It had been a very long off season for Dragons Rhondorf fans coupled with an extremely shaky pre-season that left some uneasy question marks as big as an overgrown pumpkin in the minds of many, but as the season opener against the Fraport Skyliners Juniors was finally here, some of that tension building up was simply relieved by the fact that the team was 0-0 and it was a home clash in a place where in the last season often good things had happened. The opponent Fraport Skyliners Juniors also rang a sweet bell in that last season the Dragons Rhondorf had supplied the home court fans with one of the most exciting games of the season with the unforgettable and magical Kameron Taylor buzzer beater where he sank a beautiful step back jumper over the out stretched hand of Jules Akodo and this master piece of a shot and ending couldn´t have been produced any better if the hero then would have been a Jordan, Lebron or Durant. It was one of those incredible endings that at that time really sparked the club and gave them the needed self confidence that they could win really nail bitters at any time. This season there was no Kameron Taylor who had fled to Hungary to continue his career, but still a lot of hope that something magical could happen this season simply because that is how most feel at the start of a season where the cards are newly stacked and extra confidence brewing in that opening game. As always the Fraport Skyliners Juniors arrived in Rhondorf with their young German bucks as their youth program continues to build and develop guys further and this season seem like a real dangerous squad on paper. Many of the usual suspects were on board like Garai Zeeb, Konstantin Schubert and Armin Trotovac who combined boast more than 40 BBL games, but also had three new exciting faces on board from three different countries. The most interesting Swede Elijah Clarance who was top scorer at the 2018 European U-20 championships, young German big man Aaron Kayser who could be the next Johannes Voigtmann or Danilo Barthel and American JT Roach who is a rookie from Concordia-Irvine(NCAA2) and as usual one of those guys that Frankfurt reels in every season that has a lethal shot and will help the young kids. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors came into the game as huge favorites on paper, but after 40 minutes there wasn´t such a big difference between the two teams as Frankfurt squeezed out a hard fought 75-68 victory as the Clarance and Roach show combined for 41 points. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors showed inconsistency which isn´t surprising in the first game of the season while the Dragons Rhondorf were also rusty, but showed superb fighting qualities and had the heart of a lion. After the win Fraport Skyliners Juniors Swedish sensation Elijah Clarance was happy the club could escape wit a win. “I thought it was ok since it was the first time we played together as a team. We were shaky on offense, but great on defense. We played hard, stuck together and had good chemistry”, stated 2018 U-20 European champions top scorer Elijah Clarance. The Dragons Rhondorf played a spirited game, but there were two area´s where the club had huge deficits. “We had problems on the pick and roll defense and ball screens. We also had too many turnovers and I take blame. I had too many for a point guard”, stressed ex North Carolina Ashville guard Raekwon Miller.
The first quarter was an ugly affair as one could see the opening day jitters that were rampant with both teams. Many misses on offense and turnovers were more prevalent in the first minutes than the beautiful sound of swishes. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors raced out to a quick 6-2 lead as Armin Trtovac gave his presence in the zone and Clarance dropped a trey. However the Dragons Rhondorf didn´t put their heads in the sand, but fought back and took the 7-6 lead getting a Julian Jasinski lay in who has played 21 BBL games with Hagen and Bonn and a trey by Miller who shot 47% in his senior year in the NCAA. The game was very even then as there were seven lead changes with ex St Johns forward Richard Freudenberg scored a runner, Lithuanian Zygimantas Riauka scored in the paint, Freudenberg made a two handed stuff, Miller made a finger tip roll in like Tiny Archibald back in the day, Brit Jules Akodo sunk free throws, 17 year old German Marc Klepser snuck inside back door as Riauka served up the sweet dime and ex Hanau center Tobias Jahn made a lay in as fans were offered some minor mouth dropping plays in the first few minutes.
But real mouth dropping plays would come later from Clarance. German Garai Zeeb who has 32 BBL games on his resume and is playing his fourth season in Frankfurt nailed a trey closing out the first quarter in style as the Fraport Skyliners Juniors had the slim 18-13 advantage. “Both teams had butterflies, but I feel like after a few minutes everyone had settled. They did a good job on defense forcing us to turnovers early”, stressed North Carolina native Raekwon Miller. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors were shooting 38% from the field and 33% from outside, had11 rebounds and six turnovers while the Dragons Rhondorf were shooting 38% from the field and 25% from outside, had 10 rebounds and five turnovers.
In the second quarter the Fraport Skyliners Juniors started to pull away as the Clarance and Roach show came through and executed inside and outside giving the Dragons Rhondorf unwanted headaches. The Dragons Rhondorf were stifled in the first three minutes as they were stopped on their first six possessions as they coughed up the ball three times against the aggressive Frankfurt defense that were getting in the passing lanes well. However the Fraport Skyliners Juniors were unable to totally profit from the many stops getting only two trey´s from Jules Akodo and rookie JT Roach who came from Concordia Irvine(NCAA) averaging 17 points as a senior. Rhondorf had no luck from outside so they went inside with success going on a 7-0 run to shock Frankfurt cutting their lead to 24-20 as they became more aggressive while also had some luck as Frankfurt seemed a bit too anxious getting easy shots, but not executing. In the Rhondorf run, the club got solid production from Jasinski who scored twice both times getting fed by Riauka while the 25 year old Lithuanian big man who played two seasons in Spain and last season in Denmark finished a left handed hook shot. However this run didn´t shake the Fraport Skyliners Juniors as they answered with a lethal 13-2 run extending their lead to 37-22. In the run, Frankfurt showed their dangerous outside shooting as Roach and Konstantin Schubert who is in his fourth season nailed trey´s, but the club also got points inside from Roach with a floater, a Zeeb lay in, and a Cosmo Gruehn mid distance jumper who is in his third season with Frankfurt. The Dragons Rhondorf stopped the run as Miller connected on back to back shots as Frankfurt led 37-26 at half-time. “It was a game of runs that just happens. We just weathered the storm and stuck in the game”, added Raekwon Miller. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors were shooting 42% from the field and 40% from the three point line, had 22 rebounds and 12 turnovers while the Dragons Rhondorf were shooting 33% from the field and 11% from the three point line, had 20 rebounds and nine turnovers.
The Dragons Rhondorf battled back in the third quarter and cut the Frankfurt lead to two points, but just couldn´t get over the hump. Young German big man Alexander Moeller did get Rhondorf on the board first catching Frankfurt napping as he got the in bounds pass from Miller making the easy lay in. However then came the real awakening of 20 year old 195cm Elijah Clarance who gave athleticism and flying to the hoop a new name. He already opened some eyes at the Gezeiten Cup in early September in Rhondorf hitting Rhondorf with 14 points for the game for third place, but in his Frankfurt professional debut, he raised the roof with dunks. In a matter of seconds the Swedish shooting star made back to back buckets on transition. The second was a beautiful lay in while the first was a thunderous left handed dunk which he jammed through the net so quickly something that is rarely seen. With the high number of dunks that he makes daily, this amazing dunk to me was nothing special for him. “It was just a regular dunk for me. I always go hard at the rim. And if I don´t dunk it then I lay it in”, smiled Elijah Clarance. Raekwon Miller who had to put up with his annoying defense all night was also pleasantly taken by his game. “I didn´t know he could jump that high. One could see that he plays with a huge chip on his shoulder. He plays with a lot of pride and emotion. If he keeps working he can be a top player at this level”, warned Raekwon Miller. The two dunks didn´t rattle the Dragons Rhondorf as they snuck back going on a 10-0 run to cut the Frankfurt advantage to only 41-38. In the run Rhondorf received key three´s from Joe Koschade who began his career in Leverkusen dropped a trey as did ex Bremerhaven forward Bo Mesiter while Jasinki remained aggressive and scored in the paint twice. Frankfurt tried to get away again as Roach dropped two trey´s and Clarance used his lightening quick first step with a lay in, but ex Telekom Baskets Bonn German Philipp Gruber gave energy from the bench with a trey and runner as Frankfurt led only 49-45. Ex Speyer forward Yannik Kneesch cut the Frankfurt lead to 49-47 muscling home a basket, but Frankfurt put a dagger through Rhondorf´s hopes as Clarance showed again how versatile he is as he performed a step back jumper and Roach hit a three at the buzzer extending their lead to 54-47. “They went on a run pushing the ball and moving the ball well. We had some mental break downs, but we came back and played harder in the fourth quarter”, added Elijah Clarance. “We knew this was our home court and we didn´t want to lay down. We played with more energy, intensity and pace. We forced more turnovers and scored on transition”, added Raekwon Miller. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors were shooting 43% from the field and 43% from the parking lot, had 27 rebounds and 14 turnovers while the Dragons Rhondorf were shooting 36% from the field and 24% from the parking lot, had 33 rebounds and 14 turnovers.
In the fourth quarter the Dragons Rhondorf ran a bit out of gas as the Fraport Skyliners Juniors were able to execute better on offense and keep their intensity on the defensive end. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors began with a 6-0 run and stopped Rhondorf on their first four possessions extending their lead to 59-47 and would never look back. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors got key baskets from Zeeb with a runner and a Clarance left handed lay in. A Koschade trey couldn´t do much as Rhondorf´s offense was simply too inconsistent as Frankfurt followed up with another 6-0 run extending their lead to 66-50 as Roach nailed his sixth three of the night and Clarance finished with another dunk this time with both hands as he waltzed into the zone as if it was the easiest thing and kind of dunk dropped the ball giving everyone too wonder how loud it would have been had he really threw it down. Rhondorf continued to fight back as Riauka was a work horse getting three baskets, but Frankfurt kept their noses in front as Clarance nailed his second trey of the night extending Frankfurt´s lead to 71-54. With time running out the Dragons Rhondorf gave it one last push going on a 10-1 run cutting Frankfurt´s lead to 72-64. Miller and Koschade hit three´s while Jasinski scored inside giving the home team some confidence, but they just didn´t have enough time left. Trtovac and Gruehn closed out with buckets inside closing out the game. “We executed well at the end, stuck together and gritted it out”, added Eliajh Clarance. “I don´t think that we ran out of gas, but moreover adversity set in in that we didn´t get some calls and missed easy baskets. We were up against the wall and couldn´t push through it”, stressed Raekwon Miller. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors were led by Elijath Clarance with 21 points, three rebounds and five assists. JT Roach added 20 points, three boards and three steals. The Dragons Rhondorf were led by Julian Jasinski with 16 points. Raekwon Miller added 14 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assist and 5 steals. Zygimantas Riauka added 11 points, 13 boards and 5 assists. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors shot 44% from the field and 44% from outside, had 31 rebounds and 19 turnovers while the Dragons Rhondorf shot 40% from the field and 29% from outside, had 47 rebounds and 22 turnovers.