It was March 7th, 2020 as the Fraport Skyliners Juniors were battling easyCredit BBL team Ratiopharm Ulm´s farm team Orange Academy for a ticket to the Pro B playoffs. In the end it was the better execution and better defense that helped propel Orange Academy into the playoffs behind the support of the 30 plus fans that had made the trip from Ulm. I can remember official employees of the Fraport Skyliners Juniors saying that the first opponent in the playdowns would be FC Bayern Munich 2. Instead of the Fraport Skyliners Juniors experiencing a 6 game playdown season, COVID-19 came and conquered the world including the German basketball scene. The season was cancelled thus allowing the Fraport Skyliners Juniors to remain in the Pro B without any hazzles. More than 7 months later, COVID-19 was still very much alive, but so was basketball in Germany. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors were back at it with a new squad and faced off against the Basketball Lowen from Erfurt and couldn´t hit the ocean inside as they missed easy shot after easy shot, while the Basketball Lowen Erfurt played good disciplined defense and executed at a healthy rate winning 71-58. The guests were without import American RJ Price, but didn´t need him as he could only watch and be proud of his teammates. “We have been working hard the last weeks on defense with our rotations and everything clicked today. It wasn´t perfect today as we still need a lot of work, but we played with good energy today”, stated ex Radford(NCAA) guard RJ Price. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors were without 4 key players Len Schoorman, Maxi Begue, Bruno Vrcic and Jordan Samare who were playing easyCredit BBL in Vechta and also had 6 guys debut in the Pro B as they presented a very very young team. Despite the first game loss, head coach Miran Cumiurija wasn´t disappointed by the effort. “I am proud of the guys. They did what they had to do. They did everything that I told them. They fought hard. I think the game could have been closer had they been more discliplined on defense”, stressed Fraport Skyliners head coach Miran Cumurija.
RJ Price was out and the Basketball Lowen Erfurt had to play 2 young point guards with 2017 NBBL champion Robert Merz who actually is a small forward, but had been playing point guard through the pre season and 16 year old Fidelius Kraus. The game opened with a 3 pointer by Lorenz Schiller who began his basketball career with Science City Jena. Both teams found their rhythm on offense quickly as there were 6 lead changes in the first few minutes. Frankfurt got energy and points from 7 year Frankfurt veteran Konstantin Schubert who hadn´t played in 9 months due to injury, Leon Pullen and new player Matthew Meredith, while the guests got good support from Merz, ex Baunach big man Leo Saffer and ex Niners Chemnitz forward Leon Hoope. With Frankfurt trailing 12-8, they came with a timely 4-0 run as new player big man Alexander Richardson who last played with BG Karlsruhe made a 2 handed dunk and Meredith hit free throws. 15 year old Joshua Bonga, the younger brother of NBA player Isaac Bonga of the Washington Wizards made his Pro B debut at the 2,15 minute mark. But the Fraport Skyliners Juniors lost intensity in the last minutes giving up a 8-0 run to Erfurt trailing 20-12 after 10 minutes. In the run, the guests got huge support from 16 year old Kraus who dropped a trey and scored on transition going coast to coast and ex Baunach forward Miles Osei also hit a try. Frankfurt weren´t taking good care of the ball and their inability to score easy baskets began and wouldn´t end until the buzzer sounded. Frankfurt also weren´t calm on offense and didn´t guard the three point line hard enough. “I really don´t know what to say about the many easy misses from close. Except that the guys have to practice those shots more”, stressed Frankfurt head coach Miran Cumurija. The Basketball Lowen shot 38% from the field and 16% from outside and had 12 rebounds and 2 turnovers while the Fraport Skyliners Juniors shot 16% from the field and 0% from outside and had 17 rebounds and 5 turnovers.
After both teams combined for 32 points in the first quarter, the scoring took a nose dive down as both teams defended better and only a combined 18 points were scored in the second quarter. Frankfurt got on the board first as Leon Pullen who began his career with TV Langen scored. Kraus who had had a spectacular first quarter got the confidence from head coach Uvis Helmanis and continued to play and made one of the games most prettiest baskets as he went into the zone and made a acrobatic reverse lay up for the 24-14 Lowen advantage. The 16 year old guard finished with 7 points and 3 rebounds in 18 minutes. “Kraus played a lot of point guard the last games and showed no nervousness today. It will be interesting to see how he continues to deal with the physicality”, stressed Lowen guard Robert Merz. Merz finished with 11 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists in 27 minutes and didn´t look like he had just began to play point guard. “He handled himself well. He usually plays off the ball, but he did a good job organizing the game and scoring. I am proud of him”, stated RJ Price. Both teams continued to shine on defense as little was scored. Meredith and Merz traded baskets as Erfurt did a good job getting easy baskets on transition while Frankfurt couldn´t hit the ocean from close range. Down the stretch the Fraport Skyliners Juniors got a big three point basket from 17 year old 175cm Allesio Santagati to close the gap to 28-21, but overall the Juniors gave way to little offensive input as their execution was horrible, but coupled with mis fortune as they couldn´t buy a basket at close range trailing 29-21 at the break. The Basketball Lowen Erfurt shot 31% from the field and 20% from the three point line and had 23 rebounds and 5 turnovers while the Fraport Skyliners Juniors shot 21% from the field and 14% from the three point line and had 28 rebounds and 9 turnovers.
In the third quarter the Basketball Lowen Erfurt ripped open the game scoring 26 points and taking the very comfortable 55-37 lead. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors continued to muster no offense while Erfurt got a hard 2 handed stuff by Leo Saffer after getting the bullet pass from Merz who almost lost the ball, but recovered well and got free throws from Merz and Osei. A big problem with Frankfurt was that not only didn´t they have a real go to guy, but no other player felt comfortable in taking on the role. The Frankfurt defense continued to have problems with 1-1 defense and movement without the ball was minimal. Here and there the Fraport Skyliners Juniors did make some beautiful baskets. New Skyliner 21 year old Felix Feilen who played 39 Regionalliga games with TV Langen scored his first Pro B basket as did 15 year old Joshua Bonga who displayed this special energy and athleticism way above his years. Feilen led the fast break and made the perfect bounce pass ala a Rajon Rondon finding Bonga in stride for the easy lay in to cut the Erfurt lead to 39-27. But the Basketball Lowen Erfurt were to consistent on offense and could get away again getting a basket from veteran Tobias Bode who played 60 rRgionalliga games and they continued to draw fouls and get easy free throws for the 47-32 lead. In the last minutes, the guests continued to pour on the offense getting a clutch three from ex Kronberg forward Jonathan Arnold, an Osei lay in and Bode hook shot. A Calvin Schaum trey at the end didn´t help much as Frankfurt trailed 55-37 after 30 minutes. “Coach told us to stay solid on defense and not gamble. We did a good job sticking to our defensive principles and make them take tough shots. We kept the pace, got to the free throw line and took advantage of the mis-matches”, said RJ Price. “We weren´t ready to play. We were sleeping and didn´t have good ball movement”, added Frankfurt head coach Miran Cumurija. The Basketball Lowen Erfurt shot 37% from the field and 17% from the parking lot and had 35 rebounds and 7 turnovers while the Fraport Skyliners Juniors shot 26% form the field and 18% from the parking lot and had 33 rebounds and 11 turnovers.
In the fourth quarter the Basketball Lowen Erfurt kept up their consistent offense and the Fraport Skyliners Juniors were able to cut the deficit down to 13 points with a 1 minute to go, but that was as close as they would get. The guests got quick baskets from Arnold and Hoppe to extend their lead to 60-39. Frankfurt continued to have problems executing as the guests kept the big lead. Half way through the fourth quarter, Matthew Meredith took things into his own hands. He would score 9 points in the last 5 minutes and his self-confidence had definitely risen. He scored in traffic muscling his way to tough points and also scored from the free throw line. Another player that closed out the game well was Alexander Richardson who has to travel from Karlsruhe to Frankfurt for games and practices. He scored 6 points during the Meredith run and finished with 10 points and 8 rebounds in his Pro B debut. Frankfurt played a stronger 4th quarter, but just couldn´t show such strong moments for longer stretches during all 4 quarters. When a team is down as bad as we were, players will start to try things they usually wouldn´t do. Meredith is talented enough to force shots and be successful. He showed some good things during that stretch”, said Miran Cumarija. “We are a young group. We have to learn to play with the lead and finish a game the right way”, added RJ Price. The Basketball Lowen Braunschweig were led by Miles Osei with 14 points and Robert Merz had 11 points while the Fraport Skyliners Juniors were led by Matthew Meredith with 18 points, 3 rebounds and 6 dimes and Alexander Richardson contributed 10 points. The Basketball Lowen Erfurt shot 38% from the field and 21 % from outside and had 46 rebounds and 11 turnovers while the Fraport Skyliners Juniors shot 32% from the field and 13% from outside and had 41 rebounds and 12 turnovers