One of the things I dreaded most as a kid during the summer´s was the nervous waiting and waiting in the afternoon and observing the ominous looking dark clouds that just didn´t go away for the night to finally come on the day of having tickets to go to a Boston Red Sox game. Even though my dad had season tickets, they were there for the company´s employees and customers, but every now and then I was allowed to go so every opportunity was a big highlight for a 10 year old boy. Some afternoons at times felt like an eternity, because time just didn´t pass by quickly enough as I was already day dreaming about if I would catch a foul ball, how many hot dogs I would manage to eat, if my favorite player Jim Rice would slug one over the Green monster and if I could get any autographs before the game. There was really only one thing that could stand in the way of being able to catch a major league baseball game and that was if the rain would come and in my case if those dangerous looking black clouds would lead to a down pour which would conclude the baseball night becoming a wash out. Not only would a massive down pour result in the failure(washout) of the game being played, but in terms of the Fraport Skyliners one will most likely never experience a leak through the Fraport arena roof that could lead to the cancellation of the game, but if the club doesn´t get their act together in the last two months, then their 20th anniversary season could be a huge washout, something neither fans or management had calculated at the beginning of the season after having witnessed the personal that the club had reeled in. I reached Jason Clark on a Sunday afternoon when he was chilling with family and friends in Arlington, Virginia during the six day break from the Fraport Skyliners and was confident when he told me that he never experienced a washout at the ball park or will the Fraport Skyliners. “I haven´t been to many baseball games. I remember going to a Washington Nationals game. I don´t remember who they played, but I remember it being a very long game. There was no rain delay or washout and I´m more than confident that this season won´t be a washout either with the Fraport Skyliners”, warned Jason Clark. The few days back home in Virginia gave him ample time to refocus and get away from basketball for a little while and recharge the batteries. But basketball was still on his mind during the break as positive thoughts were flowing through his mind. “When you look at the standings, we are only three wins behind. We lost two very close games. We have been taking the right steps in the last weeks. When we come back from the break, we want to keep making those steps in the direction we have been going in”, warned Jason Clark.
With a little more than two months to go in the regular season, it is now perform or go home as the Fraport Skyliners have a very disappointing 7-11 record and aren´t scratching at the top 4 positions of the easyCredit BBL as many had predicted, but instead are lounging around in 13th place and with a somewhat clouded future as to what will happen on the court between now and mid May when the regular season ends. The season has simply not gone the way the club and head coach Gordon Herbert has wanted. In the last months one has been able to observe on many occasions just how disgusted Herbert is with his basketball world as he is on the sideline and has to witness one ugly turnover after the other. One could go on and on about all the problems, but it is something that can´t be avoided. The usual abundance of injuries and players not functioning were a big sore point in the Skyliners season which hampered a growth of the team chemistry that has seemingly stalled the whole season. Advancing to the next round of the Eurocup was a big success, but that didn´t help carry over to the BBL games where they have been up down the whole season. You obviously want to find some of the good moments of the season, but even if you have to try really hard to find those, when you do, one have to wonder where they would be in the standings if they had lost in Overtime in Vechta and if Quantez Robertson hadn´t hit the buzzer beater against the EWE Baskets Oldenburg. It wasn´t an easy time for Jason Clark to have to listen to my negative questions, but he swallowed hard and took it the way a true professional should staying calm while reflecting on the reasons why the season hasn´t gone the way they wanted to. “A lot of where we are now in the standings and how we have played has to do with us figuring out our roles. It takes some teams longer than others. We had many bumps in our way with injuries and players leaving. But now we are all back except for Akeem Vargas and now it is a perfect time to make a run. There are two months left and now it´s time to make our move”, warned Jason Clark.
In the last weeks, the team has been making strides, but at this point of the season, it isn´t enough to have played well for 38 minutes, because if you aren´t getting wins, you won´t be making ground on other teams and won´t be necessarily strengthening one´s self confidence either. The last two loses are perfect examples that the Fraport Skyliners can play with very talented teams, because in both games they had their fate in their own hands, but lost in the last seconds. Had they won these two games, then their basketball world would be looking a lot different now. In the loss to the MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg, Frankfurt had the game already lost in the previous play, but still had a few seconds to inbounds the ball under the Ludwigsburg basket and get a possible miracle tip in. Instead of going to one of their two big men Jonas Wolfarth-Botterman or Leon Kratzer, they chose to go their identity figure Quantez Robertson who is athletic and can leap with the best of them, but in this phase, it would have been the better option if they had gone to one of the longer players. In Bamberg the team showed signs from old Skyliner days where their defense was their staple and had the chance to win on the last play, but their new go to guy Tyler Larson went for the win to soon instead of shaving more seconds off the clock missed and then watched as Euroleague winner Tyrese Rice won the game in the last seconds. “Those loses really hurt, but we didn´t lose those games at the end, but earlier in the game with the mistakes we did. Having Larson take the last shot was what we wanted. We have a lot of confidence in him. Of course it would have been more ideal if he had let some more seconds off the clock. He was in attack mode and every player has to decide for himself when it´s time to go. He saw the opportunity and went for it. It was unfortunate that he missed, but those are shots he can make”, stressed Jason Clark.
There are many factors that have contributed to the Fraport Skyliner woes, but the most vital has been their inability to defend the way Gordon Herbert is used to. In their best days back when a Justin Cobbs and Jordan Theodore were calling the shots, the club belonged to the best defensive teams in the easycredit BBL and on average were giving up in the high 60´s per game. This season it has been a disappointing 82 points which is still ninth best in the league, but that shows just how offensive the league has become. For a Gordon Herbert to have to witness his team allowing so many points must be as disheartening for him as much as it is to see how the New York Knicks organization went from the glory days of the 70´s to what they are today, but he has somehow not let that affect him as he continues to preach his philosophy and the team gave one if not their best defensive performance of the season in Bamberg. In the last weeks, they have giving less points up as they demonstrated against Crailsheim and Oldenburg where they gave up an average of 71 points. Two of their biggest deficiencies have been their rotations which belonged to their strong point when they were defending well in the past and their poor one on one defense. Since the departure of Brady Heslip and Eric Murphy who were sore points on the defensive end and with the addition of guards Tyler Larson and Tra Holder there has been a considerable improvement and that will continue to grow as the current team and new players get better adapted to their defensive roles. Other problems this season has been their inability to take care of the ball where they give up 14,4 turnovers per game third worst in the league and their free throw shooting which is at 74% which is in the lower one third worst in the league. Even if these things have been a problem, Clark believes they can be corrected. “We have aggressive players and they all want to make the right play. I think a big reason for our turnovers this season has been because of guys just trying to make a play and make something happen. It is better to have turnovers while being aggressive than passive. If we want to move forward, we have to cut down on the turnovers. We can´t allow teams to have extra possessions against us or get easy points on transition. We have to learn to make our free throws. It is different with every player. It is free points. We have to get up more reps and start making more. We have all the tools to score many points, but our biggest goal now is improving our defense especially our rotations and one on one defense”, stressed Jason Clark.
Even if they are only the 16th best offensive team in the league averaging 79 points per game, it would still be a valuable weapon if they were the defensive team that they once was. The club has the ability to score a lot of points on any given night, but what happens when the game is on the line. They don´t have that proven consistent go to guy this season like they had in the past with guys like Dashaun Wood, Justin Cobbs, Jordan Theodore and Phillip Scrubb. This season they were hoping that Canadian Brady Heslip could be that guy, but instead he showed flashes, but wasn´t consistent enough and on many nights his inadequate defense forced Gordon Herbert to leave him fuming on the bench for longer periods of time. Jason Clark who never got comfortable as a point guard, but since the arrival of guards Larson and Holder has found a home at his natural position at shooting guard has been the teams most consistent scorer this season and is that go to guy player. Another guy who needed no adjustment period has been Tyler Larson who is leading the team in scoring at 19,3ppg, second in rebounds with 6,0rpg and second in assists with 4,3apg. He has played four BBL games and in the last three games has averaged 22,0ppg. He has the overall game, but it is his aggressive and constant attack mode that makes him the perfect go to guy and he will be a big reason if this club will make the playoffs or not. In the last years, Gordon Herbert has been known for making the right pick ups with Dashaun Wood, Justin Cobbs, Jordan Theodore and Phillip Scrubb just to name a few, but this season, he had misfortune in his choices, but with Larson, he has found back to his old ways as it has been the right one. Larson didn´t make the right decision in Bamberg, but Jason Clark knows that he and himself could be that successful go to guys duo. “Having two go to guys would be great for the team and us as well. Tyler is so dangerous on the floor. Plus he is so unselfish. If we would make all the shots from the passes that he dishes out, then he would average 10 assists per game. We compliment each other very well. He opens up a lot for me. Our combination of attacking and creating for others will be very helpful for the team in the last months”, warned Jason Clark.
The team said farewell to Trae Bell-Haynes who had began slowly, but then had found his rhythm only to be injured which threw him totally off again. With Vargas coming back having this deep guard rotation will still be beneficial as the Fraport Skyliners will look to wear down teams more in the stretch run as they will keep high energy for 40 minutes. One player that the 2000 BBL cup winner is still waiting for to break out is rookie Los Angeles native Tra Holder. One has to simply give him time, because he never played for legendary head coach Larry Brown in Italy because he injured his shoulder. But now in Frankfurt he is at 100% and burning to show his basketball skills. He can be an offensive asset and makes the drive look easy with a touch of a floater. His defensive abilities also fits into the defensive philosophy of Gordon Herbert. The question now is when will he truly break through. Hopefully sooner than later. “He is still trying to find his rhythm. We have stressed to him to be more aggressive. He is still learning the program. We know that he can pay. The biggest thing for him now is not worrying to make mistakes or walking on our toes. That is normal rookie thinking. It takes some guys longer than others, but we see that he can give us a lot to be successful”, stressed Jason Clark. In the last week came the news that Gordon Herbert might take the job of Canadian national team. Clark doesn´t see this as a distraction and is genuinely happy for his boss. “This news doesn´t affect us. I think it is a great opportunity for him. It is great that he is getting the recognition, because he is a great coach. He knows how to get teams to win and we are all happy for him”, stressed Jason Clark. With his new job as Canadian national coach seemingly to become a reality, the only other thing that Gordon Herbert needs to accomplish now in the next months is to prevent that washout and make another trip to the playoffs. The first step to having any kind of success is to have healthy self confidence. If you don´t have that, then you will make life a lot harder for yourself. With Clark´s little nephew getting restless in the back-round, the American ended the phone call with that last positive push and self confidence in the direction of where he sees the Fraport Skyliners heading. “I believe that we will make a surge in the last months. I have so much confidence in this team especially with the steps we have continued to make. I believe 120% that we can make the playoffs if we continue to do what we have been doing recently”, warned Jason Clark. There are 16 games remaining for the Fraport Skyliners to reach the BBL playoffs as a lot will have to go their way as winning somewhere between 10-12 games will get them in. They have many tough games left, but have 8 home games remaining. In the past under Herbert, Frankfurt often proved to be at their best in the stretch run in their own living room especially against the top teams. They have a very talented team, but they have to produce right away on Saturday with an upset against Alba Berlin. A perfect opportunity to get revenge after the bitter cup loss recently. If they can find back to their old ways and days when they defended with passion and heart then they could make it, but the odds aren´t in their corner now, but will rise if they can start a run right away. Maybe they will experience a few wash outs on the island of Mallorca in form of heavy rain during their training camp and motivate them to never want to experience a wash out again if they don´t start producing on the court right away, because if they don´t then their season will end in a washout.