What Fortunes Can The New Youth Program Era Reloaded 2.0 Bring The Fraport Skyliners This Season?

The 2010-2011 Fraport Skyliners season seems like it was ages ago as guys from that successful semi-final run loss to Alba Berlin like Pascal Roller, Roger Powell, Dominik Bahiense De Mello, AJ Moye Jimmy Mckinney and Marius Nolte are all retired and Chris Moss might be hanging up his sneakers now soon as well. The only guy still with the team is Skyliner identity figure Quantez Robertson who now has the distinction of being part of a second basketball cycle that is commencing in the Frankfurt basketball world. A cycle is a recurring period of time in which certain events or phenomena occur and reach completion or repeat themselves in a regular sequence. In life one has all kinds of cycles like the astronomical cycle, climate and weather cycles, geological cycles, agricultural cycles or medical cycles just to name a few and if you want to get cute and absurd actor Charlie Sheen and his own bizarre sex cycle that is as rapid as the daily new lines that Donald Trump is delivering to the world. The two best import point guards that the Fraport Skyliners ever had with Dashaun Wood and Jordan Theodore were present at the start of the first cycle in 2011 and end of the first basketball cycle in 2016. No one is really sure where Gunnar Wobke came up with the idea of starting this basketball youth development factory in Frankfurt wheather it was looking over the shoulder of Henrik Roedl and TBB Trier as they were on the youth development trip starting in 2010 or if the lack of budget left him no other choice? In any event, the Fraport Skyliners youth program era began in 2011 and first cycle ended in 2016 and now the club has clearly displayed that a new youth program era reloaded 2,0 is commencing again with new faces, challenges and hopes. With guys like Niklas Kiel, Max Merz and Stefan Ilzhoefer on the verge of making their BBL break through, Garai Zeeb in his second season in development and new German faces of Mahir Agva and Daniel Mayer continuing their development in Frankfurt, the club feels that the youth program era reloaded 2,0 will be one too remember. Not to forget 16 year old Isaac Bonga who is a 203cm point guard and the most interesting player to watch in the next years where the sky isn´t the limit, but moreover outer space is the limit.

When looking back at the last 5 seasons, there were some rocky seasons for the Fraport Skyliners, but in the end the new youth program era that slowly started in 2011 with a ninth, 14th and 11th finish, but ripped it´s benefits as the club  finished  sixth and third the last two seasons with two playoff appearances, a Eurochallenge top 4 finish and third club title with the Fiba Europe Cup. Club owner Gunnar Wobke proclaimed his 3 year plan in 2013 stating that the goal was to give added minutes to the Germans in the first season, reach the playoffs in the second season and become a top 5 team in the third season as well as reaching the cup top 4 and winning the Fiba Europe Cup and everything happened just as he had hoped for as he could easily have moonlighted as a fortune teller. Danilo Barthel came in 2011 and Johannes Voigtmann and Konstantin Klein in 2012. All three players matured and developed into top BBL players, became German national players and also BBL allstars. Now their grooming time is over and a new youth program era reloaded 2,0 has began with some faces already been around for some years as well as new heads popping up this season. The club also lost some key components to the success of last season with the pride and joy of Englewood, New Jersey Jordan “I Believe” Theodore who was a main reason for the team winning the Fiba Europe Cup and reaching the semi-finals of the playoffs and has gone to greener pastures in Turkey to Banvit who will face the Fraport Skyliners in the Champions Cup. The club also lost Aaron “Mr 7am practice player Doornekamp” who was Gordon Herbert´s favorite student and a guy that never took an elbow he couldn´t handle and was the team´s most improved player and was one of big contributors in the 88-86 Bamberg win at home with 22 points and was a key figure in the Alba Berlin sweep in the playoffs. The team also lost the pit bull John Little who did everything possible on the court and was instrumental with his leadership and never die attitude on defense. The club also elected not to hold on to Johannes Richter who made his breakthrough two years ago with a 13 and 6 game against the Baaken Bears in the Eurochallenge. His never give up attitude was clearly seen in his expression every time he scooped up an offensive rebound on the glass.

The club kept club identity figure Quantez Robertson who got a three year deal and most likely will finish his career with the Fraport Skyliners. Robertson is a 31 year old 188cm guard from Cincinnati, Ohio that will be playing his eighth season with Frankfurt and last season played 40 BBL games averaging 9.7ppg, 3.5rpg, 3.1apg, 1.4spg, FGP: 45.3%, 3PT: 36.3%, FT: 77.0%; FIBA Europe Cup: 19 games: 11.2ppg, 4.1rpg, 2.8apg, 1.4spg, FGP: 60.6%, 3PT: 40.2%, FT: 82.9%. Even at age 31, he has hardly lost a step, is explosive in route to the rim and is so valuable with his leadership and defensive qualities. He averaged 12,0ppg in the Alba Berlin playoff series and shot 50% from downtown in the series and was at it´s best contributing 15 points in the Fiba Europe Cup final against Varese. The club also held on to Mike Morrison who is a 26 year old 206cm center from St Petersburg. After gaining early professional experience in Belgium, Cyprus and Finland, Morrison has found a real second home in Frankfurt playing his third season with the Skyliners. Last season he played 40 BBL games averaging 7.0ppg, 3.4rpg, FGP: 59.1%, FT: 55.2%; FIBA Europe Cup: 19 games: 8.0ppg, 4.3rpg, FGP: 58.9%, FT: 41.7%. He became more of an offensive consistent player last season and showed that he can score on a regular basis when he starts as he scored in double figures in six of his first seven games last season as Johannes Voigmann was sidelined with an injury. He shines in the play very near to the basket, will once again be the recipient of most alley-oop plays, can make the easy put backs, run the floor and get the big blocks on the defensive end. The club also held on to Mr Canada Philip Scrubb who is a 23 year old 190cm guard that many have called the best Canadian  college player of all-time as he won 8 titles with Carelton(CIS) and can hit the three with ease the same way a certain Presidential candidate can dish out the insults. Last season with Frankfurt, Scrubb played 23 games averaging 10.0ppg, 2.4rpg, 2.0apg, FGP: 50.9%, 3PT: 44.4%, FT: 83.8%, 2.7rpg, 2.4apg, FGP: 48.8%, 3PT: 52.2%, FT: 90.3%. He tore up Phoenix Hagen with 26 points and was instrumental in the Fiba Europe Cup series against Macabbi Rishon averaging 15,0ppg in the three game series. He still has much potential and despite some new talented Americans in the mix, he will still be a main contributor this season. The fans will have to wait a while as he rehabs a brutal knee injury.

The club held on to a number of young Germans who were on board during the end of the Voigtmann, Barthel and Klein youth development phase and now will continue to grow in the youth program era reloaded 2,0. One guy that belongs to this group has been on board the longest and came the same time Barthel did in 2011 is Max Merz. Merz who was named co captain is a 22 year old 184cm point guard that will be starting his sixth season with the club. He has played a total of 48 BBL games in the last four years and especially in the last two years profited from the daily practice time with Americans Justin Cobbs and Jordan Theodore even if he was away for half a season two seasons ago taking a semester in Australia. Merz is a controlled point guard that seems to be coming into his own this pre-season after he had to take control with the import point guard coming in late. He broke out of his shell nailing Bayreuth for 20 points and has dramatically improved his outside shooting. He also reads the defense a lot better now and has less problems with bigger players blinding his view on offensive sets. Niklas Kiel is a 19 year old 207cm forward that is back for his third season and belongs to the biggest German talents from the year 1997. He has drastically improved his game in the last two years as last season in the Pro B he played 24 games averaging 14.1ppg, 7.3rpg, 2.0apg, FGP: 53.0%, 3PT: 28.8%, FT-2(90.4%). He won Eurobasket.com All-German 2.Bundesliga Pro B Most Improved Player of the Year last year and now can fully concentrate on basketball as last season he still had school stress, but with his German high school finished, basketball is his #1 priority now. The club wants to slowly groom him into a BBL player this season and it won´t be easy playing in the shadows of the departed twin towers Voigtmann and Barthel, but putting any pressure on him would be more than unfair. He has the complete game, but his three pointer is still a work in progress that still needs to be worked on. Kiel has seen much action in pre-season, starting games and has a developing self confidence and inside game that already has had BBL big men sense his presence. Kiel is an interesting project in it´s own right, but Stefan Ilzhoefer is another where break-through seems to also be etched in his future now. Ilzhoefer is a 21 year old 201cm guard/forward that is so valuable because he can play multiple positions. He already played his first BBL game at age 17 with Ludwigsburg and it´s hard to believe that he is starting his fourth season with Frankfurt as injuries have been his biggest burden in this time as he played only 7 games in his first season. He has played only a total of 59 games in three seasons that include BBL, Pro B, Eurochallenge and Fiba Cup competition. This season he finally is 100% healthy and like Kiel has shown in pre- season that he is focused, motivated and confident on the court. Despite injuries, one has seen a big turn in his game also. His biggest plus has been his self-confidence and desire to be a main factor in the offense in the early going of pre-season as only Morrison and Robertson were present as the imports. It will be interesting to see what kind of role he will have as the team is complete. Another very interesting Skyliner project is Garai Zeeb. He is a 21 year old 186cm point guard that already played 6 BBL games as a 17-18 year old with the Eisbaeren. Last season he came to Frankfurt and played 2 BBL games averaging 3.0ppg; FIBA Europe Cup: 1 game: 0pts, and 29 Pro B games averaging 7.4ppg, 2.3rpg, 4.2apg, 1.3spg, FGP: 44.6%, 3PT: 22.8%, FT: 76.5%. He is only in his second year in the new youth program era reloaded 2,0 and should like last year have most of his time with the Pro B team. It wasn´t any different for Max Merz who went the same way the last years. Zeeb is a smart quick guard who already has a good sense of knowing how to separate when to score and when to dish at the right moment. His whole game still needs time and needs to keep being developed at the Pro B level, but here and there he will be thrown into the BBL shark tank.

Three new Germans join the youth program era reloaded 2,0 for the Fraport Skyliners with Mahir Agva, Daniel Mayer and Isaac Bonga. Agva has the most BBL experience of the three as he is a 20 year old 206cm forward that started his career at TSG Reutlingen and is the one of the youngest players to have played a BBL game at age 16 with the Walter Tigers Tuebingen. Two years ago, he played some major basketball overtime as he seemed to be more on the road than anybody as at times he was playing 2-3 games a weekend and had more problems to make his weekend driving schedule than the Rolling Stones tour manager back in the day. In the 2014-2015 season, the German played for the Erdgas Ehingen/Urspringschule (ProA): 25 games: 13.6ppg, Reb-3(8.7rpg), 1.3apg, FGP: 50.0%, 3PT: 31.3%, FT: 68.4%, played also at U19 team (NBBL), in Apr.’15 moved to Walter Tigers Tuebingen (BBL) playing  5 games: 6.0ppg, 6.8rpg, FGP: 38.7%, FT: 66.7%. Last season he made his BBL breakthrough with the Walter Tigers Tuebingen (BBL) playing 31 games averaging 6.5ppg, 3.4rpg, FGP: 51.6%, FT: 67.7%. One could see that his strong play the season before in the Pro A was no fluke as it transformed over nicely to the BBL. He scored in double figures seven times including a double double against BG Goettingen and owned FC Bayern Munich rattling them twice for 14 points. This season he fills a big void with the absence of the twin towers and so far in pre-season is still finding himself. If he can be a banger down-low and take the physical punishment that Barthel withstood is still to be seen. Daniel Mayr is a 21 year old 218cm giant who is the son of former German National Team player Rolf ‘Bibo’ Mayr who stands 222cm (7’4′) tall. Mayr started his career at the Dragons Rhondorf and then played some years in the Jena organization before making the big move to FC Bayern Munich. However after only 15 BBL games and 36 with farm team FC Bayern Munich 2, the club gave up on him. Mayr is a huge talent and has played at all levels of the German national teams and played at three consecutive NBBL championships and averaged 16 and 10 stats in the 2013-2014 season, but his biggest misfortune so far in his career has been his health. Currently he is injured and will be will be brought along slowly and will be see most minutes with the Pro B team Skyliners Juniors. The most anticipated talent and current team jewel is Isaac Bonga who turns 17 in November and started his career with the Post SV – Luetzel Baskets Koblenz junior team. Last season he played for SG Luetzel-Post Koblenz (Regionalliga) playing 24 games averaging 5.9ppg, 2.8rpg, 2.0apg, FGP: 58.4%, 3PT: 19.0%, FT: 64.1%, played also in NBBL for Eintracht Frankfurt averaging 15.9ppg, 7.9rpg, 3.6apg. At 203cm, he can play the 1-4 positions and has a reach of 2,14 meters. What stands out at first glance is his unending athleticism and the way he moves on the court with such ease. His passing abilities are also worth raving about as he dazzled fans in his first exhibition game on the American airbase in Wiesbaden with a no look pass that would even have had Magic Johnson wondering who this kid is. Experts see him as an NBA player in the making.

The club completed their roster by bringing in three new players with Shavon Shields, Antonio Graves and Markel Starks. Shields is a 22 year old 201cm forward from Olathe, Kansas that has the American/Danish citizenship and his father Will was a well-known NFL player with the Kansas City Chiefs that was selected to 12 Pro Bowls. He will be starting his professional career with the Fraport Skyliners. He had an illustrious career at Nebraska(NCAA) from 2012-2016 playing a total of 118 games and as a senior played 29 games averaging 16.9ppg, 5.1rpg, 2.6apg, 1.3spg, FGP: 49.2%, 3PT: 36.0%, FT: 79.0%. In the last months before coming to Frankfurt he played at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament (Pre-NBA Draft): 3 games: 13.7ppg, 2.7rpg, 1.7apg, 2.3spg and NBA Pro Summer League in Orlando (Orlando Blue): 2 games: 2.5ppg, 1.5rpg. In the first test games, he has been dominating being top scorer and rebounder on many occasions and his quickness in the paint has really stood out. Antonio Graves is a 31 year old 191cm guard from Mansfield, Ohio that will be playing his 10th professional season and third in Germany after playing with Artland and Crailsheim. He is a combo guard who can play either the point or off-guard. He is an athletic player, solid defender, good shooter who can handle the ball and plays with intensity and is a team player. He hails from an intriguing basketball family background as uncle Ahmed Kent ranks second on Mansfield Senior’s career scoring list, while several cousins played NCAA Division I basketball, including Dapreis Davis (Nebraska, 1989-92) and Marquis Sykes (Morehead State, 1999-03). His vast experience coupled with that of Quantez Robertson will be an instant spark as he has played in countries like France, Turkey, Croatia, and Italy. The ex Pittsburgh(NCAA) guard last season played with the Crailsheim Merlins (Germany-BBL) playing 12 games averaging 15.3ppg, 2.8rpg, 2.5apg, FGP: 47.6%, 3PT: 42.9%, FT: 80.8%. The club got the last piece to the team with point guard Markel Starks who is a 25 year old 188cm point guard from Accokeek, Maryland and will be playing his third professional season. He is a super quick player, with great offensive instinct and scoring ability that makes him more a combo guard that a true PG. Has great athletic skills and he’s actively working to his defense on the perimeter. He played at Georgetown from 2010-2014 playing a total of 125 NCAA games and was able to improve his scoring each season. As a senior he played 32 games averaging. 16.5ppg, 2.2rpg, 3.9apg, FGP: 45.7%, 3PT: 34.5%, FT: 86.1%. He has had experience in Italy, Australia and played NBA Summer league with the Detroit Pistons and Minnesota Timberwolves. Last season he played for the Cairns Taipans (Australia-NBL) playing 26 games averaging 12.5ppg, 2.2rpg, 2.3apg, 2FGP: 52.9%, 3FGP: 22.4%, FT: 84.1%, in Feb.’16 moved to Vanoli Cremona (Italy-Serie A) playing 13 games: 8.2ppg, 2.1rpg, 1.9apg, FGP: 52.2%, 3PT: 29.7%, FT: 66.7%.

With so many key components of the past two successful seasons departed, what will be in store for the Fraport Skyliners this season and can interin coach Klaus Perwas carry over the magic that Gordon Herbert usually has? If you look on paper, this team doesn´t look bad at all, but there are two big factors that need to be weighed in. Can some of the young German players of the youth program era reloaded 2,0 be able to make an impact and can the S&S show of Starks and Shields also be able to be consistent performers and help carry the club? I can imagine the 2016-2017 Fraport Skyliners finishing somewhere between 7-13 as one has to always weigh in the immense competitive nature of the EasyCredit BBL, unwanted injuries, team chemistry and if certain players will be able to perform to what they are capable of. Americans Quantez Robertson and Mike Morrison will lead the team with their experience and get useful aid from Antonio Graves who fills out this neat trio while it will be interesting to see how well Shavon Shields can perform as a rookie and if his pre-season double doubles can transform over into the season. In the last two seasons, rookies like Justin Cobbs, Sean Armand and Philip Scrubb made the grade and became vital components for the success of the team. Head coach Gorden Herbert also has a history of finding the right point guards as he proved that with guys like Dashaun Wood, Justin Cobbs and Jordan Theodore. A guy like Richard Williams was surely also a good signing, but he was never fully healthy and can´t be judged in a way that he was a bust two seasons ago. Markel Starks is an interesting pick up and in a way is like a copy of a Theodore in that both can penetrate, with a quick first step, play tough defense, don´t have the most consistent three pointer and have immaculate characters. The only real difference is that Starks is just a tad slower than Theodore when getting to the bucket. Either way Starks should be able to run the Skyliner offense and lead the team to success. One can´t always predict how quickly the bucket full of young Germans will produce, but at least two will have to start to bring consistent stats in the season. The best bet is Niklas Kiel and who the second one will be with an Ilzhoefer or Agva is hard to pinpoint, but not over pressuring these guys and just letting them develop further is the first priority for them. It will be another interesting and exciting season for the Fraport Skyliners with Champions cup play, the BBL debut of Isaac Bonga possibly looming at some point, the return of Jordan Theodore in late October and continued speculation about when a new state of the art arena will be built. It never gets boring in Frankfurt if one follows basketball and oh yes with the 2016 presidential elections are on the horizon and getting the take from Markel Starks about if Donald Trump is top or flop could be an interesting side note as the American has stressed his interest of becoming a congressman someday.

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