the team and longest on the team going into his sixth season. One could say that he is the heart and soul of the team and the new identity figure taking over after Pascal Roller and Marius Nolte. Last season Tez Robertson played 21 games averaging 9.2ppg, 4.8rpg, 3.0apg, 1.4spg, FGP: 49.5%, 3PT: 27.3%, FT: 75.6%. It was his second best scoring season in his professional career. His three point shooting still remains his sore spot, while he still belongs to the top defenders in the Beko BBL and at age 29 in his prime. The club also held the German big three of Danilo Barthel going into his fourth season, Johannes Voigtmann and Konstantin Klein both going into their third seasons. This is where my DJK example comes in place. DJK stands in German for Deutschen Jugendkraft Sportverband or translated as German Youth Power Sports Association. In a way DJK could also stand for a basketball health insurance company as they are usually abbreviated in those terms like DKV, but if one closely observes the three letters one would see that it could also stand for Danilo, Johannes and Konstantin. All three of them have improved their stats each season and continue to develop as Danilo Barthel got his first taste of the NBA playing Summer League in Orlando and Las Vegas for the Miami Heat while Johannes Voigtmann played two 2014 European qualifying games for Germany averaging 8,5ppg and 7,0rpg. The Fraport Skyliners keep going the German way and will continue to need support from their German players. Stefan Illzhoefer and Kevin Bright remain projects and have had the injury bug last season and this season. Currently they are out and they continue to ooze with basketball potential. The club brought in five imports to round out the roster. The most important signing was Richard Williams who they secured early in late May. He has had a cinderella like fairy tale story having gone form the Pro B Hannover via Vechta to the Beko BBL. In Frankfurt he wants to make the next step and will get very much responsibility and his daily practice duels will also help guard mate Konstantin Klein improve his game. Their second signing was Aaron Doornekamp who is the Jacob Burtschi replacement. The Canadian national player already played against NBA legend Dirk Nowitzki in a international game in 2006 in Nurnberg as a college player from Carleton. He has three years experience in Italy having played 83 games for Pepsi JuveCaserta (Italy-SerieA). Last season he played for the New Yorker Phantoms Braunschweig (Germany-BBL) playing 34 games: 8.8ppg, 5.7rpg, 1.9apg, 1.4spg, FGP: 50.5%, 3PT: 37.4%, FT: 78.0%. In pre season, the Canadian might have been the most consistent player and seems to be Herbert´s favorite player. The club brought in a Andrew Rautins replacement with rookie Sean Armand. The scouting report is impressive as the Brooklyn native is a pure scorer and having a shooting out the lights contest with Rautins would be very desirable. Armand shot over 40% from outside each season at Iona including a potent 46,2% in his second season. He also improved his scoring each season and as a senior averaged 17.5ppg, 3.2rpg, 4.1apg, 1.2spg, FGP: 48.6%, 3PT: 44.2%, FT: 78.9%. He also had afine pre season and his passing skills seem tob e his hidden strength. Mike Morrison who hails from St Pertersburg, Florida is starting his third season having played at Goerge Mason and last season played for Joensuun Kataja Basket (Finland-Korisliiga) playing 55 games: 14.0ppg, 7.7rpg, 1.5apg, Blocks-1(1.6bpg), FGP: 60.2%, FT: 57.7%; EuroChallenge: 6 games: 13.3ppg, 8.2rpg, 1.5apg, 2.0bpg, FGP: 49.3%, FT: 53.8%. He and Voigtman compliment each other well as he plays more near the rim inside while the German has the mid range game. The last signing from Frankfurt was Finish national player Mikko Koivisto. Koivisto is an interesting player who played NCAA at NC-Greensboro (NCAA) and was teammates with future Euroleague champions Kyle Hines and Ricky HIckman. He has played his whole professional career in Finland and Frankfurt will be second station outside Finland after a brief stay with Royal Hali Gaziantep (Turkey-TBL): 12 games: 4.7ppg, 1.3rpg, 3PT: 47.1%, FT: 75.0%; EuroChallenge: 5 games: 6.2ppg. He recently played at the 2014 World championships in Spain and might have one or the other stories about Kyrie Irving or James Harden who he played against. His shooting stroke and ability will be a fine addition to Armand on the wing.
So what will be in store for the 2014-2015 Fraport Skyliners? Will it be another grab bag season or will there be a DJK basketball playoff insurance this season? Gordon Herbert is a diehard basketball aficionado that stands for focusing on grooming the tactical measures on the court with his players. In the last three seasons, the Fraport Skyliners had difficulty scoring averaging under 70 points a game until last season scoring a bit better averaging 73 points a game and survived many games simply by letting up fewer points and just buckling down and defending for 40 minutes as if it was their last game ever. Relying on top defense surely will be a goal for Gordon Herbert this season as one doesn´t meet more bull dog like defenders than Quantez Robertson and Konstantin Klein. By putting San Diego native Richard Williams into the mix, Frankfurt could have the best defensive duo with Williams and Robertson in the league. Williams and Robertson with their lightening quick hands will definitely profit from each other and add some NBA Showtime to the Beko BBL as ally-ops could be as common from them two as the road runner scoot to the hoop from Dashaun Wood each game during his time with Frankfurt. The guard trio of Willimas, Klein and Merz could be the best defensive guard trio in the Beko BBL and will wear down teams. Making big plays and getting out on the break will be another popular option this season having big guys like Danilo Barthel and Mike Morrsion liking to get out on the break. I see this team being more talented than last season and there also is more experience. Last season one had four rookies with Galloway, Dubois, N Diaye and Bright while this season the club has brought in only one rookie with Armand. Williams, Doornekamp, Morrison and Koivisto have combined 14 years of professional experience. Morrison and Koivisto have combined 21 games of international club games under their belts. This experience will be a big plus and these five guys definitely have more fire power than what came in last season. So what will the club have to do to finally reach the playoffs again? Playing consistent strong defense like I mentioned already will be vital as the consistent play of the DJK German big three. There will be a lot of burden on the shoulders of Danilo Barthel, Johannes Voigtman and Konstantin Klein to perform at a high level each game and be consistent. However these three Germans are great competitors and have shown a positive curve upwards each season and are ready to continue to make the next step. They continue to be the future of the club and with extended Eurochallenge games this season will help their play as well. They should be ripe to lead the team to the Beko BBL playoffs. “For Frankfurt to reach the playoffs depends how the team finds itself. Frankfurt has a very good coach with Gordon Herbert and with Danilo, Johannes and Konstantin three very good players that are still young, but have experience. The Eurochallenge will help the three Germans and the team keep their rhythm and regain it in bad phases. If they do reach the playoffs then they will be a big reason for getting there as well as their teammates, coaching staff and office”, warned German Jannik Freese. Another big factor for the club reaching the playoffs is the rookie performance of Sean Armand. He doesn´t have to put up 30 point games like Andrew Rautins did, but if he can develop into a consistent and reliable scorer then their chances will be good to be one of the best 8 teams in May. Armand will be the X-factor for me between making the playoffs or not. And not to forget the Fraport Skyliners have their secret weapon in Gordon Herbert. He has had a good track record when having strong rosters winning it all in 2004, reaching the final in 2010, and semi final in 2011. Last season was a season to forget, but he still had the know how and feeling to lead the team to a 11th place despite having so little to work with. One should never underestimate a Gordon Herbert in that he is known for getting the best out of his players and this season he has nice talent again to work some magic. If the club can for once stay injury free than the playoffs are more of a reality than reach. Last season it was a grab bag scenario not knowing what could happen, but this season it looks more like the team could go in a positive direction than in a negative. 10 years ago, the club had the Bermuda triangle with Pascal Roller, Chris Williams and Tyrone Ellis that won the title in 2004 and reached the final in 2005 and in 2014 the club has the DJK triangle. Danilo, Johannes and Konstantin may not be ripe to win the title now, but they are on a good way to bringing success and playoffs to the Fraport Skyliners that have been yearning for May basketball again since 2011.