Courtney Belger is a 27 year old 187cm guard from St Louis that is playing his fifth professional season and second with FC Schalke 04 (Germany-ProB). Last season with FC Schalke he played 25 games averaging 16.5ppg, 5.4rpg, 5.2apg, 1.5spg, FGP: 53.5%, 3PT: 22.4%, FT: 78.9%. In 2015-2016 he played with the Itzehoe Eagles (Germany-ProB) playing 24 games averaging 12.6ppg, 5.3rpg, 4.5apg, 1.7spg, FGP: 46.0%, 3PT: 20.0%, FT: 65.6% and Kalamunda Eastern Suns (Australia-SBL) playing 14 games averaging 21.1ppg, 6.3rpg, 4.1apg, Steals-4(3.1spg), FGP: 49.0%, 3PT: 22.4%, FT: 80.8%. He played his first two professional seasons with TV Ibbenbuehren (Germany-Regionalliga). He started his basketball career at Quincy (NCAA2) in 2008 where he played until 2012 playing a total of 113 NCAA 2 games. As a senior he played 27 games averaging 11.3ppg, 5.2rpg, 3.9apg, 1.8spg, FGP: 47.8%, 3PT: 10.5%, FT: 72.0%. He improved his scoring and rebounding average each season. He spoke to German Hoops before game 2 against MTV Herzoege Wolfenbuettel.
Courtney thanks for talking to German Hoops. Congrats on the hard fought 71-69 win against MTV Herzoege Wolfenbuettel. That was definitely not a game for weak nerves. When you look back at the regular season you had many more close wins than loses. Was this one of the biggest wins of the season and how key was keeping your cool at the end as a team?
This was definitely the biggest win we have had of the season. Mainly because it was a playoff game and we had worked hard to win that game. It would have been very disappointing to lose that one after playing so well. At this point in the season to me every win we get seems like the biggest one of the season.
With 5 minutes left FC Schalke looked like the sure winner, but you gave up a 15-0 run as Wolfenbuettel trailed only 68-67. What was key for them making this crazy run?
Wolfenbuettel is a resilient team like us. We started trying not to lose, instead of to keep trying to win. They stayed hungry and erased the lead quickly.
You have stood at the free throw line countless times at the end and made the big free throws, but how did it feel this time? Was it just 2 normal shots like usual or did you feel a little pressure this time?
My team has a lot of trust in me so it feels like just a normal two shots. I always like to finish the game on my terms and live with the results so that was a perfect situation for me. I enjoy those moments.
Young German Niclas Sperber made the big block at the end on American Demterius Ward. You never want to let Ward unleash any type of shot what was this play a good example of how the team stayed together at the end despite giving up the big run?
Nic has made lots of active plays like that one for us all year. I was proud of him for switching out and contesting the shot. Normally when the game gets tight everybody is focused and on the same page, which allows us to get the stops or scores we need.
How challenging has it been battling top point guard Demetrius Ward? You are 3-0 against him this season and have the points edge in the three games 65-61. Is he one of the toughest guards you have faced this season and most challenging?
Ward is actually one of my best friends in the league and we always know it’s going to be a battle. As challenging as it is to play against him, it’s even more fun. He’s definitely one of the toughest guards I have had to play against. I think mainly because we have similar mindsets and standards for ourselves
Both teams combined for 15 turnovers taking good care of the ball. FC Schalke did a good job stopping the three while Wolfenbuettel outrebounded you. What will be key to getting the sweep in WolfenbuetteL?
The key to getting a win there is staying true to who we are. We are a defensive team who works hard and fights on every possession. The game plan doesn’t change from game to game for us.
Let´s talk about the season. Last season FC Schalke lost a tough three game series against the ScanPlus Baskets while this season you advanced by the Dresden Titans. How has this season and team structure been different from last season?
The season and team structure this year is more like a college type of set up. This is my second year here so I have more of a senior type of roll with pat instead of a freshman roll like last year haha. A lot of us basically live together and workout together twice a day. I think that builds a certain type of chemistry which has brought us a successful year.
This season you lost important players Nikita Khartchenkov and Trent Weaver and this season have been aided with RJ Slawson and Shawn Gulley. Talk about these two guys and how valuable they have been for the team this season?
RJ and Shawn have been strong players as well as good teammates for me. We communicate well and have a level of respect that allows us to talk clearly and straight forward with each other. Both of them are also very versatile on the court which helps the team do different things offensively and defensively. I have enjoyed playing with them this year.
You lauded your teammate Patrick Carney in the past. He continues to be a solid contributor that has a lot of experience. He also continues to shoot the three over 40% and do you agree he is more efficient this season as he is playing 6 minutes less and almost has the identical stats.
Pat is Pat. That’s what I have learned. It doesn’t matter what is going on. I always know. Pat will make a big play when we really need it. No matter what time it is in the game. His role is different this year but he comes in the game and is always ready to go. Takes a real professional to have that type of mental toughness.
You practice every day with German Leopn Friederici who is only 23 years old, but has experience having played in the Pro A and one BBL game. How has his game improved since day one?
Leon was pretty good to me when he first arrived but I think his game has made a huge jump this year. He’s a gym rat like me and is young. It’s nice for me to see somebody put in work like that. I think next year he will have a breakout year. The game he had against Dresden last round didn’t surprise our team at all. That was just typical Leon playing carefree.
Let´s talk about your game. You had strong stats with FC Schalke last season. Did you get any interest from Pro A teams last summer? You deserve a chance at the next level.
No, I didn’t receive any interest from Pro a last year. It actually made me upset and put a chip on my shoulder. I decided to humble myself and come back to play with Raffi and develop my game some more in attempts to force my way into Pro A next season. I feel like I’m ready for the next level and want to help Schalke move up.
You were the leader last season and are the same this season. Has anything changed in your role or are you still the go to guy as well as the guy that keeps the offense together?
I don’t think much has changed except the fact that I am really like the big brother on the team and try to communicate more. We have a lot of go to guys on the court which helps me to get in the lane and create advantages. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I’m the guy that keeps the offense together though. We just see who’s going for us down the stretch and try to exploit that matchup.
Your stats are similar from last season with FC Schalke. What has been your summary of your personal game and how do you feel have you developed further this season?
I am pretty happy with my personal game this year. I feel confident and comfortable. I think I have a better feel for reads and rotations this year. I also think that I’m stronger mentally to step up when the team really needs someone to on offense or defense.
In our last interview a year ago, you stated this. “playing better off the ball with cuts and spot ups and improving on seeing the whole court and getting us the best shot possible each possession. You did these things better in the second half of the season with FC Schalke. What have been things that you focused on doing better this season and has it worked to your liking?
This year I focused on taking open shots, as finding gaps in the defense to be aggressive, and understanding when you have to just flat out step up and win the game in crunch time. I also tried to find players in spots that they are most successful. I believe I have done those things so far.
Top Pro B player Kameron Taylor has stated that taking less than three dribbles before finishing was one of his goals for getting to the next level. Is this something that you focus on in your game?
No. I’m a point guard so I normally don’t get to score or make a play in just three dribbles. When I’m playing off the ball I like to make quick decisions, but I have focused more on keeping my dribble alive to be able to make the exact play I want to make. Sometimes the defense does their job and you have to just dribble the ball out and find the next solution. I also feel like I’m the top player so I try to carry that confidence with me when I step onto the court.
You praised head coach Raffi Wilder for pushing you very much last season. How has your relationship grown this season and how has he been most beneficial to your game in your second season?
Our relationship has grown a lot. He expects great things out of me and when I’m underachieving he tells me. It’s frustrating sometimes but that’s the type of coach I would like to coach me. I know that he trusts me in games and that’s the most important thing you need from your coach I think.
You have heightened your game each season in the pro B. Do you feel like you will be hitting your prime soon as your turning 29 this season?
I think I will be hitting my prime soon for sure. My body seems to be aging backwards at the moment. My legs are feeling younger and I am constantly learning more about the game of basketball.
Do you feel like if you stay in the Pro B that you can take your game to a new level like you did with Ibbenbueren?
I think I could score like I did with Ibbenbüren if that’s what I was asked to do so I feel like I have taken my game to a new level. I think that I am on a winning team where everybody contributes and if I’m focused on my personal numbers it will disrupt what we have going this season.
The NCAA tournament never disappoints as fans saw great exciting games this March. What game for you was the biggest upset?
I’m not sure which game was the biggest upset of the tournament but Loyola’s entire run to the final four is amazing to see.
How refreshing and strange is it seeing a NCAA Final 4 without a Kentucky, North Carolina or Duke?
I don’t even pay much attention to college basketball as much anymore so I’m not sure. This year I started watching again because there were a lot of kids from St louis playing in the tournament.
The 2018 NCAA Final 4 is set with Michigan-Loyola Chicago and Kansas-Villanova. Who will reach the final and who will win it all?
I’m hoping that Loyola-Chicago will win it all so I will just go with them I guess.
Recently Lebron James made some pretty passes for assists in a win against the Los Angeles Lakers. Where do you rate his passing overall in his game? If he played only point guard for one season what kind of stats would he have?
LeBron is a great passer and it compliments his game. I feel like he basically plays point guard now so I think his stats would pretty much be the same.
What was the last movie that you saw? Let me guess Black Panther?
I will watch Black Panther soon but the last movie I watched was Life with Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence or Pursuit of Happyness
Thanks Courtney for the chat.