It seems like it was yesterday when fans were saying farewell to the 2017-2018 season to the players in the Fraport arena in late May as posing with Isaac Bonga and Mike Morrison would prove to be the last time for the time being and there was already speculation then that it would be the last time to observe certain players. Almost three months later, the Fraport Skyliners have a changed face as certain players have departed. As expected Isaac Bonga surprisingly didn´t hold back his name from the 2018 NBA draft and stayed in mainly because he was promised from the Los Angeles Lakers that his name would be called, Philip Scrubb took his sniper qualities to Russia to St Petersburg, Tai Webster went for the dough signing in money heaven in Turkey with Galatasaray and Mike Morrison to the disappointment of fans took his dunking madness to Lithuania after four very fruitful seasons in Frankfurt that brought him the 2016 Fiba Europe Cup. The club held on to the identity figure and Fraport Skyliner lifer Quantez Robertson, held on to talented shooter and defender Shawn Huff who is still at the top of his game at 34 as well as big men Jonas Wolfarth-Bottermann and Marco Voeller and the kids like Niklas Kiel, Garai Zeeb and others.
With the summer winding down, the Fraport Skyliners called an early pre season press conference on August 15 hosted by head coach Gordon Herbert. It is that time of year where it is the calm before the storm as the regular season is still a distant six weeks away. The Frankfurt press was able to witness two of the club´s new faces Canadian sensation Brady Heslip and ex Georgetown standout Jason Clark as these two players will be a vital part of the Frankfurt offense as it attempts to compete at a very high level in the easyCredit BBL as well as in the competitive Eurocup campaign. Coming into the BCM practice facility of the Fraport Skyliners one saw dark office rooms as the staff was not present as the facility has been undergoing renovations and setting up shop in another part of the city, but one thing that never changed was seeing players on the floor going through workouts. Head coach Gordon Herbert was going through big man exercises with Wolfarth-Bottermann taking all types of shots while Shawn Huff, Marco Voeller and Armin Trtovac aided with the flipping the ball to the big man.
Herbert remained on the floor and finished out the exercise with the big men while the press conference began with the two new players Clark and Heslip who will be responsible for helping fill a void of the 35 points lost to the departures of Philip Scrubb and Tai Webster. Both guys looked comfortable in their surroundings and were recovering from the beep tests that they had partially already taken part in. A big plus to Clark is that he has experience and is in the best basketball age at 28 years of age and has seen a lot in his career having played at the well known Georgetown(NCAA) and played 5 of his 7 professional season in Belgium and also in Turkey and briefly with BG Goettingen. Even if he has played shooting guard for the best part of his professional career, it was point guard that he focused on two seasons ago with Port of Antwerp Giants (Belgium-Euromillions League) tearing up the league winning the Super Cup playing 40 games: Score-2(15.9ppg), 3.6rpg, Assists-5(4.5apg), Steals-4(1.5spg), FGP: 51.9%, 3PT: 38.9%, FT: 82.0%. The fact that the American displayed his superb point guard abilities was a reason why Gordon Herbert was so enticed to get him. Clark gave the impression that even if no roles have been appointed yet that he knows exactly what he will have to do for the team to be successful. “I have played the two most of my career, but had my best season as a professional two seasons ago. I believe that I will play the positions one and two, but a lot of the one. I have played well in other leagues and the BBL is a challenge, but I have always had the confidence that I can play at any level. I know that coach has confidence in me. I know that the Skyliners style of using principles and spacing will fit my play. I will do what I always do and that is compete and all will fall in place. I will do all I can to help the team be successful”, warned Jason Clark. Not only will the young German Skyliners be impressed with Clark´s play at both ends of the court, but also be able to soak in a lot on and off the court from his experience. “Last year was the first time where I was one of the oldest guys on the team. Usually I was always one of the younger guys. I was always around national born leaders. I am looking forward to playing with my new young skilled teammates”, expressed Jason Clark. The American definitely has the winning mentality and that always fits well with Gordon Herbert. “My first goal on my list is to win a title. The goal always has to be to win a title. There are great players here. We are all here for the same reason and that is to win”, warned Jason Clark.
After knowing Brady Heslip from film seeing him live in person for the first time one isn´t totally intimidated from his basketball figure, but moreover he looks like he just came from a GQ photo shoot, but then again it will be interesting how his appearance will be different after a sweaty practice or game. But it isn´t the chiseled somewhat like Ryan Reynolds looks that brought Heslip to Frankfurt, but his amazing sniper qualities and after seeing some of his stats from the G-League would put Philip Scrubb out to dry. He has an easy going voice is soft spoken and one of those guys that is just intimidating when you look eye to eye with him. That coupled with his amazing shooting ability and confidence really already handicaps teams before the jump ball. But not only his amazing shooting helped him in landing in Frankfurt, but his link to Gordon Herbert as he had played for him this winter for the Canadian national team. But also having an uncle like Jay Triano who played with the national team for 11 years and was coach of the Toronto Raptors and was teammates with Gordon Herbert back in the day aided in the Canadian being able to make the choice more simple to come to Frankfurt. It didn´t take long before the first comparison attempts came with Philip Scrubb. At least Heslip tried to be comical while Gordon Herbert didn´t even want to comment on it. Heslip has won titles with Scrubb and that was in a very short period of time in the summer of 2015 as they were teammates with Canada at the Panamerican Games in Toronto (Canada) winning the Silver, won the Gold at the Marchand Cup in San Juan Puerto Rico and a Bronze medal at the FIBA Americas in Mexico. There is always that level of competitiveness, but one could see that Heslip had the utmost respect for Scrubb. “Scrubb is a great player. We both play the two and like to have the ball in our hands. He can shoot the ball well and makes good decisions. But I think I can shoot the ball better than him”, joked Brady Heslip. His track record says it all as already in high school in Canada with Nelson he scored a school record 54 points against Notre Dame while at Baylor(NCAA) he shot 45% and 46% from downtown and in the pro´s shot 50% from outside with BC Igokea Aleksandrovac (Bosnia-Division I) shot 40% from the parking lot with Acqua Vitasnella Cantu (Italy-Serie A) and in the G-league shot 44% with the Reno Bighorns and 41% with the Raptors 905 Missisauga. Heslip brings valuable experience to Frankfurt and also has special goals. “I have been around many great players. They helped me when I was young and I want to help them. I will do all I can to help them be it with confidence, basketball or just life in general. As for my own goals, I have always wanted to play at the highest level. My goal is to win a title. When the team does well so do you. I want to to do well in the BBL and Eurocup and just continue to move up as a player”, warned Brady Heslip. In his first G-league season with Reno, there must have been something in the Nevada desert air that at least when he was playing home games, because he literally gave shooting out the lights a new meaning when he drilled Idaho with 13 trey´s, 11 three´s against Iowa and 10 three against Los Angeles. He will definitely give the Skyliner fans a lot of joy with his “The hoop is like the ocean” shooting and despite predicting he will shoot better than Scrubb will last season, he was a bit reserved at the end of his Q& A with reporters. “Will I hit more three´s than Scrubb? We will see”, smiled Brady Heslip. Heslip also mentioned that he is confident that he and Clark will play well together. One thing is for sure it won´t be surprising if the easyCredit BBL scoring crown remains in Frankfurt with Heslip following in Scrubb´s foot steps this season.
After the two new Fraport Skyliners exited and went their separate ways, it was time for Gordon Herbert to give his first thoughts about the new season. Herbert entered the room walking slowly as one could have thought he had done the workouts together with the guys and looked tired as if he had been watching endless hours of game tape and was wearing a Peace Within tee shirt. Even if there has been no official first team practice yet, Herbert had that special twinkle in his eyes and stressed “I like what we have”. But he was careful in saying “We look good on paper, but won´t know what we have until we get on the floor”, warned Gordon Herbert. One could see that the Canadian isn´t only very optimistic about the season, but about his two new signings Jason Clark and Brady Heslip. “If someone had told me in June that we would get both guys, I would have thought they were crazy. We were lucky we got them. Heslip turned down bigger offers and Clark wanted to play here. Clark really wanted to come here. We will see him play the one for the first 3-4 weeks and just let him play and then set limitations and make rolls. I just want to see how he plays the one and then we will see”, warned Gordon Herbert. Herbert also raved about Heslip. “I didn´t know that he was so competitive. He is a better passer than what people give him credit for. He really improved his pick and roll last season and got better at running the ball screen”, added Gordon Herbert. Heslip who many compare to ex NBA player Andrew Rautins is a guy that will score much, but his lack of defense isn´t of concern to Herbert. “He isn´t the most athletic player, but so wasn´t Scrubb or Webster. Important is that Heslip competes. He won´t be a liability on defense. He has a great basketball IQ”, stressed Gordon Herbert.
Herbert didn´t get too much into detail about the X´s and O´s, but did mention that the team wants to be a better transition team, score more off their defense again and secure offensive rebounds more. Also being a better perimeter defensive team is a big goal of Herbert and it looks like they will achieve that with addition of aggressive pit bull Akeem Vargas and Jason Clark added to the expertise defender Quantez Robertson and versatile Shawn Huff who can master various positions. The Fraport Skyliners have been known since years under the guidance of Gordon Herbert of belonging to the best defensive teams in the league and that won´t be any different this season. Herbert got a bit tense when the name Quantez Robertson was mentioned, because like last summer he didn´t come back to Germany in the best of shape, but there was a reason for it. A few weeks ago, the ex Auburn(NCAA) star was hit with a nasty allergic reaction which disrupted his off season conditioning. But all in all Herbert is positive that fans will see the old Tez when the season begins. “He has a way to go, but mentally he looks good”, said Gordon Herbert. He was also very pleased with the first impression of Shawn Huff who seems to have found the fountain of youth at age 34. “He is in great shape and looks like he is 25”, stated Gordon Herbert.
However one player that Herbert had real problems talking about was Niklas Kiel. The 20 year old forward who is scheduled to go into his fifth season with the team experienced another set back with his third concussion in 10 months. One slowly has to ask one´s self if the basketball God has it in for the power forward who could be a lot farther in his development had he just been healthy more. At the moment the German who was the NBBL rookie of the year in 2014 with 15 and 13 stats is at home in Paderborn with his parents trying to somehow stay positive mentally. Herbert knows now that the most important thing is that the kid gets back on track with his health. He is scheduled to see a specialist on August 26th and after that one will see what happens. “It isn´t important when he comes back, but the most important thing is his general health. He had two good camps in June and had a clear vision of where he wants to go. He loves to play basketball. It is his passion and this is another tough set back in his career. He had the best vision of where he wants to go out of all the young players we have”, warned Gordon Herbert. With Kiel a question mark at the moment, the club most likely will have to respond and get a second player with a big man. Apparently only one more import with a guard was in the plan, but now the club may have to react and get a second player. One player where there is hope is young German Richard Freundenberg who came up the ranks as one of the biggest talents being the 2015 NBBL finals MVP as FC Bayern Munich won the crown against Frankfurt and winning the Albert Schweitzer International Tournament in 2016 but a year in the states at St Johns didn´t help his development, but actually stalled him. It didn´t help either as he played in a guard orientated offense and NBA legend coach Chris Mullen left him at the end of the bench. Last season in Frankfurt, he was unable to crack the rotation the way he wished he could of and didn´t seem to impress the coaching staff either. But there is hope. He had a solid summer with Germany winning a Bronze medal at the U-20 European championships and even hit a buzzer beater. This season the German will have a better chance for more minutes and Herbert is confident that he can progress in a way other Germans did before him like Johannes Voigtmann and Danilo Barthel. “I got good reports about him at the U-20 about his attitude and effort. Two summers ago he came here out of shape and last season was a learning experience. We hope that he can step it up this season and be a part of the rotation. He was a real good rebounder when he was younger and he needs to get back to that. He shouldn´t worry about his shot. Shooting is like a marriage in that there will always be ups and downs. I´m not worried about him. He had some good games last season like against ratiopharm Ulm. He is a young kid and the BBL is a big step, but he will get the opportunity with us”, warned Gordon Herbert. All in all it was an interesting first press conference before the real official first practice on Thursday and one can be sure that it will be another exciting packed season for the Fraport Skyliners. The club may not have the best chances on paper in the Eurocup,but then again Herbert has proved wonders many times with the Fraport Skyliners. In the easyCredit BBL, the club should be a clear playoff team and if the club gets two more strong players and the team chemistry takes off then this team should be a top 5 team and possibly be one of the surprise teams like ratopharm ulm and medi Bayreuth was in the last years. But one thing is clear already in the pre season that there is one question that you should not ask Gordon Herbert to soon. The season is long enough and getting any added headaches through this question should be avoided. “Please no Heslip to Scrubb comparisons”.