Manuel Schust is a 40 year author/journalist that was born in Frankfurt, Germany and studied literary sciences at the well known Goethe University in Frankfurt. He was infected for the love of basketball as a child and has been following the game and development of the Fraport Skyliners organization since decades. He has written countless articles for print and online mediums and is the editor of Germanhoops.com since 2009. His newest book is called 111 reasons to love the Fraport Skyliners. He spoke to germanhoops.com about the book and basketball.
Manuel thanks for talking to germanhoops.com. Before we talk about your new book, could you talk a little about your journalistic life so people can get a feel exactly where you come from?
From as long as I can remember there have always been two big passions in my life: basketball and writing. After earning my master’s degree in comparative literature I started working for a publishing company in Frankfurt, but I always wanted to concentrate on my writing. In 2017 I decided to quit my job and started to work as an freelance journalist. Ever since I have written articles about a lot of different topics. But at some point I realized that I always wanted to write a book about basketball.
I believe you were already a basketball fan and following basketball before the Fraport Skyliners were established in 1999. You were an Eintracht Frankfurt fan at first or not?
When I started to follow German basketball in the early 90s Eintracht Frankfurt presented the only opportunity to watch higher-level basketball in Frankfurt. I would not say that I was a big Eintracht Frankfurt fan. But the club used to play their home games in the gym of my old school. So I attended their games for many years and liked some of their teams and players. But in general this was not the kind of basketball I was looking for. As a teenager I grew up with the US Dream Team, the Adidas Streetball Challenge and the 90s NBA. Basketball became a lifestyle for us teenagers. But before the Skyliners came to Frankfurt organized basketball was played in school gyms and lacked all the entertainment part of the game.
Since a few years some easyCredit BBL teams like Alba Berlin, FC Bayern Munich, Brose Bamberg and medi Bayreuth have released super club books called “111 reasons to love my team”. A fifth club with the Fraport Skyliners now will release their own book with this title. Please explain how you got involved with this project?
While I was reading Benjamin Moser’s “111 reasons to love Alba Berlin” I started to ask myself why there was not a similar book about the Fraport Skyliners. The club celebrates its 20th anniversary this summer and really brought basketball as an NBA-like event to Frankfurt. I am not the kind of person who waits for someone else to pick up an idea I like. So I started to think about reasons to love the Fraport Skyliners, wrote them down and had more than 80 reasons after a first brainstorming. Then I got in contact with Benjamin Moser and Skyliners press spokesman Thomas Nawrath, who supported me from day one. Luckily the publisher Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf liked my approach and gave me the opportunity to write the book.
You are a guy that follows world basketball very closely and is able to form your own fair and neutral opinions about any basketball topic, but would it be fair to say that you are part a Fraport Skyliners fan?
Since the Skyliners brought the kind of basketball to Frankfurt that I was longing for as a teenager, I certainly do sympathize with the club. But I was never a big fan of one particular club and like to describe myself as a fan of basketball in general. I think as a fan you tend to see things through rose-coloured spectacles if your club is successful. But if things do not work out great fans can be pretty harsh. So I usually try to distance myself from being too close to one club. It helps to put things in perspective and I can enjoy basketball much more if I don’t have to root for one specific team.
You began with the book in 2018 and finished it in May 2019. Talk a bit about the difficult process it was traveling to Frankfurt on many occasions to check the Skyliners archive and just putting together the book?
I vividly remember the beginnings of the Skyliners back in 1999. I think I attended my first Skyliners game in December 1999 and followed the club very closely over the years. But your memory can really play tricks on you. 20 years is a long time and there were several occasions when I started to question my memories. It was great to be able to check the Skyliners archive. The club has gathered articles that go back to 1999. So whenever I was not sure about certain details I could always go back to the archive. Usually I wrote down what I had in mind and then checked the facts in the Skyliners archive.
Did you read any of the other club books for inspiration or tips to help with the writing of the book? I believe Alba Berlin author Benjamin Moser was a guy you spoke To often and was instrumental in you being a part of this as well.
I read all basketball books published by Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf and can highly recommend each of them. When you follow basketball closely you tend to think that you know a lot about certain clubs. But these books can give you so much information and background stories that you get to know clubs on a new basis. The books helped me to learn more about Alba Berlin, Bayern Munich, Bamberg and Bayreuth. The author of the Berlin book, Benjamin Moser, was a big help for me in the early stages of the project. I would love to see more books about BBL clubs!
What was the toughest thing about finding the correct 111 reasons to love the Fraport Skyliners? In their 20 year history, there have been many very memorable experiences. Did you have leave some out at the end or did you pretty much get in most of what you wanted?
111 reasons sounds like really a big number. But if you consider the 20 year club history the number becomes so much smaller. After my first brainstorming I had more than 80 reasons, but when my research continued I soon gathered over 150 reasons. But I combined some of the reasons and could pretty much narrow it down to 111. It did not help that the Skyliners signed Andre Mangold late last season. Mangold was the Bachelor on the famous tv show and of course had to be part of my book. So I unexpectedly had to add another chapter, but it all turned out fine! I am very happy about the result!
You spoke with many former players, people in the office etc. If you had to pick one person who´s story stuck out the most who would you pick? In my research of the book, I remember coming across the chapter of Daphne Bouzikou as one of the more interesting ones?
The research and the writing process were really interesting. To re-live through the last 20 years of basketball in Frankfurt put a lot of things in perspective. I was very happy about a conversation I had with Daphne Bouzikou. She was the first ever female assistant coach in the BBL and was instrumental for the club from 1999-2008. She had left the Skyliners on a sour note and never worked as a basketball coach ever since. First I was not sure if she was willing to even talk to me about her time in Frankfurt. But she was very nice and had many nice things to say about the club.
When writing the book and putting together the 111 fascinating stories, what was your main goal in trying to get each story best communicated to the reader?
I soon set a quality standard for myself as I was trying to find something in each of the chapters that even I didn’t know before. I think my book is worth reading for anybody who likes German basketball. The book gives a very good overview about the Skyliners club history. Fans who missed the early years get well informed about the first era and even hardcore fans will find some stories they never heard of.
What are your three most memorable Skyliners memories from the last 20 years in your book?
winning the BBL championship in 2004 was the most memorable moment in club
history. Back in 2004 Frankfurt had a great team but was so underrated by many
fans and experts. Alba Berlin had won 7 titles in a row and looked invincible
for many. It was great to see a young Skyliners team overcome injuries and
setbacks and win it all in the end.
Winning the Fiba Europe Cup in 2016 was also an outstanding achievement. I loved Jordan Theodore as a leader of a young core of German players that had matured and finally crown themselves with a European title.
I also like to point out a Euroleague game back in 2005. Despite a lot of injuries a very young Skyliners-team was able to defeat Panathinaikos Athen with a last second tip-in by 19-year old Miroslav Todic.
You also follow the Fraport Skyliners very closely. This season they are focusing a lot on their young front court for success. Do you feel that they will have enough weapons to make an impact in the league?
I think this upcoming season could be more of a transitional year. Gordon Herbert is gone and it will be interesting to see what kind of basketball new head coach Sebastian Gleim will try to establish. Leon Kratzer, Niklas Kiel and Richard Freudenberg will get the opportunity to take the next step in their development. Hopefully Kiel stays healthy and Freudenberg can get more consistent. If those three develop into key players the Skyliners should have a solid foundation to become successful again. With the current roster I see them fight for the last playoff spot. But budget-wise teams like Bayern, Berlin, Oldenburg, Bamberg and Ulm are out of reach. Without a new arena it becomes tougher each year to be competitive for Frankfurt. I do like the Fraport Arena, but it just lacks almost everything a new modern arena could offer.
Your favorite player of all-time is Chris Williams. Last year you wrote a fascinating career portrait of him at basketball.de. I know you met him back in the day. Talk a little about what he meant to you as a player and what your fondest memory of him on and off the court was?
I fully agree with Skyliners general manager Gunnar Wöbke: Chris Williams was the best American to ever play basketball in Germany. I will never forget his crossover move that was absolutely unstoppable. He was a very unique player in many ways. Humble on and off the court. And he made everything look so easy. Big Smooth was the perfect nickname for him as he was so elegant on the floor. When Chris had the ball in his hands late in the game I was always confident for Frankfurt to win.
The Fraport Skyliners have had many great point guards over the years. Which three Skyliner point guards had the most impact on the club and their success?
That is a tough question because Frankfurt is known for great point guards. First of all one has to mention Pascal Roller, who played ten years in Frankfurt and was the starting point guard of the championship team back in 2004. Pascal was the face of the Skyliners and super important on and off the court. Even though Kai Nürnberger was important in the early years and Aubrey Reese had a great year in Frankfurt, I pick two other guys here. DaShaun Wood was unstoppable and won the MVP award in 2011. And Jordan Theodore’s name will forever be linked to winning the Fiba Europe Cup in 2016.
Since July you are working for the ProA club wiha Panthers Schwenningen. Tell us about your new job and how became Schwenningen’s new press spokesman!
In 2017 I moved to southern Germany and all my basketball friends felt sorry for me to move to an area where no pro basketball is established. The wiha Panthers Schwenningen were the closest club to my new hometown and were playing in the Regionalliga (4th tier league) at that time. I visited one of their games in September 2017 and was pleasantly surprised about their passion and vision for pro basketball in Villingen-Schwenningen. Initially I just wanted to write reports about the team in local newspapers. But then the club offered me to write for their homepage and help them with their Social Media channels. This was an offer I could not refuse. Writing about an ambitious basketball club on a daily basis is like a dream coming true. Who knows maybe my next book will be called “111 reasons to love the wiha Panthers Schwenningen”?!?
What was the last movie that you saw?
I’m not really a movie-guy. I like some shows on Netflix. But since my favorites “Better Call Saul” and “Ozark” did not return for a new season this summer I actually did not watch anything else and concentrated mainly on writing.
Thanks Manuel for the chat.