It was an unbelievable hot humid Sunday in early August when I was on my way to Frankfurt airport to catch up with some of the 2020 Howard Hoops players who were hanging out at an airport hotel and were in mid season to the tour. They had played a few games against German professional teams the days before and now were eagerly awaiting taking part at team try-outs for that possible overseas contract and fulfilling their dream of a professional career. As I approached the hotel, it felt more like I was in Miami or Los Angeles exiting the airport building then being in Frankfurt, but once I entered the fully air conditioned hotel lobby, I quickly forgot about my minor sweat marks around my arms and focused on basketball as I would be talking with some of the members of the tour. I waited about 10 minutes and then approached 4 players. One was a short point guard with Jayson Edwards who will always remain in my memories for being a guy that was really focused on me for the whole 1 hour 30 minutes chat as I gave my best to give advice and pointers about what may await them in Germany if they get that contract. Another player that exited the elevator was a tall lanky forward named Pindo Drammeh who was sporting a Lebron jersey and reassuring me that he can conquer any winter since he is from Alaska. “Weather has never fazed me. I have always been able to adapt to it”, stated Pindo Drammeh. A third player that shock my hands and sat down to talk hoops was rookie Oliver Amajoyi who was easily the best player in the tour who had that healthy self confidence that all good players have and wasn´t short of having any Drew League stories where he had been a part of before. The last player that joined the group was 193cm guard Jaylon Pullen who also had a positive character and had that similarity of a world star that just couldn´t leave my mind. Finally to the end of our group session, I had to tell Pullen this. “You know that you have a little Will Smith going on”. The whole group laughed and I felt good that I had made the same assumption as others. “My teacher said it and overall I got mistaken a lot for Will Smith. People will tell me do you ever watch the Fresh Prince of Bel Air”? But not only Pullen looks like a world star, but so does Howard Hoops founder Ron Howard. For years, I couldn´t get that James Harden similarity out of my head. Ron Howard knows about that similarity and isn´t surprised about the Pullen Smith comparison. “That’s funny I can see that in Jaylon face a bit. As for me I’ve heard that before to bad I don´t have James Harden height”, smiled Ron Howard. “If Ron had more of a beard, I would call him little James”, laughed Jaylon Pullen.
In the past Howard Hoops Tour´s have had the needed amount of players, but this time around, bodies was a huge problem. In the end there were only 6 players as player J Quan Brown, Cameron Gause, Keith Phillips and Rene Melendez all couldn´t attend for various reasons including getting their passport. But sometimes you have to do the best you can with the given circumstances. It also didn´t help that COVID-19 like in so many other areas played an effect on the tour. “By far this summer´s tour was challenging, the fact that covid is affecting how the world has to play basketball is truly different. I think the most challenging thing about having only 6 players was that they weren’t in playing shape”, stressed Ron Howard. After arriving on Tuesday and getting acquainted, the Howard Hoops tour had their first game on Wednesday against second Regionalliga team Olpe, a team that the Howard Hoops tour have played before in the past. Despite jet lag and a 6 man roster, the Howard Hoops gang won easily by 20 points. “The game in Olpe was decent. The player that caught my eye the most was Oliver Amajoyi. He plays big he’s a physical big who finishes strong around the basket”, stressed Ron Howard. The next night they scrimmaged against Regionalliga team Ibbenburen that had 15 guys suit up and had some very talented international bodies. The 4 players in the lobby with me didn´t want to elaborate on the game at all, but Ron Howard gave his 2 cents on the game. “The loss in Ibbenburen was embarrassing, I told the guys the game before against Olpe. Ibbenburen isn’t a soft club. They play hard grind fast pace structure hoops. The pressure that Ibbenburen was giving. to my players was something they weren’t ready for”, stressed Ron Howard. I never found out the final score of the game, but it must have been ugly.
A big part of the potential success of each player getting a professional contract is how well Ron Howard can sell his players. Howard has been placing players since years in German leagues and continues now with Revizion Sports International which is a consultation, promotion, management & placement company based in Minneapolis Minnesota. RSI’s job is to properly advise/manage, train & place players on the best path to success. They are placing basketball players men & women all over World. So during the week of the games, Howard had to have a keen eye on each player and then be able to get the correct try outs for each guy. The California native who now is based in Minneapolis gave a quick summary of each of his players. “Jaylon Pullen is a tough hard nose PG combo guard who has a nice fee for the game , great shooter strong defender and great person. Ethan Lorenzo was a player who needed to get into shape and understand his role overseas would be a PG and to learn the position quick. Pindo Drammeh is a tall lengthy 6’10 who is a great shot blocker and has a nice tough around the rim. Also can step out and hit the open three. Bryan Johnson is a strong wingman with a nice jump shot plays hard on both ends of the floor and is also an amazing teammate. He was the leading scorer with 18 points against Ibbenburen. Oliver Amajoyi is a 6’8 player who can step outside and hit the 3pt shot. Great pick & pop pick & roll guy. Someone who will be able to give a double double each night. Jayson Edwards is a very quick and athletic point guard. He can penetrate gaps and hard nose defender with a good mid range game”, warned Ron Howard. Unfortunately Ron Howard couldn´t sit down and join our conference in the airport hotel lobby as he was on the go somewhere in the region having a chat with a coach about a tryout for one of his players. As always this 7th Howard Hoops was another success and it won´t be the last one as a 8th tour is just around the corner. “The thing I liked about this tour was that my guys who came really got a long they worked hard and were receptive to the feedback they were given. In January we will bring again guys out to Germany to showcase their talents to teams in tryouts and exhibitions before the second half of the season begins”, stressed Ron Howard.
Back in the hotel lobby I was getting bombarded left, right and center from the 4 players about what could await them in Germany, and I was honest and told them that if they want to be successful, they have to be 100% serious about the job. This may be their only chance ever, so they shouldn´t blow it. They have to be totally focused, eat right, have good sleeping patterns, get in the gym every day, because they have so much time to get better and most important be a good role model for others. After I had given them the facts about how to survive in Germany, they reflected on their time in Germany and about the future. Dallas native Jaylon Pullen left a lasting impression getting a few try-outs including from team Babenhausen. “The tour was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it. It was cool being able to experience a different level of competition and style. I was ok with how I played. I could have been in better shape. When I´m in better shape, I´m more productive. What I really enjoyed about the tour was that nobody fought and we were all cool with each other form the first day. Nobody was holding each other back, but everybody was focused for the best outcome for the whole team”, stressed Jaylon Pullen. Rancho Cucamonga, California native Oliver Amajoyi who just finished his college career at William Jessup(NAIA) was the MVP of the tour putting up 28/15/3/2 stats against Olpe and 14/12 against Ibbenburen. His stellar play earned him a try-out with Regionalliga team TV Langen. “I enjoyed the tour. I learned during this tour that I need to be a leader and use my IQ more. I believe that I can excel at this level. My main goal was to win and everybody gets a contract. My friend Christopher Edward told me good things about TV Langen. He played there the last 2 seasons. I have to keep getting better and I can have no set backs”, warned Oliver Amajoyi. Anchorage, Alaska native Pindo Drammeh who also balled at William Jessup(NAIA) and spent his early childhood living in Sweden had a good camp and earned a few tryouts as well. “I give a lot of credit to Ron Howard who kept me at a high standard and gave me high motivation to play and how to understand the game. It was awesome being able to meet up with other guys that had the same dream to play overseas. This opportunity was a real blessing and I´m trusting the process”, warned Pindo Drammeh. 175cm point guard Jayson Edwards from Plymouth, Minnesota had a lot of fun and showed he had game, but had a huge disadvantage over the other players in that he has a family back home. In the lower leagues, it is usually impossible for players to have their families over right away, because the lifestyle is to expensive. He also was awarded a try-out with Babenhausen. “It was great being a part of Howard Hoops and it was a great test. I truly believe that I can fit in and adjust to the game overseas. The style of game is new to me, but I know that I have to play at a certain level and show out in order to be successful overseas. I have no resume and came here from nothing. It was a blessing to be here, but I know what I have to do to be successful”, warned Jayson Edwards. It will be interesting to learn where and if some of these guys land a professional basketball contract in the next weeks. Most don´t have a return plane ticket to the States. So there is a great chance that these hungry, less known players will do all they can not to have to book a flight home, because they are so close to their dream of playing professional basketball.