It is December 24th Christmas Eve in the States and in Germany it´s the night to open the presents something that Americans that have balled in Europe for years have either gotten used to or not. Just how festive this Christmas will be for Adam Waleskowski will depend how quickly he can get the last tough Frankfurt loss of his mind. It has been less than 48 hours since the bitter 82-81 loss of the Fraport Skyliners against the Basketball Lowen Braunschweig and any loss is difficult to digest, but obviously the tight ones are harder than others. There were a few tragic hero´s in this 45 minute battle, but none more unfortunate than Adam Waleskowski. After the heartbreaking loss, I was ready to give my usual post game interview with him, but he actually denied me. At first I was perplexed, but then I remembered the last seconds of the game and understood. But after about 5 minutes and a few photos with sponsors, he returned a bit more up beat and answered my questions, but I knew deep down this would be a tough loss to forget. It is no secret that dog´s need to have their walks and with Waleskowski´s dog Barry it´s no different, but it would be interesting to know just how many times he had to get out in the last two days to just think and reflect on the last loss. With 13 seconds remaining in overtime and the Fraport Skyliners down 82-81, they had the opportunity to win the game just like in regular time, but couldn´t pull it out. Frankfurt had two golden chances and surprisingly missed. Waleskowski had a left handed hook shot. He was so close to the basket, it seemed like he was almost sitting on the rim, but the shot just didn´t want to fall. The ball then squirmed out to Richard Freudenberg who was the other tragic hero and he missed an off balance open three and the game ended with another loss for the 2016 Fiba Europe Cup winner. “I had no idea how much time was left. I rushed myself. I make that shot 9/10 times. I couldn´t hit anything today”, expressed Adam Waleskowski. Even a guy like new Skyliner Joe Rahon who has been with the team only a few weeks had that 100% confidence in both guys making the shots and was perplexed after the loss. “You would think that when Waleskowski gets a left handed hook shot near the basket and Freudenberg gets an open three that at least one would fall”, warned Joe Rahon. But that has been the story of the Fraport Skyliners this season. They are a lot better than their record, but finally need to produce wins.
One thing that has really surprised me has been the early negativity and criticism that has been set upon the Fraport Skyliners. If I look at the standings, I see an unsatisfying 4-7 record and 13 place, but so what. The team is only two wins away from the last playoff spot. I wonder what would be going on in the Frankfurt basketball world, if Frankfurt had the Telekom Baskets Bonn 15th spot and 2-8 record. Ok even for me that means nothing. The whole league is so tight from 6-18 that I am sure there will still be some big surprises this season and come May 2020 there will be a lot of juggling having happened in the BBL standings. I have discussed this fact before this season and will repeat myself, but I have to because the wins that should have been and didn´t happen just continue to arise. The Fraport Skyliners should have won in Bonn, should have upset FC Bayern Munich at home, should have beat Wurzburg on the road and won at home against Braunschweig. If that had happened where would the club be now? They would have an 8-3 record and be in fourth place and all would be normal and happy in Frankfurt Mainhatten. But that is how basketball works. A team doesn´t always get the breaks. A missed rebound, loose ball, shot or foul can cost a club a game and that has been crucial for the team not having the success they should have had. But you can´t look back on these tough losses, but stay positive and look ahead and just continue to work hard and get better. That is what Gordon Herbert has always said and he proved in the past that when his club started off slow, he was mostly able to get the best from his players the rest of the way and get better. This has to be a big focus of head coach Sebastian Gleim, but he knows that.
On paper the Fraport Skyliners are a playoff team and I feel that on the court they can and will be. Obviously they have had a lot of misfortune with injuries and the departure of Anthony Hickey who was on a good way in pre-season making the transition to the regular season and then got injured. Where would the club be today had he not gotten injured? I honestly feel that they would have had at least 2 wins more. Akeem Vargas has missed two games and that lock down defender was so much needed in the game against Braunschweig. How successful would Trevor Releford have been had Vargas defended him on a regular basis? Releford had a great game, but also had some uncontested shots. And one aspect that is known, but really not mentioned enough is the Niklas Kiel misfortune. The poor guy was on a good way in his development, but then experienced one of three concussions and now his career seems in doubt. If the club had had Kiel last season healthy and strong, they probably would have made the playoffs and this season wouldn´t be in 13th place. So many what if´s something that is usually mentioned when a team is losing.
Just when looking at the current roster, you have a 12 man roster that can compete with many other teams that are currently in the playoff race. Lamont Jones is a deadly scorer and when he is on a top 5 scorer in the BBL, Leon Kratzer is another one of countless German players that have developed extremely well with the Skyliners and one of the top German big men in the BBL at this moment. He still misses to much at close range, but when he really refines that, he will be truly scary. No disrespect to the real Mr Skyliner Pascal Roeller, but the current Mr Skyliner is the future BBL legend Quantez Robertson. With Tez you know what you get. 40 minutes of his personal hell on the court filling the stat sheet and being able to make an instant impact at both ends of the court. He may not be in his prime anymore, but he is still a damn good player that any BBL team would love to have on their team. Richard Freudenberg has been the sunny boy that maybe had too much sun and forgot his sunglasses which has hindered his play and development in the first two seasons, but this season he stayed away from the sun and his game has been getting better. He has scored in double figures in 4 of the last 6 games and is shooting 50% from the parking lot. His game confidence is growing and he will continue to be an important piece to the puzzle and success in the next months. Only his 48% free throw percentage remains a mystery. Akeem Vargas has offensively been reborn. Coming into this season the highest he ever averaged in scoring in a BBL season was 5,4ppg in the 2014-2015 season with Alba Berlin. Currently he is averaging 9,3ppg and shooting an impressive 44% from downtown and has scored in double figures in 5 of 9 games. With him healthy the rest of the way this club is a playoff team.
Shaquille Hines hasn´t been great or bad, but maybe played a bit under expectations. But sometimes that adjustment period takes longer than for other players. He showed that he could score in double figures in the NCAA, Greece and Sweden and at 7/4 in points and rebounds not as far from his 8/4 stats from Braunschweig last season. He could be more of a defensive factor, but important now will be that he gets healthy and returns back with vengence so he can make an impact on the court. I was really excited when the Skyliners got Adam Waleskowski. After covering him for 10 years with teams like BG Goettingen and the MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg, I would finally get to see him play live on a regular basis. The only problem is I´m seeing him play, but honestly not enough. I´m sure he isn´t happy about his 10 minutes per game. I personally would like to see him play somewhere in the vicinity of 15-20 minutes. The Ohio native still has game at age 37 and is giving the team good minutes. Obviously the Braunschweig game wasn´t a good one, but I´m sure he won´t have a game like that again. He will continue to be a fighter on the court and important mentor for guys like Freudenberg and Mcquaid. I have been a big fan of Matt Mcquaid from the start, but he hasn´t become that player that the club hoped he would yet. I have a lot of confidence in this kid. I love his game. He can shoot, play tough hard noised defense, has an incredible IQ and has athleticism in him. When you only get 13 minutes per game, you have to be very efficient and it´s tough to really stick out. He has his break out game against Bamberg and had 11 points against MBC and showed flashes of brilliance with 6 points in the loss against Braunschweig. I am confident that he will get more consistent. He needs the trust from coach Sebastian Gleim and build on his self confidence.
Ex Bamberg Guard Daniel Schmidt and Marco Voeller have been little factors for the club. Schmidt who has won more BBL titles than the rest of the team has averaged only 6,8mpg while Voeller only 3,2mpg. Schmidt is capable of being a solid back up point guard, but really has produced below expectations while Voeller just hasn´t seen enough minutes to really be a factor. I would have liked to have seen young German Bruno Vrcic get into more than 3 games, but it has been refreshing to have seen 17 year old talented guard Len Schoormann already play 3 BBL games and slowly get adjusted to the BBL game. These two Germans have a big future ahead and the more experience that they get already this season the better. I believe Schoormann will have some more exciting moments this season as he continues to slowly make more of a name for himself in the German basketball community. That´s the Fraport Skyliners roster or is it? Oh I forgot a player. How could I forget Joe Rahon? He will be the key in the end if the Fraport Skyliners make the playoffs or not. I don´t say this often after seeing a guy play live only twice, but I love this guys game. He had a very good game against Braunschweig with 16 points, 4 rebounds, 7 dimes and 2 steals. It is amazing to see how quickly this guy has been integrated and really is playing as if he has been there from the start. But he is a true professional and a real floor general. He has a keen sense when to finish and when to find the open man. He showed in the NCAA that he could average 10,0ppg at two different schools Boston College and St Marys, but hasn´t at the pro level averaging 6,0ppg in Belgium and with Braunschweig. Frankfurt has enough potential scorers with Jones, Kratzer, Freudenberg, Mcquaid, Waleskowski, but the consistency with some guys just hasn´t been there. Rahon can be a scorer for this team if he has to, but being that dependable playmaker is more important which could get this team over the hump in the next months. I said it before the season that the Fraport Skyliners would reach the playoffs and still believe it now. Bearing any more crucial injuries to key players, I feel this goal can be reached. Obviously the defense continues to be a work in progress, but the club has defended a lot better in 3 of the last 4 games and just have to continue to get better in the Herbert manner. It isn´t the best of times currently for the Fraport Skyliners, but ending 2019 with a big win in Ludwigsburg could be the real turnaround for the team. Of course this is easier said than done. John Patrick has built a real winning culture this season, but it is a known fact in the BBL that no matter what season it is, clubs hate playing the Fraport Skyliners at home or on the road. Frankfurt will come back from the holiday season and give a spirited effort in Ludwigsburg. Waleskowski will return back to an old stomping ground and be gunning for a win and definitely wants good thoughts on his new year´s walk with dog Barry.