The CoronaVirus Crisis Put TJ DiLeo´s Heart Closer To Wanting To Be A Telekom Baskets Lifer

It has been almost 2 months since the easyCredit BBL closed down shop temporarily and slowly players are beyond itchy to get back to playing. There is just so much Netflix you can watch or replaying the incredible Michael Jordan documentary “The Last Dance” or only so many times one can watch Shaq break down while recounting his personal memories of his ex teammate Kobe Bryant who TJ DiLeo had the pleasure of watching battle Allen Iverson in the 2001 NBA finals as his dad Tony was the GM of the 76ers.. It hasn´t been any different for DiLeo who has been holed up in his Bonn apartment since the lockdown in Germany. Doing the cycle of waking up, spending time in the apartment watching movies, going to the grocery store for the typical necessities or jogging along the Rhein river which probably gives him memories from back home in  Cinnaminson, New Jersey that lies on the beautiful Delaware river just gets old after a while. He did stay in shape, because at first he wasn´t sure if his season would continue. Besides going for runs, he did some high intensity interval training inside, and also did some light weights and core work with the tools he had available. But for TJ DiLeo of the Telekom Baskets Bonn, his season has finally ended. The isolation period in Bonn for him is ending, but the question now is when he can return home. The league announced that it will play a season ending tournament with only 10 teams as the other 7 declined for various reasons, but still need the green light from the German Federal Government to be able to play it. The American who played at Temple(NCAA) has taken the whole coronavirus crisis very seriously concerning how the BBL has reacted and is content that the Telekom Baskets Bonn declined to continue their season and how they have treated him during this time and since his arrival in 2016 which has helped his heart grow even more to wanting to be a Telekom Baskets lifer  “I am pretty disappointed that players were not represented in the decision at all, and I can only hope that they will take our input if the government does allow this contingency plan to go forward. Players are the ones taking the risk, and they were not given a voice at all yet. Again, disappointing. Especially from a league that has done so much good for the players in the past years. I share the same concerns as you Miles. Playing after a 2 month break is like having a summer, and then coming back for preseason. And in this case it was a 2 month break where we were basically not allowed out of our homes. At least in summer, we can do basketball training and play pickup. And after that we get 6 weeks preseason. To have only 2 weeks of training camp and then to play so many games in a short amount of time carries a huge injury risk. I know how many injuries there are in preseason normally, I couldn’t imagine what this will be like. I feel terrible for the players that will have to leave their families and newborn kids for up to 8 weeks. They didn’t sign up for that. It’s tough to see other leagues cancelling their seasons like in Italy, France, and German handball, yet players in German basketball players haven’t even gotten any input. And all of this is not even taking into account the dangers of the virus. if there´s one thing we’ve learned, is that this virus is unpredictable. it seems like new info is coming out about it every day. I do believe that the league will do their best to put together a safe environment for teams to stay in and play in, where they should be safe. But I know many players I’ve talked to have their worries about that as well. I realize there are other financial factors at play here and possibly even the survival of the league. I get that. And again, I don’t have enough information to say anything conclusively, but it’s a shame that players weren’t able to express their concerns in all of this. I hope they will be able to soon. They are the ones carrying the risk I must applaud the league in giving each club the option to participate or withdraw from this proposal. I hope individual players are given the same opportunity. I can’t say what is wrong or right in this situation because I don’t know all the details and I can’t predict the future. I just hope that money hasn’t clouded the judgement over health and safety”, warned ex Giessen 46er TJ DiLeo. The ex German U-20 player is still far away from joining company with Oldenburg lifer Rickey Paulding who has been with the club for 13 years and Quantez Robertson who recently finished his 11th season with the Fraport Skyliners and when told that DiLeo has those Telekom Baskets lifer ambitions just chuckled and began telling his love for the Skyliner organization. “The Skyliner organization has shown a lot of loyalty from the beginning. Me wanting to be a Skyliner for life came naturally. We always came to an agreement. Getting continued love from the fans and being able to feed off that has helped me fight and always play hard for the Skyliner organization”, stressed ex Auburn(NCAA) player Quantez Robertson. Di Leo didn´t need extra attention from the Coronavirus crisis from his employer concerning his Telekom Baskets lifer feelings, but has had his heart set in Bonn already for a long time. “It’s already there. I don’t know what the future holds, I take it year by year. but if you told me I would play the rest of my career with the Baskets I would be very happy”, warned TJ DiLeo.

Miles Schmidt-Scheuber interviewing Giessen guards Steven Bennett and then rookie TJ DiLeo during the 2014 Pro A playoffs in Giessen

                The season of the Telekom Baskets in the easyCredit BBL was a nightmare as the club had a 4-16 record when the league closed down. He like many other people on earth didn´t think that the Coronavirus would have such a big effect on the world. “I don’t think many people did, or else there would have been preventative measures made earlier. I didn’t give it much thought when I first heard about it because there hasn’t been a pandemic on such a large scale in my lifetime. I had no idea it would reach across the world like it did.”, said TJ DiLeo. Then everything went bang bang bang and before he even knew it, the easyCredit BBL came out with the announcement on March 12 that the season had been suspended. “Everything happened so fast. There was a week or so in the beginning of March where everything went crazy. We had obviously started hearing about what was happening in Italy, but then cases in Germany started to pop up. It went from a few cases, to hundreds, then to thousands in almost the blink of an eye. Toilet paper was gone from stores. We became more aware of shaking hands and we didn’t give high fives to fans after our last game in the Telekom Dome with spectators. We saw events getting cancelled. Our last game against AEK was played without spectators. We started to see travel restrictions happening. Finally everything basketball wise was postponed. All in a week to 10 days”, stressed TJ DiLeo. In the team´s last game against AEK Athens, DiLeo was still injured and watched the contest without any fans was something totally new for him “It’s definitely different. You can hear everything the players are saying on the court, and a lot of the energy has to come from the bench. I don’t think playing without fans is a long term solution, but I can see why it’s necessary in those situations. I think it’s quite possible that there will have to be decisions made about that into the beginning of next season”, added TJ DiLeo. Of course the competitor that he is, he would have loved to have ended the season, but totally agrees with the decision of his employer and once again shows some love for the club he has called home now for 4 years. “If none of this corona stuff happened, I would be very disappointed that the season came to an end. I had just worked my way back from a 8 week injury and was finally back in practice. I also think we were playing much better as a team. We had two great battles against AEK and we were getting better every day with Coach Will. I think we were on our way to prove that we were a good team. But with the scenario we’re in with the virus, I am not disappointed at all. There are more important things than basketball sometimes. I am proud of the Baskets for the decision they made. Economically it was not beneficial for them according to some statements. But like I said before, they’ve always been fair and had the players best interest at heart since the start of this pandemic. They listened to our concerns and took our interests into consideration since the day we stopped practicing. In a business where this is not always the case for a club, I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of the Telekom Baskets”, commented TJ DiLeo proudly. DiLeo has been keeping the most contact with his ex teammate Eric Palm who played in the Pro B with the Dresden Titans and becomes very sentimental when reflecting on how the tough times have made him stronger, but at the same time still has a touch of humor concerning who would get on who´s nerves first concerning his brother Max who plays for Rasta Vechta and is on one of the 10 teams scheduled to finish the season. “I think whenever you’re pushed outside your comfort zone, you learn and become stronger. In this scenario, everyone was in a strange situation. No one wants to be quarantined inside the house, bored, with not much to do. I’ve learned to appreciate what I have, and not to get too stressed out about the uncertainty of the future. I would get on max’s nerves. he’s a little more calm and quiet at home than he is on the court”, added TJ DiLeo.

Miles Schmidt-Scheuber and TJ DiLeo in the Ost gym during the 2015 Pro A playoffs

                DiLeo who credits Alba Berlin´s guard Martin Hermannsson as being his toughest cover this season and the Telekom Baskets began the BBL season off with a bang winning a real nail bitter 77-76 at home against the Fraport Skyliners, but then suddenly everything went down hill as the 2009 BBL finalist lost 12 of 13 games. The whole BBL calamity probably gave him many many hours of searching for answers why the season was such a disaster. The club was loaded with talent and had a first year coach with German Thomas Pach who had worked under legends like Henrik Rodl and Aito and definitely had the qualifications to coach, but success just didn´t want to come  “We underachieved for sure. And no one is happy with how it went. I searched for answers for a while and still can’t pinpoint it. There were many things that everyone could have done a lot better. it was not all on Thomas, he’s a great coach. it was just a variety of things that did not gel together this year. I think bringing in Coach Voigt and his new philosophies was a step that was done to turn things around, and I believe we were trending in the right direction. But through all of this, the players stuck together and we got along well. That´s not always the case in such difficult seasons”, stressed TJ DiLeo. The biggest weakness was their defense which allowed an astounding 91 points per game and in 19 of 20 games allowed 80 points or more. That was difficult to digest and believe considering the club had some great guard defenders in Bartolo, DiLeo, Saibu, Frazier and a solid shot blocker in Alec Brown. “Team defense and communication was not good many games. That´s something we focused on toward the end with coach Voigt. A huge part of that was also rebounding. We gave up so many second chance points and that hurt us in many games”, said TJ DiLeo. Even if the BBL season was a downer, they did have success in the Basketball Champions league, but that league is a lot different than the BBL and with a new head coach with American Will Vogt seemed to be wanting to turn their season around. “The BBL is a very physical league. Teams took us out of our rhythm offensively, and defensively. They always crashed for the rebounds hard. Once we started losing, the pressure built up and we struggled to deal with that as well. I had a great experience with coach Voigt. I was on the sidelines a lot because of my injury and I truly learned a lot on both the coaching side and playing side from him. He holds people accountable, and makes sure we do stuff correctly each time. He also makes us compete a lot in practice which develops our competitive nature for games”, stressed TJ DiLeo.

Miles Schmidt-Scheuber interviewing TJ DiLeo in 2017 in the Fraport arena in Frankfurt

                Before the BBL season began, the Telekom Baskets Bonn club was surely a good bet as a playoff team, because they were stocked with talent bringing in a bag full of strong Americans like ex NBA players Tey Mckinney Jones and Stephen Zimmermann and ex ACB players Brandon Frazier and Ben Simons as well. Later they filled their roster with two more ex NBA players with Alec Brown and Donald Sloan and old friend Eugene Lawrence who came back for a second tour of duty. They also brought in ex Alba Berlin guard Joschiko Saibu who had made huge strides since his days in Giessen with DiLeo. “Joshi is a great teammate and locker room guy. every team can use a guy like him. The biggest difference I’ve seen in him is how his confidence has grown. He has always been a very talented offensive player, but now we’ve seen him become a guy that can get hot at any point in the game. He can easily score ten points in a few minutes, make big shots, or create something out of nothing. He’s never afraid and he plays every game the same no matter who the opponent is”, warned TJ DiLeo. DiLeo was also very smitten by the play and character of Branden Frazier who came in to fill the vacated Josh Mayo position who had shown in the last years his consistency all over Europe including the VTB and ACB leagues. “Branden is obviously a very talented basketball player and that´s a reason he’s had such a successful career so far. He’s a great guy off the court and was a great teammate. Most notably about Branden is that he cared about the success of the team so much. You don’t always see that with first year import players. This team and club meant so much to him, it was like it was somewhere he had been playing for years. He was constantly talking with everyone from players to coaches about how we could turn this season around. he never gave up”, warned TJ DiLeo. One of the most frequent visitors at the clubs farm team Dragons Rhondorf home games which is only a 20 minute ride from Bonn in the last years has been DiLeo. He shows his support for his organization and has good knowledge how the young talent is doing. This season he not only saw young Germans Gabriel de Oliveira and Killian Binapfl play a lot in Rhondorf, but also saw them play with the BBL team frequently as combined they laced up their sneakers in 26 games and liked their development. “They already proved that they can be put in BBL games in certain situations. That´s a great first step and I think they will continue to grow. They are two guys who are willing to learn, but also have some natural talent. They ask a lot of questions, and I think if they continue on this path they will be legit BBL players”, stressed TJ DiLeo.

Miles Schmidt-Scheuber and TJ DiLeo in the BCM practice facility of the Fraport Skyliners in 2018

                DiLeo completed his 7th professional season and 4th with the Telekom Baskets Bonn and before that played 3 years with the Giessen 46ers. He helped Giessen move back to the BBL in his second professional season and in his fourth professional season began his new adventure in Bonn and has matured into a very solid role player for the club and put up consistent stats in the last years. Despite the injury woes for TJ DiLeo, he experienced another solid season even if he did perform better in the Basketball Champions League then he did in the easyCredit BBL. In the Basketball Champions League he averaged 8,6ppg, 2,4rpg, 3,8apg and had 1,3spg and shot 40% from the three point line while in the easyCredit BBL he averaged 7.4ppg, 1.5rpg, 3.7apg, 1.2spg, FGP: 49.2%, 3PT: 28.6%, FT: 90.9%.Injuries are a nasty part of the game and something that happen and at times can totally change a players season. “Obviously the Champions League was a little better, which was also the story of our team this year. I was not so content with the season because. of the team underachieving. I thought I was playing my best basketball before the injury and it sucked getting hurt at that time. I felt like I was getting into a good rhythm and I could help my team best”, warned TJ DiLeo. A big strength of his has always been his basketball IQ and something that continues to get better especially when he continues to watch top NBA player Luca Doncic. “I watch him a lot because he’s so crafty and sees the game so well. It´s like he thinks a step ahead of everyone else. I like watching players like that “, warned TJ DiLeo. One thing he did really well in the 2018-2019 season was continuing to be that good decision maker knowing when to shoot and when to drive. That ability was really tested during the poor BBL season this season. “I just tried to play every game with the same mentality. My mentality will always be to read the game and never try to force anything. And take what is there. I try to play within myself and make my teammates better. from time to time I do need reminding to be more aggressive, but luckily I had great teammates coaches and family to help me do that. I think I was there in my last month before my injury”, warned TJ DiLeo.

Miles Schmidt-Scheuber and TJ DiLeo in the Dragon Dome in Rhondorf in 2019

                First the easyCredit BBL will try to complete the season without TJ DiLeo and the Telekom Baskets Bonn, but what will happen this summer with the world of basketball. It is already known that DiLeo has the Telekom Baskets Bonn in his heart and so does the organization since they gave him a 2 year contract extension in the summer of 2019, but the player has a buyout option. But it seems like the Telekom Baskets Bonn are trying to do all they can not to have the guard go. With nobody knowing what to expect this summer concerning the future of basketball, it might be his best bet to remain in Bonn. “I’m not so worried. It definitely is weird not knowing what to expect. It will be different for sure in terms of the market, salaries, many other things around German basketball. But everyone else in other industries around the world are being affected by this as well. It´s not just us. We’re going to take a hit just like everyone else. The Baskets have been amazing in being up front and honest with me about everything, keeping me updated on the situation, and doing what is best for its players and employees”, stressed TJ DiLeo. He has had a lot of extra time in the last months to become 100% healthy and also will have extra time to get ready for next season. “I will try to stay in good physical shape this whole time. Running, conditioning, and weight training is something I can do on my own, and have been doing on a daily basis. We will see when it’s deemed safe to start with basketball training in a gym or with others”, stressed TJ DiLeo. At the moment the easyCredit BBL has 2 identity figures with Rickey Paulding and Quantez Robertson who combined have played 24 years in the league and with only one team. Paulding is an ambassador for the sport in Germany and a legend for the EWE Baskets Oldenburg and surely a player that the club will never experience again. Like Tez Robertson, Paulding has been blessed of having a second home in Germany which he can call the EWE Baskets. “For me, it´s a good feeling that I´ve had a place to call home all these years.. I´m fortunate enough to leave somewhat of a legacy behind here in Oldenburg when I´m done playing. It´s great to have the support of the fans and the city. I think it is something that is made extra special when you´re a foreigner. It´s nice to be welcomed like that. I think just the last couple years of my career, I decided that I wanted to finish my career in Oldenburg. I´m incredibly lucky and hope TJ gets that opportunity to experience that with Bonn if he wants”, stressed ex Missouri(NCAA) guard Rickey Paulding. Paulding and DiLeo have had some fierce battles over the years against each other and both organizations have a special link having had some real exciting playoff series including the 2009 BBL finals 5 game series. One can´t find a person who´s words can be more soothing or genuine when it comes to having and getting the type of loyalty that Paulding has shown and received from the EWE Baskets organization. DiLeo can´t find a better mentor than a Paulding when it comes to knowing what it takes to remain with one club. The perfect mentor and the ideal words from Paulding to also make his second Basketball home for ever in Bonn and be a Telekom Baskets lifer.

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