It is no secret in Frankfurt Skyliners country that injuries have been a real sore spot in their history as it has hampered their play at times and been as annoying for the organization and fans as it is for the faithful of the Telekom Baskets Bonn still waiting for that title after countless finals and non-ending comparisons to the Buffalo Bills, but at least they can play test games with a more full roster than Frankfurt. The Fraport Skyliners were supposed to play their first exhibition game of the new season last week against new Pro A team Hebeisen White Wings Hanau, but had to cancel because of a lack of players on account of injuries and not too mention the team still haven´t found their import point guard and shooting guard for the new season. Frankfurt still banged up traveled to the well known Hansi Witsch basketball tournament that usually is held in Bad Neuenahr, but this summer in Koblenz and their first opponent was another new Pro A team with the RheinStars Cologne which is a project of German basketball legend 1993 European champion and CEO Stephan Baeck who are a very ambitious new club that want to reach the Beko BBL earning their right of passage with stellar play in the coming years. This was an interesting test for the 2004 Beko BBL winner Frankfurt Skyliners as they were facing many young German talents as well as some talented Americans with Lakeem Jackson and David Downs and if that wasn´t enough, it is always worth a trip to see Bernd Kruel play. Years ago I thought a Chris Ensminger might play until he is 50, but at the rate that Kruel is going and with his boyish looks and fit body he may play well into his 40s, because the German who started his basketball career in 1993 with Brandt Hagen just doesn´t seem to want to hang up his sneakers just yet at age 39. When Kruel started his basketball career in 1993, current Skyliners Niklas Kiel, Armin Trtovac, Stefan Ilzhoefer, Max Merz and Garai Zeeb weren´t even born yet. The few Skyliner fans that didn´t make the trip to Berlin to watch Germany square off against Iceland were unable to see Kruel again as he didn´t play and in the first test the Fraport Skyliners showed extreme bravery and clutch play in the second half from their Germans Johannes Richter and Tim Oldenburg as they got by the RheinStars Cologne 72-59. There were times during the game where nobody wanted to be inside the basketball mind of Gordon Herbert as he was hurting, but then again injuries is part of the business and something he has grown accustomed to as head coach of the Fraport Skyliners. “The second half was better than the first. This was the first time that we had a 5-5 game situation. We only had two plays which we had installed Thursday. Positive with this win was our effort and how we came together”, stressed head coach Gordon Herbert. After a tough loss to medi Bayreuth on Friday where Cologne was in the game for long periods of the game, it was one quarter again that gave the game away from the pro A team. “The fourth quarter continues to keep getting at us. We had a lack of execution and miscommunication on offense and defense. We take this loss as a stepping stone and our effort was pretty good. We have been playing first level teams and we take these game as good preparation for the season”, added ex South Carolina(NCAA) forward Lakeem Jackson.
The Fraport Skyliners were only able to dress 8 players and started the contest with Americans Quantez Robertson and Mike Morrison and Germans Johannes Richter, Konstantin Klein and Lennart Okeke. The Fraport Skyliners had difficulty getting in game mood in the first few minutes as the RheinStars took a quick 6-1 lead as their rookies Aaron Jones out of Mississippi(NCAA) and Alex Foster(Emory) supplied the damage as Jones drove home a two handed dunk and Foster was aggressive sinking four free throws. However Frankfurt came back and quickly tied up the score at 6-6 as Konstantin Klein who seems to have added a step of quickness over the summer found the hole and finished with a lay in and then drilled home a trey. Frankfurt then got their first lead and upped it to 13-10 getting production for their kids as ex TV Langen guard Jona Hoffmann who debuted in the German Pro B at age 16 hit free throws and ex Bremerhaven junior player Garai Zeeb nailed a three pointer. “I thought both guys Zeeb and Hoffmann played well. Both are new to this level and it will take some time. They really did a good job as it was their first time at 5-5. They are learning on the fly”, warned Gordon Herbert. Frankfurt continued to add pressure on offense and got back to back scores from Pro B veteran Tim Oldenburg who scored on the fast break getting the perfect dish from Quantez Robertson and then hit a rainbow that looked as sweet as the desert at the players evening banquet following the game. Frankfurt led 18-12 with a minute to go, but were unable to score in their last three possessions as Cologne crept back in the game as Jackson scored in traffic and made free throws and Denzel Brito scored inside as the game was dead locked 18-18 after one quarter.
In the second quarter the RheinStars Cologne had their best five minutes of basketball in the gae as they went on a scorching 13-0 run to take their biggest lead of the game at 31-22. In the run, Cologne got sufficient production from four different players. 19 year old German U-20 national player Tim Van Der Velde showed his versatile inside out game with a left handed floater and a three pointer, David Dowens who played at Seattle Pacific (NCAA2) and last season for MBC Mykolaiv (Ukraine-Superleague) before coming to the RheinStars hit from way downtown, Jones made a hook shot over Morrison and Antonio Plipovic nailed a three pointer. In this phase the Fraport Skyliners looked broken and frustrated as they couldn´t hit the ocean and were just constructing bricks at a quicker rate than Donald Trump can insult someone. However Frankfurt somehow was able to crawl out of their funk going on a 14-5 run to close out the second quarter and waltz into halftime tied at 36-36. In the last three minutes the Fraport Skyliners received vital production from Tim Oldenburg who really was a force inside scrapping for offensive rebounds and making a put back and then finishing with a spin move. There is never a game where Tez doesn´t finish with his hurried penetration as he scored and Klein and Richter added free throws. “That 13-0 run hurt, but something like this happens when you come into a game not having played 5-5 and having a majority of Pro B players. However we showed character at the end of the quarter and got back into the game”, added Fraport Skyliner center Johannes Richter. “We were all on. We were talking on defense, setting screens and making shots. We should of finished the game like that”, added Lakeem Jackson. The Fraport Skyliners were shooting 39% from the field and 20% from outside while the RheinStars Cologne were shooting 38% from the field and 27% from outside. Frankfurt had the 19-17 rebound edge, but nine turnovers while Cologne had seven turnovers.
The game stayed very tight in the third quarter as there were only two lead changes,but the RheinStars Cologne kept the lead for the most part of the game. This quarter also saw the emergence and domination of Johannes Richter who scored 8 points in the last three minutes and that carried over into the fourth quarter. Baby twin tower Johannes Richter stands in the shadow of German national player twin tower Johannes Voigtmann who made his break through last season and has made the next step reaching Euro 2015 and surely profited very much with the day to day battle with the national player in practice last season. Jona Hoffmann got Frankfurt on the board first in the third quarter with his precision shooting, but the RheinStars quickly tied the score at 39-39 with three free throws from Alex Foster. Jackson then scored in bunches making free throws and connecting over Tez as Frankfurt trailed 43-39. Klein and Jones then traded baskets as the German scored inside and the American made a reverse lay up as Frankfurt still was behind 45-41. Cologne still held their nose forward as Plipovic nailed another three pointer as Cologne led 48-44. But then it was time for Johannes Richter to start Part one of his clean up duty around the hoop as he scored twice down low after snatching offensive rebounds and making put backs, then made free throws and scored inside again as Frankfurt trailed only 54-52 after thirty minutes. “Richter really hurt us as he made shots and got to the rim. Our communication wasn´t good in this phase”, added Lakeem Jackson. “I have to admit I didn´t have much confidence in the first half and the start of the third quarter, but then I decided I had to change something and get back into the game with my intensity. I got offensive rebounds and made shots getting back into the game. I just tried my best and this game was a great opportunity for me to show that it will be hard for coach not to give me minutes”, stressed Johannes Richter.
In the fourth quarter it was all Fraport Skyliners as they dominated outscoring the RheinStars 20-5 and Johannes Richter continued his clean up duty near the three point line drilling home two more three pointers to put the nail on the coffin. The unsung hero in the game was Tim Oldenburg who added valuable insurance points along the way. He got Frankfurt the lead back right off the bat with a mini 4-0 run as the Fraport Skyliners would never look back. The German who studies to become a police man made a tip in and then a lay in after getting the cute no look pass from Klein as Frankfurt led 56-54. Klein also added a three pointer and Richer got busy two more times inside showing that his quick footwork can be a menace to anyone. In the last minutes he scored getting to the hole like a point guard and finishing that one could add “Richter can play the 1-5 positions on the scouting report”. “Richter and Oldenburg did a good job getting offensive rebounds and making hustle plays”, added Gordon Herbert. What is interesting is that the damage in the fourth quarter that was made came from the Germans as Robertson and Morrison sat watching from the bench. ”The Germans did a good job in our absence getting offensive rebounds. Richter made three´s and free throws while Oldenburg made put backs”, warned Quantez Robertson. The Fraport Skyliners were led by Johannes Richter with 21 points and 14 rebounds. Tim Oldenburg and Konstantin Klein added 15 points a piece. The RheinStars Cologne were led by the trio of Americans Lakeem Jackson, Aaron Jones and Alex Foster with 10 points a piece. The Fraport Skyliners shot 40% from the field and 28% from the three point line while the RheinStars Cologne shot 33% from the field and 22% from the three point line. Frankfurt led the rebound battle 41-33 and ended with 14 turnovers while Cologne had 16 turnovers. After the first exhibition game, ex Auburn forward Quantez Robertson was content with the teams performance despite the circumstances. “On paper we looked like a Pro B team. We started off slow with no communication on defense. We played better as a team in the second half. It has been hard for the young guys because they don´t know our system yet. I try to keep the young guys together. We can´t focus on what we can´t do, but on what we can. It was a good first game, but we still have a long way to go. AS soon as we have all on board then you can expect a better team”, warned Quantez Robertson. The Fraport Skyliners meet medi Bayreuth on Sunday closing out the three day Hansi Witsch tournament in Koblenz.