In the dog days of summer there are always people playing basketball and even in the grueling Midwest heat where the only time to find a comfortable hour of basketball outside is possibly at 9.00pm when the sun is down and the air is a little bit more relieving, but then again if you are a player that is going after their basketball dream, there is no distance or conditions too unbearable. For seven players of one of the 2017 Howard Hoops teams in Germany, there was no 100 degree heat and steamy gym to contend with, but rather 62 degree weather and pouring rain and a 30 minute train ride from the international city of Frankfurt to the small town of Idstein that has a population of 24,000 and about as far away from the NBA as Puerto Rico is to ever winning the soccer World Cup. There isn´t much really too memorable about Idtsein except like so many small towns in Germany presents a breathtaking landscape similar to upstate New York as the most known athlete from Idstein is Max Hopp who is a dart player and where any non- resident could really get lost trying to find the A-3 highway in the pouring rain as finding the right turn was given with a small A-3 sign instead of the normal routine big sign that would make the drive a lot easier. Basketball players will do a lot on a Friday night in the hopes of being discovered in any way or impressing a manager a coach with their basketball skills. The Howard Hoops international tour has been a mainstay for a few years now as founder Ron Howard has developed it further step by step. This summer he already had a camp in Atlanta, Georgia as well as games in Germany this weekend in Idstein and Neu-Isenburg and games in England in September. Howard has been able to place numerous players in Europe and especially in Germany in the last years like Chris Miller, Chris Neal and Christopher Davis as his contact list grows day by day. It will be interesting to see where his track record will stand after this weekend?
In Idsein there was a coach in the stands with Danny Stallbohm who also had his son Justin with him who will fire away from downtown like no other when he is on the court as they took in the action.
The Stallbohms are a basketball institution in Limburg which is a 20 minute drive from Idstein as they play in the German Regionaliga, the fourth division in Germany. In 2012, Stallbohm led Limburg into the Regionaliga from the Regionalliga 2 and have been a consistent team in the Regionaliga since then. Four years ago Ron Howard played for Stallbohm, so the coach was in Idstein mainly for two reasons to support his ex player as well as scoping out the talent and possibly finding a gem for his team as there are still roster spots to be filled. The seven players that Ron Howard picked for this team are mainly guys from the states but also had a Canadian and player from Balkan country Georgia who played at lower league schools and have minimal to no professional experience. They landed in Frankfurt, Germany in the morning and played their first game against Regionaliga 2 team TV Idstein. Idstein had played in the Oberliga(6th division) last season and moved up to the Regionaliga 2 this season. TV Idstein hadn´t touched the ball as a team since last season and the new formed Howard Hoops team had never played together before, but after 40 minutes the lopsided score of 107-66 in their favor showed that these guys got on the same page very quickly and produced a very untypical American basketball style in that they actually shared the ball more than played for their own stats considering what was at stake as getting that basketball job was their number one priority, but the players actually were looking out for each other in the best way they could in basketball terms. “I noticed right away that we have a great group of guys. We all played together and helped each other out. Everybody is trying to help the other get a job and not thinking only of themselves”, stressed Jamal Curry who averaged 10,1ppg and 10,3rpg at Apprentice (USCAA) and reached the USCAA D1 Final Four in 2014.
The Howard Hoops gang jumped all over TV Idstein in the first quarter playing stellar defense as the Howard trap and pressure was working to perfection as they denied their opponent any points in their first six possessions and cruised out on a 8-0 lead. They were gelling on offense in the first four minutes as Canadian Ian Tevis of Red Deer College (CCAA) who recently finished there and won All-ACAC Player of the Year was all over TV Idstein scoring 12 quick points. After the big win, he was the most talkative and expressed his versatility on the court. “If the coach wants to I´ll play the five. It doesn´t matter where coach puts me, but I am a combo guard. I like to play point guard, but I am a good scorer so I usually play off the ball. I try to mold my game after Paul George in that I always want to be efficient and can adjust my game to wherever I play. But my game comes from my defense. I just love to be efficient and play defense”, stressed Ian Tevis. The Howard Hoops defensive pressure continued to rattle TV Idsten and Howard Hoops kept their offensive flow going and extended their lead to 30-10 and Tevis was just all over the court and continued to score ending the first quarter with 17 points. Another guy that slowly was letting his presence be felt was Khalil Keel of Philadelphia who started his career at Lackawanna College and then moved to Goldey-Beacom (NCAA2). The American who likes to pattern his game after Monta Ellis didn´t get going until later in the game, but produced a massive dunk and hit a pull up jumper in the first quarter. He finished the game with 21 points, but still wasn´t content with his game displaying his never being satisfied demeanor. “I feel like I could have been more consistent and got more rebounds. I had many fingers on balls and like to get to the line, but that didn´t happen today. I need to improve my foot work and be more consistent with my jump shot”, warned Kahlil Keel who finished with 21 points. The Howard Hoops team lost a bit on concentration in the latter stage of the first quarter relinquishing a 10-2 run by TV Idstein, but still led big 32-20.
In the second quarter the Howard Hoops team continued to control the game and even when TV Idstein threatened somewhat and cut the lead down to 10 points, the international squad was able to quickly heighten their lead up to 20 points quicker than Ron Howard could glide down his long goatee with his hand and at halftime had the overwhelming 55-39 lead. Limburg head coach Danny Stalbohm was still watching the game like a hawk, and here and there giving his five cents to certain players performances and how tall certain guys were. He did add that he is looking for a big man something that Howard Hoops didn´t really have on that night, but moreover were playing small ball with a small lineup. One player that only contributed four points including a pretty runner for the 43-31 Howard Hoops lead that got them back on track to getting that 20 plus lead again was 26 year old 207cm Davit Isoleiani of Georgia who had the only real extended European experience on the team having played with teams like Maccabi Brinkford Tbilisi (Highest League), Dinamo Tbilisi (Superleague) and Mgzavrebi-Armia Tbilisi (Superleague). The ex Georgian U 16 and U18 National Team player last played two seasons ago professionally and before that a few seasons sporadically. He knows that he isn´t getting any younger and just needs a full season to show any team what he is capable of. “I just need that chance. I play the small forward/power forward position inside out and play smart”, stressed Davit Isoleiani. Tevis had a huge first quarter and scored two quick buckets at the start of the second quarter, but then seemingly turned off his scoring switch as he could easily have gone for 40, but instead showed another quality in his game something that is seen less in the States and much more than appreciated in Europe, but expected more often than not. “I take what the defense gives me. I had many openings at the start and got easy lay ups. The defense then started to focus on me so I shared the ball more and they collapsed on me so I knew that I would find many open guys”, stressed Ian Tevis. The role model like play of Tevis definitely was noticed by his new teammates. “Tevis impressed me the most. He was a lot better than I had expected. He scored the ball always being in the right place, but also knew when to pass the ball. He was a real good team player”, stressed Corey Lewis.
In the third quarter, Howard Hoops not only continued to control the contest, but totally dominated as they led by as much as 31 points. Despite having only a seven man rotation, the Howard Hoops players were playing as if jet lag and fatigue was erased from their brain and body as they just looked straight ahead blocking out any body pain and had an offensive arsenal that was far above anything that TV Idstein had to offer on the defensive end to stop. Another Howard Hoops player that was quietly doing his thing was Corey Lewis who couldn´t have been more than 180cm and looked like a stronger version of Ron Howard, but definitely shorter finished with 22 points tied with Tevis as the teams leading scorer. Despite his stocky frame, the American who played at Wells college and played in Mexico and the semi pro league PBL in the States had the quickness that got him splitting the defense time in and time out and getting easy buckets, but also had a nice shooting touch dropping trey´s when left open. Lewis likes to compare his game between a mix of Steph Curry and Kyre Irving, but more like the Cav player because of the dribbling that makes him more explosive. He was impressed by the way the Howard Hoops team played. “We played really good defense considering we had never played together before. It´s all about chemistry and we had good rotations for the first time playing together and found a good rhythm and shared the ball well”, added Corey Lewis. When you come across guys looking for a job and going long lengths to pursue their dreams, each guy has their own unique story and one of those was Andy Harrel. At first glance close up the Montana native reminded me of Canadian Michael Lucier who played his rookie season in Germany last season for Pro B team Rhondorf. He might not have passed as his brother, but a close relative would have been fitting as both were sporting a long goatee. Harrel´s was a ZZ Top in the making and still in the junior stage. The American played at Stillwater Christian and Crown(NCAA3) while at the professional level with South Florida Spartans (CBDL) and in Ireland and England. He took a year off to teach, but his big dream to pursue that professional basketball job was too much to keep him in the classroom. If the basketball gig doesn´t happen, then he will return back to the classroom. He finished the game with 13 points and explained his role which came out of his mouth like a shot gun. “I am a three and D. I just run around and play defense. I missed too many shots early, but I felt that I finished strong”, stressed Andy Harrel. The American also doesn´t make anything too difficult mentally concerning his basketball game, but has that typical teacher approach with basketball also. “It´s all about improving. You have to take the opportunities as they come and learn from the bad and acknowledge the bad”, warned Andy Harrel. The Howard Hoops team led 75-46 after 30 minutes.
The Howard Hoops team had no mercy in the fourth quarter and just continued to pour it on and one never really doubted that they wouldn´t reach 100 points as scoring 25 points in the fourth quarter was a piece of cake as they had averaged that the three quarters before. Howard Hoops continued to show pride on defense continuing to trap very well and get in passing lanes which created more transition opportunities and easy buckets while on offense they played excellent inside out basketball hitting at a very high percentage especially Harrel who had his best moments in the fourth quarter. The Stallbohm men left with three minutes to go and if head coach Danny had found a player was unknown, but he only had kind words for Howard as he lauded him in the best way. “Ron was a great player played Pro B in Germany. But what he is doing now is fantastic giving so many players the chance to be seen and getting them chances to be signed”, said Danny Stallbohm. The duo left from the stands waved to Howard who was on the sidelines and were off in the night and into the pouring rain which could be heard from time to time pounding down on the gym roof. Corey Lewis gave the Howard Hoops the 100-62 lead with a lay in. He was fortunate that he wasn´t on a professional team at that moment in Germany as he would have had to buy a case of Beer for the whole team as that is the norm in Germany when scoring 100. But then again, Lewis probably would have bought 10 cases if only he had that signed contract to a German team that he desires so much. The night had some pretty dunks and massive blocks, but also an alley-oop that got the most applause of the night. Half way through the fourth quarter and Howard Hoops leading 90-59, Arnim Alexander who played with the Jamestown Jackals (PBL) made a steal and went coast to coast unharmed, but instead of dunking himself threw the ball off the back board letting Jamal Curry take it in mid air and slam it into the hoop. The game was more than decided, but instead of going down the court and attempting a windmill dunk or something out of the ordinary to satisfy his own ego, Alexander showed his unselfish side something which had been the norm on that night. “I have been a little surprised how that everyone has been helping each other instead of one´s self, but it´s just nice how we all have come together trying to help each other´s career´s”, added Arnim Alexander who finished with nine points. He also showed another unselfish side to himself not only wanting to profit from Howard Hoops, but also hoping to be able to give back. “I hope to get a contract, but the biggest thing is helping Howard Hoops become more successful with another guy getting signed”, warned Arnim Alexander. At first glance, you want to shove 10 big mac´s into Jamal Curry´s mouth as he gives the name tooth pick a new name, but then again his unique size makes him the player he is as being vocal and adding on to his frame belong to his basketball mentality at the moment. “I am a stretch four that likes to take the 15 footer, rebound the ball and block shots. I would compare my game to a Kevin Garnett and I like to communicate on the court. I feel if I can lift another week, I´ll be ok. My mentality really helps me. I don´t get pushed around easily”, smiled Jamal Curry who finished with 15 points.
A big joy is seeing how the Howard Hoops players play with so much heart on the court trying to not only be the best that they can, but help make their teammates better as they all are fighting for the same goal. But what is even nicer is hearing each guy´s praise of their discoverer and mentor Ron Howard as you see that glow in their eyes as they explain what it has meant to them having him give new basketball life and hope into a seemingly almost impossible dream. “I am really thankful for Ron Howard. I have only known him a few days, but already is one of the best guys I know. He keeps you honest. If you do what your supposed to do then so does he”, stressed Jamal Curry. “Ron is the man. He has opened so many doors and I know that he will continue to open even more doors”, warned Ian Tevis. “Ron Howard is a trustworthy and a dependent guy. He has lied about nothing. He is very truthful and I really appreciate that”, warned Khalil Keel. Ron Howard was content about the first of four games this weekend. “Tonight’s game for my Howard Hoops team was solid. I felt that my guys came together as a unit and put being selfish to the side. The Guard play was a lot better than I expected we were able to put consistent pressure on Idstein for 40 minutes”, stressed Ron Howard. On Saturday three games are on the slate for the Howard Hoops team and that will be a test for the seven man roster as playing press might be put a little on back burner as 120 minutes could seem like an eternity for the player´s bodies even with that never ending dream looming on their minds. It isn´t always easy for Howard Hoops players to perform well in only a short period of time including all the obstacles, but if they can stick to Ron Howards motto, more times than not, having had all the rigors could pay off. ““If you can play I can get you paid. But you have to trust the process My process my way if you don’t have a Division one Resume”, warned Ron Howard.