During the summer of 2018 the basketball life of Seth Hinrichs was at a new high point as he had been an instrumental figure in helping Rasta Vechta move back to the easyCredit BBL. I remember asking him in a July 2018 interview what the next step was. He stated to me. “I’m not sure what my next step is. I think I’m ready for the BBL and for a higher level of competition. I’m excited to see what happens this summer“. He had finished his 3rd professional season and first with Rasta Vechta playing 39 games: and averaging13.8ppg, 6.4rpg, 2.7apg, 1.4spg, FGP: 61.0%, 3PT: 37.0%, FT: 83.6%. Even if his role was to knock down shots, and rebound, he was so much more that that as all in all, he was that special kind of glue guy that gave versatility a new name If he had found a dull moment that summer in Minnesota to visit a fortune teller and had gotten an ear full of what the next 2 years would have in store for him, he surely would not have believed it. Looking into the dark eyes of the fortune teller, he probably would have had an open mouth as he was being told that he would have a Cinderella season in the BBL with Rasta Vechta knocking off top team Bamberg in the playoffs, then playing Eurocup the following season with ambitious club ratiopharm Ulm, living through the world mourning of the death of Kobe Bryant and finally experiencing COVID-19 halt play in the easyCredit BBL and tear apart the world and shatter so many lives. It is now May 2020 and Hinrichs has been home in Minnesota for some time and is ready to head back to Germany to finish the 2019-2020 BBL season. The last few months has been a tough time for everyone, but when talking about basketball players, learning about the death of Kobe Bryant and soon after seeing how much of an impact COVID-19 has had on the whole world has left the ex Lafayette (NCAA) American very contemplative about life. “I was at my apartment in Ulm. It was devastating and very emotional. I honestly wasn’t a huge fan of Kobe while he was playing but I respected his game and what he was able to accomplish. In recent years I had become a big fan of his because of what he was doing in his post basketball career. I really admired him and respected him for his accomplishments there and then also the pride and joy he had in his daughters. I’m a father of two girls so I felt as though it was cool for me to be able to relate to him in that. His global impact was massive and he will be deeply missed. I think that there’s more to life than basketball. There are so many other opportunities and activities out there that can bring joy to myself and those around me”, warned Seth Hinrichs.
Rewind back a few months when the COVID-19 virus halted play in the easyCredit BBL, ratiopharm was having an underachieving season in 10th place, but still in good range of making the playoffs. They were in a heated battle with 7 other clubs from standings place 6-12 for that last 8th playoff spot. They underachieved because on paper they had a very deep roster that was able to win only 1 game in the Eurocup and lose 9 games. Their big problem was their defense where they allowed 87 points in Eurocup and 85 points in the BBL while being able to put up points on a consistent rate with 87 in the BBL and 80 in the Eurocup and were the second best rebounding team in the BBL. Their current season had 3 parts having a slow start losing 5 of their first 6 games and then had a very potent stretch from November 17th to January 25th where they won 8 of 10 games including beating Bamberg and Oldenburg. But their play in the last weeks before the Coronavirus hit wasn´t satisfactory as they lost two massive shoot outs against Alba Berlin and Braunschweig allowing 215 points combined and then couldn´t muster any offense against a tough Ludwigsburg team. It wasn´t as easy for first time head coach Jaka Lakovic to find a good harmony among so many talented players that led to a lot of inconsistency during the season. Having noteworthy players like possible 2020 first round NBA Draft pick Killian Hayes, German national player Andreas Obst, Slovenian national player Goran Dragic ex Kentucky(NCAA) center Derek Willis or ex NBA players like Isaiah Briscoe or Archie Goodwin didn´t necessarily guarantee instant success. Despite the season woes, Seth Hinrichs wasn´t content that the season was suspended, but now he and his teammates can back up his optimism with a playoff push in June. “I was very disappointed. I felt as a team we were ready to have a great run to finish the season and make a playoff push. We were gearing up for the last couple months and then all of this happened”, warned Seth Hinrichs.
Hinrichs who played with FC Porto (Portugal-LPB) in his rookie season in 2015-2016, played his last game with ratiopharm Ulm on March 8th losing a bitter 94-76 contest to Ludwigsburg as then the BBL was suspended due to COVID-19.Then as basketball was put on the severe back burner, the Coronavirus crisis took center stage for the world. The American like so many other players in Germany never expected it to be as severe and have such a big affect on the world. All of a sudden he didn´t have to be aware anymore about shutting his man down on defense or about executing on offense, but moreover was focused on daily life off the court concerning COVID-19. “It definitely impacted my daily life. The grocery stores had plexiglass up and a lot of supplies were missing from the shelves. There were less people outside and then obviously the biggest impact was that basketball stopped. I was careful to wash my hands after being somewhere and limit my contact with people”, warned Seth Hinrichs. A few days after he had played his last BBL game as COVID-19 hit, there were a few more international games to be played and were played as there was a BCL game in Bonn against AEK Athens and a Fiba Europe Cup game in Bayreuth, but without spectators. You could almost hear a pin drop in certain moments and even if you were on the other side of the court, it felt like you were in the huddle during a team timeout. Hinrichs knows that when he returns back to Germany, he will experience things that he has never seen before and one will be playing games without spectators for weeks something he probably may never get used to. “ I think it takes away a huge element from the game. The fans provide the atmosphere and make up a huge part of the game experience. You can’t have sports without fans”, stressed Seth Hinrichs. During the last months the ex Kirchheim(Pro A) player has communicated most with his ex Vechta teammates Chris Carter, Josh Young and TJ Bray and will focus on getting ratiopharm Ulm a title in COVID-19 times, but also knows that the season will be over soon enough and then it will be time to look forward to next season. COVID 19 has affected the whole world economy and will also affect German basketball. Next season will have many changes as finding a job could be super difficult for players as salaries will be down. “I think next season brings a lot of unknowns and question marks. I’m putting my trust in God for the future of next season and what’s to come”, added Seth Hinrichs.
But before the American looks forward on going on an adventure to the next signing period for next season, he will attempt to finish the 2019-2020 season in Germany with ratiopharm Ulm. On April 27th all 17 easyCredit BBL teams took part in a video conference andthe league decided to finish the season with only 10 teams as the other 7 teams declined wanting not to be part of this end of season type of tournament. There has been a lot of debate as to whether finishing the season in spite of most other professional sports being shut down was ethical or not. Many players are feeling very uncomfortable of having the BBL resume play as the fear and risk of infection is there. The BBL has sent a well thought out Hygienics and safety concept to the responsible authorities. The German football federation got the green light and will begin finishing their season on May 16th and that gives the easyCredit BBL a better chance of also being able to close out their season. Hinrichs sees positives and negatives with the easyCredit BBL finishing their season. “I was surprised because I did not think that this was still a possibility. It’s not the most settling feeling but I’m a competitor and I’m paid to play the game I love. I would love to finish as a team because as I said earlier I had a good feeling about where our team was at. The thought of being able to compete again is exciting but it has to be under the right circumstances with the safety of those involved being of the highest priority. With that being said, I think there are a lot of questions from players that need to be answered by the league about the safety and logistics of this proposed finish to the season”, warned Seth Hinrichs.
The easyCredit BBL have decided to have 2 groups of 5 teams play each other twice which then will be followed by the quarterfinals, semi-finals and finals best of 3 all played in one location. For safety measures all 10 teams will be holed up in one hotel and before play even commences be together for a 2 week quarantine. “I think this format allows for a quick finish to the season while also providing opportunity for the best teams to advance. The most difficult part will be the isolation and being away from family. From my understanding families are not allowed to come with us. For anyone with a wife or girlfriend or kids it will be a long time to be apart”, stressed Seth Hinrichs. Even if there are many critics about finishing the season, everyone has to make the best of the tough and very unique situation. During the season you had very good teams that performed very well, then teams in the middle with no real chance of making the playoffs and then the lousy teams fighting to remain in the league. Now the season will start from scratch and will have a 3 week period to find the 2020 BBL champion. The thing that makes this whole situation so interesting and out of the ordinary is that no team has ever been through this. A big factor will be how well the clubs withstand the 2 week quarantine, the training camp and if teams can find a good team chemistry. “ Every player has treated this time after the season was suspended differently so getting everybody back on the same page and into game shape in a short amount of time will be crucial. There’s a higher risk for injuries and a lot could go wrong so I think the most vital thing for each team will be the strength coach. Having someone with knowledge about how to manage the load of each player, how to keep their joints safe and healthy, eating and sleeping well, etc. Thankfully in Ulm we have one of the best in the business, Sebo”, warned Seth Hinrichs. The BBL has given the names of the two groups of 5 and they are FC Bayern Munich Crailsheim Merlins EWE Baskets Oldenburg , BG Goettingen, Rasta Vechta and the second group are MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg, Fraport Skyliners Alba Berlin Rasta Vechta Brose Bamberg . Another crucial factor to the success of teams will be just how much personal they will have in June. Also because of the uncertainty just how strong each team is no matter who wins the 2020 BBL title, the season won´t have the same significance as seasons before. “ I think the teams that bring the most guys back will have the biggest advantage because of the short time frame to prepare. There will be an asterisk on this season and how it finishes”, warned Seth Hinrichs. It will be a total new experience for everyone and even if Seth Hinrichs has a yearning to connect again more with ex teammates TJ Bray and Josh Young, I´m sure he will have their room numbers memorized very quickly in Munich.
It was mid January 2020 and there was an interesting youth double header at Basketball City Mainhatten in Frankfurt where easyCredit BBL team Fraport Skyliners train with the Skyliners U-16 and 19 teams playing back to back games. In the second contest Eintracht Frankfurt/Fraport Skyliners battled top team Porsche Ludwigsburg BBA in ana NBBL(U-19) game that boast super talents like Ariel Hukporti, Lukas Herzog and the Patrick brothers who are the sons of MHP Riesen head coach John Patrick. In was at the beginning of the fourth quarter with the game deadlocked at 49-49. Eintracht Frankfurt-Fraport Skyliners had possession and versatile German Maxi Begue got the ball in the post and faced a brutal triple team, but with quick instincts and decision making he noticed an open Erik Brummert and delivered the perfect shovel pass which resulted in an easy bucket and 51-49 Frankfurt lead. But instead of celebrating on his dime and savoring the moment, he rapidly got focused for the next defensive play and sprinted back on transition defense as the guests pushed the ball up quickly from Johannes Patrick, but seemingly out of nowhere Begue was there like a lightening flash and stripped the ball from the German guard. In the end, Eintracht Frankfurt-Fraport Skyliners were unable to get the victory as Porsche Ludwigsburg BBA was able to slip away going on a crucial 8-0 run and win 76-61 remaining unbeaten. But this scene was just another example of how Maxi Begue can be an impact player at both ends of the court. “ I see myself as an impact player. I have learned that as a player you always have to be ready and prepared. I never celebrate after an offensive play and am ready for the next play. After giving the ball to Brummert, I ran back on defense and was able to make the play”, stressed Maxi Begue. It was another normal day at the office for Maxi Begue netting 12 points, hauling down 9 boards, dishing out 4 assists and getting 1 steal while shooting 50% from the field. The game and so many others this season have continued to show that Maxi Begue strives to be an impact player at both ends of the court.
Maxi Begue was born on February 26,2001 and grew up in Darmstadt. At first he wasn´t as interested in basketball, but it grew with time. His mom didn´t want him to play soccer and he then landed in the pool. That wasn´t the right fit for him either so he then moved to basketball. The love for basketball grew slowly, but it was there. He followed the Fraport Skyliners as a youth and had the opportunity to take part in the kids tunnel in the 2010-2011 season before a game. His zeal for the game continued to grow and he was fascinated by Fraport Skyliner lifer Quantez Robertson and 2011 BBL MVP Dashaun Wood. It was then time to find a club where he could grow as a player. He had began to play in Darmstadt, but the Fraport Skyliners was the best fit for him. Frankfurt wasn´t too far away from Darmstadt and the Skyliners organization was the only one in the area that had a BBL, Pro B, NBBL and JBBL team which obviously was very appealing to him. His first basketball success was being named to the German U-16 national team and then taking part at the 2017 JBBL(U-16) top 4 in Frankfurt. The club made a nice run, but couldn´t beat powerhouse Alba Berlin in the final which boasted current Michigan(NCAA) freshman Franz Wagner. “I remember the quarterfinals series against Ulm as being very tough. We won the first game, lost the second, but won the third game. I remember going into the semi final game against Tuebingen as having been very hyped on social media and we were never afraid of losing it. Alba Berlin had a deeper roster and played more as a team in the final. The season though had been a good one and been fun”, explained Maxi Begue. He played his first NBBL game at age 15 and averaged 4,0ppg, 4,4rpg and 1,6apg while being one of the vital players for his JBBL team. But he also made his debut for BBL farm team Fraport Skyliners Juniors at age 15 playing 3 minutes in a loss against the ScanPlus Baskets. “Eric Detlev was coach. I remember defending in the post and trying to use all my strength against my opponent, but it just wasn´t enough as he scored. I realized then that it was something totally different playing against men”, added Maxi Begue.
In the 2017-2018 season he made another step in his development playing a central role with NBBL team Eintracht Frankfurt/Fraport Skyliners averaging 10,0ppg and 5,3rpg while also getting into 4 Pro B games averaging 3,0ppg and 1,0rpg. He was able to make that jump in his game as a very young player at the NBBL level, because head coach Jan Eichenberger believed he could make an impact. “Coach Eichenberger gave me a lot of confidence and had trust in my abilities. I had the freedom to try out things on the court. Playing against a defensive team like Ludwigsburg also helped me, because I was able to see how the NBBL play was about. I also was allowed to play my game in situations where things weren´t going so well for the team”, added Maxi Begue. In the last years, he has also witnessed the good development from Len Schoormann, but one day will be able to tell his grand children that he was teammates with current Washington Wizard Isaac Bonga. However Bonga didn´t have a big effect on his game which is often the case when guys are around the same age. “We were in the same school called house of athletes, but to be honest we weren´t in so many practice groups together. I remember playing with him at the end of the 17-18 NBBL season and he always produced on the court. I wouldn´t call him a role model simply because we have different player profiles. I never really was aware of trying to pick up things from his game. I look more toward the older guys for inspiration”, stressed Maxi Begue.
Last season he continued to be extremely busy making new steps in his game as he got a bigger role with the Farm team Fraport Skyliners Juniors playing 24 games averaging 3.7ppg, 2.0rpg, 1.3apg,and also played:17 games with Eintracht Frankfurt_Fraport Skyliners averaging 14.3ppg, 7.3rpg, 2.9apg, 2.3spg, FGP: 54.3%, 3PT: 21.7%, FT: 72.7%. The German takes a lot of pride in getting better. He worked on his athleticism in the summer of 2018 and it paid off last season. “Important last season was that I got more playing time and was able to show my athleticism at a new level. I had more of an impact at the end of the season. It was a mental thing. I also made first strides with my shooting. I remember not taking as many pull up jumpers at the start of the season, but was taking a lot more at the end of the season”, stressed Maxi Begue. He also took part at the 2019 Addidas Next generation Tournament averaging: 7.5ppg, 7.8rpg, 3.5apg, 1.3spg, FGP: 34.6%, FT: 80.0%. He remembers it as being an Ok tournament, but not the best, but it was a good experience. “Playing at the ANGT is a lot different than playing a European Championships. You usually play with your team and it just feels more comfortable”, added Maxi Begue. His 2019 summer highlight was taking part at the European Championships. The U-18 team didn´t win a medal despite having a lot of talent with guys like Franz Wagner, Luc Von Slooten or Ariel Huckporti and underachieved. Begue was a starter and held his own averaging 7.6ppg, 3.4rpg, 2.3apg, 1.0spg, FGP: 43.3%, 3PT: 46.2%, FT: 69.2%. “I was really happy to play this tournament after missing the last two due to injury. I tried to play as well as I could and believe I was noticed with my defense and athleticism”, warned Maxi Begue.
This season Begue played his third full NBBL season and became a vital German player for the Pro B farm team. Unfortunately the Coronavirus ended his season abruptly as in the Pro B he averaged 6,4ppg, 4,3rpg and 1,6apg while in the NBBL he averaged 14,0ppg, 9,3rpg, 3,3apg and 1,3spg. He continued to work hard on his game and his goal is 100% of becoming a professional. He recently finished school in 12th grade where he enjoyed the subjects of English and sports the most. Currently he is enjoying an apprenticeship with the Fraport Skyliners where he is involved with the youth program. He is roommates with the other huge German talent on the squad Len Schoormann and one could imagine that there must be a huge competitiveness among them, but there isn´t. There is a lot of mutual respect for each other and Begue doesn´t see himself in his shadow. “We have known each other since playing on the U-14 team. We are good friends. It may look like I´m in his shadow, but I don´t see it that way. We are both happy for each other´s success on the court. It would be nice if we would both be teammates in the BBL with the Fraport Skyliners”, expressed Maxi Begue. You can´t compare them, because they are different players. Schoormann is smaller and agile while Begue is a modern player that can defend the 1-4 positions”, stressed Fraport Skyliner head coach Sebastian Gleim. Begue missed the first few months due to injury and his versatile play was dearly missed at the NBBL and Pro B level. Especially the Pro B team struggled on the defensive end as his defensive abilities were missing. The Pro B team finished the season in a bad manner missing the playoffs. He fills the stat sheet and is showing that he can be an important contributor at this level. “I have a lot more responsibility than last season and I feel the need to always have to prove myself against the older guys. My defensive game has more of an influence in the Pro B, because things don´t work as well on offense here than they do in the NBBL. You have to know that you have to set other priorities”, warned Maxi Begue. “.
Begue turned 19 on February 26 and his potential continues to be massive. Fraport Skyliners head coach Sebastian Gleim gleams when being able to describe the game of the German. “He has a stunning body. He is unbelievably athletic and has the potential to become a great defender. He has more assets than many players in Europe. He just needs to get more mature, grow up and just learn to become more of a professional”, warned Sebastian Gleim. His shooting continues to be a work in progress. His mid range game is nicely polished, but it is his three pointer that continues to need his utmost attention. He had it on at the 2019 European championships shooting at a clip of 46%, but this season has been struggling in the Pro B and NBBL, but with new mechanics, the potential is there for him to be able to take it with confidence soon. “My mechanics are different now. I have to give a lot of credit to Klaus Perwas. I worked on my shot with Perwas 3 weeks before the European Championships. During the season, it is more difficult to work on your shot consistently. You can concentrate better in practice on your shot while in games you can´t. You don´t know and focus as well in games on how the shot should look like. I try to take tips from many. I was told to keep my head more straight and shoot more out of the elbow. Sometimes when I´m working on my shot in the gym, my shot doesn´t feel the way it should and I don´t know what to do, but coach Perwas will see something from the office and come out and help me correct it”, added Maxi Begue. Sebastian Gleim has seen growth in the Begue´s shot. “His mechanics are better now, but it always depends how he will shoot in a game. Nowadays there is a lot more pressure on the players. It is a lot more difficult to get better. But there is a lot of hope. Alex King didn´t become a good shooter until later in his career”, added Sebastian Gleim. Even if his versatility may be his biggest strength, it is his defensive game that should get just as much credit. It is his strong body that allows him to be able to defend more positions and bigger players, but the club definitely doesn´t want him getting too big. Begue is in the weight room a lot, but the club isn´t focusing on making him too big, but being very mobile. Euroleague players and ex Fraport Skyliner players Johannes Voigtmann and Danilo Barthel aren´t huge players, but very mobile which they have been able to use to their advantage. The German continues to work on his ball handling and shot, but continues to have a lot of enthusiasm in being the best defender that he can possibly be. “You can always play defense and so much isn´t seen on the stat sheet. One can always impact a game and break an opponent whether it´s denying the pass or being a pest on the screen. For me it is especially always a big challenge defending against the player that is hyped. There aren´t many guys that are equally strong on offense and defense and I want to be that player that can do it at both ends”, warned Maxi Begue. Begue continues to be on a good way in his development and trying to reach his goal of becoming a professional. Offensively he has a nice versatile game while on the defensive side, he continues to be a very good player that can impact a game. Sky is the limit for Begue and who knows, he may go the same route that a Voitgmann, Barthel or Bonga went reaching the BBL via the Pro B with the Fraport Skyliners and grow into a top defensive player in Frankfurt the way Quantez Robertson has been the last decade
Courtney Belger is a 30 year old 187cm guard from St Louis that completed his seventh professional season and fourth with FC Schalke 04 (Germany-ProA) averaging 13,7ppg, ,4rpg,4,oapg and 1,6spg. Last season with Schalke he averaged 15,0ppg, 4,3rpg and 5,0apg Two seasons ago with FC Schalke he played 25 games averaging 16.5ppg, 5.4rpg, 5.2apg, 1.5spg, FGP: 53.5%, 3PT: 22.4%, FT: 78.9%. In 2015-2016 he played with the Itzehoe Eagles (Germany-ProB) playing 24 games averaging 12.6ppg, 5.3rpg, 4.5apg, 1.7spg, FGP: 46.0%, 3PT: 20.0%, FT: 65.6% and Kalamunda Eastern Suns (Australia-SBL) playing 14 games averaging 21.1ppg, 6.3rpg, 4.1apg, Steals-4 (3.1spg), FGP: 49.0%, 3PT: 22.4%, FT: 80.8%. He played his first two professional seasons with TV Ibbenbuehren (Germany-Regionalliga). He started his basketball career at Quincy (NCAA2) in 2008 where he played until 2012 playing a total of 113 NCAA 2 games. As a senior he played 27 games averaging 11.3ppg, 5.2rpg, 3.9apg, 1.8spg, FGP: 47.8%, 3PT: 10.5%, FT: 72.0%. He spoke to germanhoops.com during the coronavirus crisis.
Hi Courtney where are you at the moment and how is your current mood despite the world turmoil at the moment because of the out break of the Corona Virus? Hey what’s up Miles. I am currently in my wife’s hometown in Camp Point, Illinois. Everybody pretty much has to stay at home orders because of the virus but for me it’s not really that bad at all. Normally I’m away from my wife for 9 months while we’re both playing so the extra time together has been amazing for me personally in this tough time for others.
When you first heard about the Corona Virus did you ever think that it could have such an effect on the world? When I first heard about the Coronavirus I definitely didn’t think it would bring the world to a complete stop like it has. I wasn’t taking it so serious at first.
How did you experience the day to day life in Gelsenkirchen when you were still in Germany? What things did you notice in the surroundings there that showed that life wasn’t normal? My overall day to day didn’t change too much until they told us we couldn’t workout in the basketball gyms or lift weights. Once those two were canceled I was eager to hear what the decision would be with us staying or going home. My last couple days in Gelsenkirchen some of my favorite restaurants were closed and that was very disappointing because I love to eat lol.
Did you become more aware about how you handle yourself in public in terms of shaking hands and not being in the line of fire with somebody coughing The Coronavirus made us all aware of making sure we were taking our hygiene serious and not touching unnecessary things. Coughing was definitely a no fly zone for us. If somebody started coughing the interaction was finished lol.
Basketball leagues have shut down all over Europe including the Pro A. How disappointed were you about this and not being able to finish the season? The ending of our league was bitter sweet. It made sense obviously in order to keep people safe and like I mentioned earlier, I was able to see my family earlier than ever in my whole career. The negative side to the season ending earlier was I was starting to play my best basketball and wanted to see what that looked like. Everything was starting to click.
Before leagues were shut down there was a BCL game in Bonn against AEK Athens and a Fiba Europe Cup game in Bayreuth without spectators. What is your overall opinion of playing a game without fans? I don’t really have an overall opinion on playing a game with or without fans. We also played our last game in an empty gym and it felt like all the other games for me. I started in Regionalliga 2. There weren’t many people in the crowd watching us play back then.
What have you learned about these tough times that has made you stronger as a person?
The main thing I have learned about these tough times are to take nothing for granted. Your profession, your family, even your time on this earth could all be taken away from you in a blink of an eye.
Will it be a big adjustment having to start 3 months earlier with workouts and basketball skill development? What will be the advantages and disadvantages of this? I think having three more months to train and workout will not be an adjustment for me this off season at all. Last year I played injured and couldn’t even dunk. During the summer I would have to shorten workouts to try and be ready when the season came. I got fully healthy in August. This summer is one I’ve been looking forward to because I was actually able to get healthier throughout the season. I’ll take my month off of just stretching and mobility and then get to work like always. Next year will be a good one for me I’m sure.
The whole world economy is going to be affected including German basketball. How worried are you about the future of professional basketball. The next season will have many changes. How are you handling this mentally now not knowing what to expect? I’m not too worried about the future of professional basketball. I think things will recover eventually. When it’s time for me to play I’ll be ready. I’m not going to stress this summer. I will pray, workout, and chill with wifey for as long as I can at home.
If you had to name another player besides guys from the team that you have been in most contact via Social Media who would it be? I have been in Germany since 2013. I’m talking to everybody. Niclas Sperber, Demetrius Ward, Pierre Bland, Adrian Breitlauch, Roland Nyama, Kris Davis, Josh Braun, etc. I get bored in Europe and connect with everybody. I normally hate them the first time we play though lol.
How has the day to day life been now in the States with the outbreak of the Coronavirus? Have you noticed any differences and are there any differences between the Americans and German people on how they are coping and handling themselves? My day to day life has been great since I have been back in the states. I self quarantined with my mom and lil brother for the first week. After that my wife and I moved into our place and have been watching Netflix and doing home workouts all day lol. Perfect way to spend my first weeks back. The main difference I have noticed between how Germany and America has responded to the Coronavirus is the types of clothing being worn. Americans wear gloves and masks, but in Germany I was seeing full call of duty outfits lol.
How has your approach to family changed since the outbreak of Corona? What things have you seen yourself do that you may not have done before? My approach to family has changed because of the Coronavirus for the better. I make sure to try and communicate and spend time with my family. I try to be around more when I can be as well as interact more with my little brother. I want to really put more of an impact into his childhood.
Let’s talk about the season with FC Schalke. It was your fourth season with the club. Last season you helped lead the team to a 14th place and this season to a 16th place. Because of the season ending abruptly and it not being able to be completed there will be no teams going to Pro B which might have been the fate. How do you summarize this season with how the season ended? The season ending abruptly was the perfect ending to a very strange season. We started out with injuries, had more injuries in the middle of the season, players in and out, and a coaching change. When I sit back and look at how the year went, it almost makes sense that we wouldn’t be able to finish the year smh.
Talent wise was there much difference between the two teams in the last two seasons? How disappointed are you with the season and do you put some blame on yourself as point guard? The talent on our team this year was similar to the talent we had last year. It might have been better actually, even though we finished in a lower position. We lost a lot of games by 2-4 points, so we weren’t really as bad as the record seemed. Obviously I take some responsibility for us being in the bottom two positions in the league. We had a coaching change in December and I played terrible for five games straight. I think I couldn’t get my mind right, because I came back to finish out Raffi’s last year. I had to get back to enjoying the game and having fun. If I didn’t have that five game mishap I think we would have been fine. I finally started playing better again, but we were learning a new style of basketball. There was a learning curve that we needed to catch up to. The other teams in the league had been playing the same style and with each other since August. We were basically learning on the fly the second half of the year.
The team scored 77 points and allowed 82 points per game. The club allowed 80 points or more 17 times. It was strange at times, because the team knew how to defend once allowing Artland to only 46 points and early in the season in December had 5 games in a row allowing under 80 points. Was the consistent effort missing? After we changed coaches a lot of our focus went to fixing our offensive struggles. We didn’t really focus on defense that much anymore. We would like to think it wouldn’t affect our defense much but it seems like it did. Towards the end of the season we started to put more energy into our defense again and I think we made a step.
Let’s talk about your teammates. How much fun was it playing with new guard Tucker Haymond. He had to pay his dues in the Pro B last season which led to the scoring crown and came on board late and demonstrated in 5 games that he can be a very good Pro A player. Do you feel like the club would have had a different season had he been on board from the start? I had a good time playing with Tucker. He takes the grind serious and puts a lot of energy and effort into his game. It was nice to be around that type of work ethic. I think we would have been okay with having all of our players there the whole time. While we were waiting on Tucker to be able to play, Jordan was already gone. We missed another playmaker during that time.
What did you learn to appreciate the most about German big man Adam Touray? He had his third excellent Pro A year in a row. Do you see him being a bit off the BBL radar and how did he make another step as a player?
I actually have been playing against Adam since his Regionalliga days. I have seen his progression each year. I enjoyed how active Adam was around the rim on offense and defense this year. We had a lot of nice connections on the pick and roll. He made me look good lol. I think a team with a good playmaker would be perfect for Adam in the BBL. He probably would actually look even better than he did in Pro A. If you get him in position he’ll take care of the rest.
It was your second season playing with Shavar Newkirk. In our last interview you stated this about him ‘He’s a competitor and pushed me to really become younger and meaner again haha. He was killing me in practices with his speed and anticipation. I had to work hard to take that away with just being mean and more physical. Loved practicing with var. The thing I liked the most about watching his development was how he started to get comfortable with interacting with the coaches’. How do you feel did he make another step in his development? I enjoyed having Shavar on our team this year and feel like we became closer on the court. This year Shavar took a step in being more vocal and being able to interact with coaches and players. We started to workout more towards the later part of the year. I feel like Shavar learned what it takes to be a professional this year and will have a promising career.
If you had to pick one guy that improved the most in the time with you were with the FC Schalke organization who would it have been? If I had to pick one guy who improved the most throughout my time at Schalke I think it’s a pretty easy choice. With Leon winning the most improved player award this year I think that speaks for itself. My dark horse would be Nic Sperber from Karlsruhe though. He had some solid games for them when he was able to start and get minutes.
Let’s talk about your game. You played another solid Pro A season your second with FC Schalke averaging 13.7ppg, 4.4rpg, 4.0apg, 1.6spg, FGP: 48.2%, 3PT: 26.3%, FT: 77.0%. How content were you with your game this season? This season I was okay with how I played. I’m Pretty sure I can do 15 5 and 5 anywhere I play. Without those five games or with the last five I think I would have averaged my normal. My normal hasn’t been good enough the last couple years so we need to figure something else out for this next year.
In our last interview you stated that ‘I’m happy to be an impact player in Pro A, because everybody in Germany said I couldn’t go to Pro A from second Regionalliga’. You had another solid season in the Pro A and have proved for good that you can stay. Is being consistent at least something positive that you can take form this season concerning your game? I think that showing my consistency was definitely a positive that I can take away from this season. I don’t feel like it’s doubts or anything like that anymore as far as me being able to play in Pro A.
In our last interview you stated this about your first Pro A season. ‘I think my game developed further this season through trying to extend plays more and trusting in my own abilities. I learned that there are a lot more executions off of a pick and roll and that you need to play at your own pace. Pace is everything. You have to be able to change it and control other’s pace when you want to’. How do you feel did your game take another step in your second Pro A season besides getting extended valuable experience?
I think that I gained more confidence in abilities this year. I was also understanding coverages and tendencies a lot quicker. Towards the end of the year I was able to take what the defense was giving me. I have never been able to score 20 plus points with only one lay up made in the game ever. I just feel like my game has finally matured. It’s been fun to play basketball and grow in the point guard. position
What is the next step for you? Obviously much will change the next season with teams having possibly lower budgets. I think this would make it even tougher for you to play in the BBL, but I would really love to see you get a shot somewhere or is the Pro A the best safest option?
To be honest with you Miles I’m tired of playing it safe. I would love to have an opportunity to fight for a position on a BBL team. I feel healthy and like I’m ready. If somebody gives me a call I’ll be ready.
Who was the toughest player that you battled in the Pro A this season? DaJuan Graf
Luka Doncic had an amazing sophomore campaign. Is he a top 3 NBA player now?
Where were you when you heard about the death of Kobe Bryant. What kind of influence did he have on you during adolescence?
When we heard the news about Kobe we were eating at the Chinese buffet in Essen as a team. We didn’t believe it at first. Kobe has always played a big part in how I approach the game of basketball. ‘Rest at the end and not in the middle’, doing blackouts instead of workouts, and getting into that mamba mentality no excuses mindset has always been the way I approached my work ethic.
How bitter is it that the NCAA March Madness has been canceled? This tournament for some kids is the greatest time of their lives. What advice would you give that senior who worked hard for 4 years and would have had his one and only chance now? I would advise all seniors to leave the house when corona is over and get in front of some decision makers. Coaches and GM’s always prefer to see players in front of them instead of on paper. Stay proactive and keep persevering until you get that one yes. All it takes is one.
Kaza Kajami-Keane is a 26 year old 185cm point guard from Ajax, Ontario Canada that played his third professional season and first with the Syntanics MBC playing 19 games averaging 15.2ppg, 2.7rpg, 5.3apg, 1.5spg, FGP: 55.1%, 3PT: 38.5%, FT: 82.9%. Last season he played with Landstede Basketbal Zwolle (Holland-Eredivisie) playing 45 games: Score-2 (18.4ppg), 5.6rpg, 4.6apg, Steals-2 (2.7spg), FGP: 56.0%, 3PT: 32.9%, FT: 81.5%. As a rookie he played with the Raptors 905 Missisauga (NBA G League) playing 47 games averaging 6.3ppg, 2.3rpg, 4.2apg, FGP: 44.9%, 3PT: 24.0%, FT: 81.2%. He began his basketball career at Pickering High School and he also played a year at the Christian Faith Center Academy: 18ppg, 11apg. He then played two seasons at Illinois State (NCAA) and a season at Cleveland State (NCAA) before finishing at top Canadian basketball institution Carleton University (CIS) where as a senior he played 23 games averaging 15.7ppg, 4.5rpg, Assists-1 (5.7apg), 1.1spg, FGP: 56.7%, 3PT: 35.3%, FT: 76.5%.
Due to the abundance of interviews that germanhoops.com does this one with Kaza Kajami-Keane was lost, but found again. German Hoops spoke to the Canadian about his basketball career before the start of the 2019-2020 season.
Kaza thanks for talking to germanhoops.com After playing in the G-League and Holland, you are playing your third professional season in Germany with the Syntainics MBC. How excited are you about this opportunity? Kaza Keane – I think this is a great opportunity for me . The team is well coached, and the fan base I hear is one of a kind. I am excited to get to Germany and showcase my talent. It is a well respected league and I am eager to compete with the best of them on a daily basis.
What do you know in general about Germany and it’s basketball? Did you get some tips from your Canadian national team teammates the Scrubb brothers? Kaza Keane – I have heard outstanding things about Germany. Heard the people are nice, and that the cities are beautiful to visit. The way everyone talks about the level of basketball is always something that is motivating. I am excited to be apart of it.
You had a very strong season in Holland. Was the appeal of the competitive easyCredit league one that was too big to pass up? Kaza Keane – I think just as a group we felt as though this move was best. It allows me to play in a better league, but also the way the coach told me had a good role for me with MBC I didn’t want to pass that situation up. I feel as though for me to continue to improve it was important for me to take that next step in my career, therefore we went with MBC because we felt as though they had the best plan for me to succeed as well as the team.
The club is very high on your abilities. What was the deciding factor that helped you chose MBC for your new team? Kaza Keane – They reached out to me very early in the process which was something I liked. It also was the plan in which they wanted to play is similar to the way I play, as well as the role they want me to have was something I felt suited my game. They also have a goal they want to achieve so being able to be a part of that was very important to me, it allows me to be put in a situation where there is a growth mindset and that is all I can ask for.
You will be sharing the point guard duties with talented Jovan Novak. You two belong to the best import duo in the league. How excited are you to be able to play with this very talented player? Kaza Keane – I have heard great things about Jovan, and I am thrilled he is on my team. I am looking forward to working with him and all my other teammates. I think we all have a lot to prove before taking that kind of title for such a great league. It will take us developing as a team daily, which then hopefully can put us in a position to win games. Winning at the end of the day is the main goal, and that is why I feel both of us decided to play with MBC .
Let’s talk about your game. You’re a point guard that can score at ease as well as find your teammates. If you had to compare your game to an NBA player who would best fit the description? Kaza Keane – Growing up I would watch a lot of Steve Nash, especially being a Canadian player he was the one many of us strived to become. Therefore, I would incorporate the way he read the game and how he would pass into my game. While that was the case for passing, when it comes to scoring the ball I really enjoy watching Damian Lillard. The way he moves off the ball, and how he can score in many facets is something I always felt was important to have in my game. Lastly, I try to be as best a defender as I can be by watching guys like Patrick Beverly and smaller guards. I wouldn’t compare myself to one player directly, but rather I try to gain things from as many players as I can.
You have averaged double figures in scoring in the CIS and in Holland and led the CIS in assists once and was also third best passer in the Canadian college league. Despite your ability to score in many ways, would you still consider yourself a pass first guard? Kaza Keane – It is actually interesting because growing up I really didn’t score the ball nearly as much, since I had many high level teammates around me. As I got older though I realized to expand my game I needed to be able to score the ball more consistently which would allowed me to be a more consistent threat. So I don’t know if any more I would consider myself a pass first point guard or even a scoring point guard. I just try my best to make the correct read offensively every time I can. If that means I need to make a pass, or even a hockey assists I would do that or if it requires me to score I do that. I more think I try to just be a lead guard.
You are a very good finisher and good playmaker. What other strengths does your game possess that makes you the player that you are? Kaza Keane.- I honestly think I just try and study the game as much as I can. I really enjoy playing basketball and dissecting the game. Majority of the time I am not playing, I am watching it somehow. I watch majority of the leagues across the world just to pick up little things that may vary from player to player and team to team. So I would say a strength for me is the way I can read the game and see the floor. I was very well coached in university at Carleton, therefore I try to incorporate the reads and way they taught me to see the floor in my professional game as well.
Your three pointer continues to be a work in progress. You have been up and down in the last years, but shot the ball better last season after shooting only 24% in the G-League. What are your long term goals in becoming a consistent three point shooter Kaza Keane – Shooting is something I feel a lot of it has to do with repetition. The more I shoot on my own and work with my coaches the more I continue to develop. Last year, I was able to work and shoot a lot of shots on my own that were then translated to the game which allowed me to see great results. I think with me shooting is more a mindset. I need to continue to develop, rather more than a mechanics or even ability thing. You are also a very good defender with quick hands. How has your defensive play developed further as a professional player and on what area’s of your defensive play do you work on now so you can continue to get even better? Kaza Keane – I think defensively my mindset was instilled at Carleton and as I moved through to the professionals I was also lucky to be gifted great defensive coaches as well. In the G-League I played on a very good defensive team as well as last year as well. When your team is great defensively it makes it a lot easier for individuals to thrive defensively because you understand you have great pack line defense behind you, length behind you and good rotations that follow. This kind of allowed me to excel more defensively because I knew I had great teammates that aided me . You’re a player that can do many things well at both ends of the court, but what do you feel is still a hidden strength in your game that seems off the radar of most? Kaza Keane – I think that my off the ball defense has improved tremendously. I am understanding more how to be a better off ball defender, which then allows my teammates to be better on the ball defenders. I think this is something that gets overlooked at times, but rightfully so. I am not the most athletic nor the tallest therefore when I do get in the gaps defensively or anything of this sort it is not as noticeable. I think I still have a long ways to go but it something that I feel gets looked over a lot. Last season you played with Landstede Basketbal Zwolle (Holland-Eredivisie) playing 45 games: Score-2 (18.4ppg), 5.6rpg, 4.6apg, Steals-2 (2.7spg), FGP: 56.0%, 3PT: 32.9%, FT: 81.5%. After winning two CIS titles with Carleton, you won your first professional title with Zwolle. You beat favorite and top team Groningen in six games. How do you feel did your game grow that season especially your leadership qualities? Kaza Keane- Landstede did a great job by allowing me to play my game and gave me the opportunity to make mistakes while playing through them. This is something I am very grateful for ! My teammates from top to bottom were all fantastic people and really helped me step outside my comfort zone. They made me lead in a different way then I was used to but it worked out in the end which I am really excited for. The coaching staff worked with me consistently on my shooting, passing, and decision making daily. They really saw a lot in me which pushed me to want to be more successful for the organization daily. I am forever grateful to them.
In the last 4 playoff final games against Groningen you shot an amazing 14/26 from outside. Was this the best that you shot the ball in your career and how confident are you now as a shooter?
Kaza Keane – At Carleton I shot around 38 percent from the three point line, which was probably the best statistic year. I think last year in the playoffs it was great that I continued to workout and shoot as much as possible with the coaches. This allowed me to go into every game confident knowing that I put the work in prior, therefore I knew I had shot these shots many times before. They all felt good throughout the playoffs and it went in our favour luckily. I am very confident shooting the ball right now. This summer I worked on shooting more on the move and specific shots but I feel going into the season that I am shooting the ball well. As a rookie you played with the Raptors 905 Missisauga (NBA G League) playing 47 games averaging 6.3ppg, 2.3rpg, 4.2apg, FGP: 44.9%, 3PT: 24.0%, FT: 81.2%. What was your wake up call to playing in the G-League where you knew that the whole NBA process is a business? Kaza Keane – I really enjoyed my time in the G-LEAGUE. It allowed me to transition into the professional ranks smoothly, where I wasn’t as far from home and family. I also got to work consistently with my assistant coach Nathaniel Mitchell, and I feel this allowed my game to develop at an alarming rate. The G League allowed me to see the business aspect of professional basketball, but it was all worth it . I learned more than I expected that year and it allowed me to change completely as a person and a basketball player.
You had some very good games in the G league, but in order to really make a big impression you need many minutes, but averaged only 18 minutes per game. What was your summary of the G-league season and do you feel like had you had 30 plus minutes that your career might have gone differently? Kaza Keane- I think with more opportunity a lot of basketball players would put themselves in a better situation. It was very hard for me though because I was a rooking playing behind the MVP of the entire league. So rightfully so I probably wasn’t going to play as much minutes as may have wanted. The year though was still one I would not change, it definitely made me a better basketball player which is all I can ask for, especially in my first year You have played for the Canadian national team under head coach Gordon Herbert and he is really high on your game. What did you learn to appreciate most about his coaching in the time that you spent with him? Kaza Keane- I really liked playing for Gordie. He reminded me a lot of my coach in university Dave Smart. He was very detailed in the way in which he wanted to play, he was thorough in the way he directed us and at the end of the day he allowed us to still play freely. The way he incorporates middle ball screens offensively was also something I liked because I feel as though playing through a ball screen is a way in which I can excel, therefore knowing he was putting me into position to excel was something I enjoyed. You played your first two NCAA seasons with Illinois State playing 63 NCAA games and never averaging more than 2,7ppg and your minutes got shaved down from 18 to 12 in your sophomore season. How tough was it playing there and do you feel lie you got a fair chance? Kaza Keane – It was tough at times, but I wouldn’t trade any of that time. I still love everyone from ISU and would never say anything poorly about that program. At the end of the day it is a performance-based business we play in, therefore if you don’t perform well you will lose your opportunity. I wasn’t performing to the capabilities they felt was necessary and we decided to go in different directions. It worked out great for them they got some amazing talent and went on to do great things! I moved on and went on to do great things with my university Carleton. I think sometimes the timing is not right and that the fit is not the greatest, but it is still a learning experience, that was the case with ISU. I am still thrilled I went there for my 2 years though because it allowed me to be shaped into the person I am now.
In your second season your teammate was point guard Paris Lee who you will face this season in the BBL. Is Bamberg one of the teams that you have marked in your calendar? Kaza Keane – I am looking forward to playing all 17 other teams in the league ! I am happy for Paris and look forward to seeing him succeed in the league.
You then played a season with Cleveland State (NCAA) playing 34 games averaging 4.4ppg, 1.9rpg, 2.1apg, 1.0spg. There you averaged 20 minutes per game, but weren’t a real offensive factor. Despite not having more of a role, were you able to gain something valuable from this year? Kaza Keane – I actually learned at Cleveland State how to be a better on ball defender actually. They would dedicate me to guard the best guards on the other teams. This was something I took pride in and would go into games attempting my best to guard them. This was something I took great pride in. I think CSU, allowed me to understand you can make an impact on the game by not just putting the ball through the basket but rather by doing the little things that mean so much. You then moved to Carleton University (CIS, starting five) averaging 12.7ppg, 4.1rpg, Assists-3 (6.4apg), 1.4spg, FGP: 49.5%, 3PT: 28.4%, FT: 79.2% and 15.7ppg, 4.5rpg, Assists-1 (5.7apg), 1.1spg, FGP: 56.7%, 3PT: 35.3%, FT: 76.5%. Here you averaged 29 minutes your first season and 26 minutes your second season. How do you feel did your game develop further here? Kaza Keane – If it was not for Carleton University I probably would not be playing basketball anymore. This is where I learned how to play basketball. They broke the game down and opened my eyes to the right way to play. I am always grateful and thankful that I decided to finally come back home and play at Carleton. You had two good games against Ryerson and Calgary in winning the CIS titles in both seasons. Which title was the sweetest? Kaza Keane- I would say winning the first championship was better for me. Many people doubted that we could win since we lost Phil and Tommy the year prior. We also didn’t really have any returners that had much experience. We didn’t have Dave Smart as our coach either, which kind of made everyone on the outside feel as though we had no chance of winning. While that was the case, we came together and formed a bond between the team that was irreplaceable and that we still have to this day.
How did head coach Dave Smart groom and prepare you best for a professional basketball career? Kaza Keane – Dave is the best coach I have ever had. He broke down the game of basketball for me and allowed me to see it in a different way. He really is a basketball genius. I think he constantly prepares us to see the game in a higher light, as well as understand how to give ourselves advantages every time we step on the floor. I am extremely glad he was able to coach me. Who won a one on one in practice you or Connor Wood? There were a ton of these games ! So I couldn’t really give you a definitive answer but saying that I would have to say myself. At Carleton we all had some very tough battles, everyone really took pride in wanting to be the best and compete. Who has been the toughest player that you battled in the NCAA that is in the NBA or in Europe? Kaza Keane – I would have to say the best player played against in the NCAA was Malcolm Brogdon. He played at very smooth pace and allowed the game to come to him in a sense. He has gone on since then to play some really good basketball in the NBA, even to the point that he has been named Rookie Of The Year in a pretty good draft class.
Please list your five best teammates of all-time? If we are talking the most talented teammates I would go with 1.Andrew Wiggins (Canadian Junior National Team) 2.Tristan Thompson (Canadian National Team) 3.Pascal Siakam (Summer Circuit Basketball) 4.Kelly Olynyk (Canadian National Team) 5.Cory Joseph ( Canadian National Team)
My favourite teammates of all- time 2.Gavin Resch ( Carleton University) 3.Ryan Ejim (Carleton University) 4.Sherron Dorsey- Walker (Landstede Basketball) 5.Guillaume Payen – Boucard/ Joe Rocca (Carleton Basketball) 1.James Owusu (Carleton University
Please name your personal own NBA Rushmore. Which four heads would you pick past or present for your list? 1.Micheal Jordan 2.Lebron James 3.Wilt Chamberlain 4.Kobe Bryant Honourable Mention: Mike Bibby What is your personal opinion of the never ending debate of who is the greatest of all-time Michael Jordan or Lebron James? Kaza Keane – I honestly didn’t get much time to see Michael Jordan play, especially not in his prime but from when I look back and watch how he moved and the way he dissecting defenses it is hard for me not to look at him as the best ever to play the game. Also just the way he changed the game is something I think we all have accumulated to, he made the game a more global game as well as added his own flair to it. That being said, Lebron James is not far behind and I think if he is able to win a championship in LA, or even a couple now with Anthony Davis then he can come and take that crown.
What was the last movie that you saw? Kaza Keane – The last movie I watched actually was Rush Hour. When we were traveling to Australia for some exhibition games with the national team, the last movie I watched and I watched a ton of movies on that long flight, was Rush Hour. It actually is one of my favourite movies! I love Chris Tucker, he is very funny.
Tyseem Lyles is a 188cm guard from Brooklyn, New York that recently finished his second professional season and second with Eimsbuetteler TV Hamburg (Germany-Regionalliga) playing 20 games: averaging 25.8ppg, 6.5rpg, 4.4apg, Steals-3 (3.1spg), FGP: 48.7%, 3PT: 40.0%, FT: 75.8%. In his rookie season with Eimsbuetteler TV Hamburg (Germany-Regionalliga) he played 25 games: Score-averaging 24.3ppg, 6.6rpg, 3.8apg, 2.5spg, FGP: 46.7%, 3PT: 36.2%, FT: 79.1%. He began his basketball career at Tompkins Cortland Community College and in 2014-2015 moved to Mercy College (NCAA2) averaging 18.1ppg, 4.0rpg, 2.1apg, 2.4spg, FGP: 44.4%, 3PT: 41.4%, FT: 86.2%. In his last season at Mercy College (NCAA2) he played 28 games averaging 13.6ppg, 5.5rpg, 1.8apg, 1.3spg, FGP: 39.5%, 3PT: 30.1%, FT: 84.8%. He spoke to germanhoops.com during the coronavirus crisis.
Hi Tyseem where are you at the moment and how is your current mood despite the world turmoil at the moment because of the out break of the Corona Virus?
Hi, currently I am back home with my family in Brooklyn, New York and we are all doing well, thankfully. My mood is steadily set on being thankful because I am being able to spend so much time with my family. Moments I am experiencing right now with my family gets lost due to the fact that I am always away from them playing basketball straight from college until now. But oftentimes my mood switches to those who have lost someone they love, a job, or time from being sick with COVID 19. I look forward to powering through this situation by continuing to stay productive, visualizing my path and also continue to build up whomever I come across. So I think it is safe to say I am still motivated, especially since this is a great time to learn.
When you first heard about the Corona Virus did you ever think that it could have such an effect on the world?
When I first heard about the Corona Virus, I most definitely was among the people who thought this situation would not be where it is today. Only because the solutions to stop the spread seemed simple enough, which were, and still should be: washing your hands, showering, and covering your mouth with your arm when you have to cough or sneeze.
How did you experience the day to day life in Elmsbuettel when you were still in Germany? What things did you notice in the surroundings there that showed that life wasn’t normal?
The day-to-day life in Eimsbuettel was no different to my life than when I was working with kids throughout the 5 boroughs in New York as my day job while also working out before and after work: simply being productive. Whether I am at home or away, the focus never changes because I am on a mission to make my dreams come true. For me that means being in the weight room, the gym, meal prepping, getting extra shots in the gym whenever I can, recovery time and working at whatever job I have outside of basketball. So this is what my routine was like in Germany, but the difference in Germany is that I did not return home until after midnight every night – late nights and early mornings because the only time we had free gym space to shoot was after practice. I noticed quickly I was no longer in the states just by the architecture of the buildings and churches that resemble small castles.
Did you become more aware about how you handle yourself in public in terms of shaking hands and not being in the line of fire with somebody coughing
My parents always told and showed me the importance of practicing very good hygiene so they would not have to worry about me as I got older. The only thing that was new to me was remembering to avoid touching my face. Luckily, I haven’t ever been in the line of fire with someone coughing.
Basketball leagues have shut down all over Europe including the Pro A. How disappointed were you about this and not being able to finish the season?
At first, I was distraught that all of the basketball leagues had been shut down. I looked forward to earning the rest of those games so no one could say anything was given to us. Eventually, I accepted that we worked hard but, due to the circumstances, it became smart to now prepare for the future and not dwell on the things I can not control.
Before leagues were shut down there was a BCL game in Bonn against AEK Athens and a Fiba Europe Cup game in Bayreuth without spectators. What is your overall opinion of playing a game without fans?
I think that was very noble of those organizations to still give the fans a game before everything became even more problematic. Overall I think it was a cool idea because we all know the fans of the game make it even more exciting. As a player, of course I’d love to play a game including the fans but, if my only option was to play without them because of the situation, of course I will be okay with it. I am a competitor that wants to win so I will give it everything I have either way.
What have you learned about these tough times that has made you stronger as a person?
I do not like the term ‘tough times.’ I prefer ‘character-building moments’ only because, to me, one is associated with bad moments of your life you want to forget while the other is about embracing those moments since it is a moment for you to become a better version of you. But only if you are able to use these moments for you and not look at them as pieces moving against you. In these moments, I have learned how to develop patience with myself and others. I have also learned how to communicate in a more effective manner and, most importantly, I learned what it really means to when its you versus you. It was like flipping on a switch once it became clearer to me that I have been getting in my own way the entire time. These moments remind myself that nothing can break me.
How has the adjustment period been for you being back in the States. It seems like there are reports that not all are taking the Coronavirus as seriously. How have you seen this where your at now?
The adjustment period from Germany back to Brooklyn was very easy. I am mostly at home helping in every way that I can. My father is the only one in my household that has to go out because of work. So, from his perspective, the majority of people are taking the necessary steps to being a part of the solution. For example, folks wearing face and gloves in public and on public transportation. When I go to the store or anyplace nearby, I also see people outside and in stores with the same accessories.
Will it be a big adjustment having to start 3 months earlier with workouts and basketball skill development? What will be the advantages and disadvantages of this?
This sounds exciting to me to start 3 months earlier and I am so ready to take advantage of this time to get better. I am also making sure I am in shape so when time comes, I can hit the ground running instead of just easing into things. The advantage of this is more time to review old film and really pick apart the way you play. It is also a great time to study other players you like, and find out more about new and other players. The disadvantage to this is not knowing exactly when things will turn to normal, or what the new ‘normal’ will be. All of the summer plans you could’ve made to meet and network with other players to learn from may not happen. But I like to see the glass as half full, so I see a lot of opportunity right now.
The whole world economy is going to be affected including German basketball. How worried are you about the future of professional basketball. The next season will have many changes. How are you handling this mentally now not knowing what to expect?
I am not really worried. I know basketball will return eventually; it may not be with a lot of fans which makes the game a lot of fun, but for the safety of others, I am okay with those changes. I will just have to let things run its course. In the meantime, I am making sure I exercise daily, read, stretch and other things that can keep me on the path of going upward.
If you had to name another player besides guys from the Eimsbuettel that you have been in most contact via Social Media who would it be?
I know the question asked for one other player but three people come to mind because I have spent a lot of time with them in the gym, playing against them and playing on the same team with them: KhuVon Daniel, Isaiah Johnson, and Phil Carr – all three play basketball professionally. KhuVon plays on a professional team in New York, Isaiah and Phil just finished playing for Iskra Svit in Slovakia. All season long I stayed in contact with them and we were constantly challenging each other to be better.
Before we get to your current season, you didn’t come overseas until 2018. What did you do between 2016-2018?
In that time I was traveling with news release from July – August summer 2016. When i returned home I hired a trainer who became family during this whole time I didn’t get signed his name is Antwone Stanley. He helped me stay ready. So from August – January I worked as a overnight janitor and worked out during the days and early mornings with my trainer and sometimes with Tippy. In January2017 I went to Mexico to play in a professional tournament to get film with my friend Roman Perez. He just walked up to me while I was in the gym shooting after watching me for days and said ‘hey would you be interested in going to Mexico with me to get a chance at a professional career’ that day changed my life, he had given me plenty more opportunities after this day. He is now my brother. I came back home in February. Got a job working with kids at ‘Kids in The Game’ and continued to workout and play in tournaments from February – July. Then I went to Dominican Republic on a tour to try and get signed I didn’t get signed. I stayed with my friend Roman on his couch. In this house it was me Solomon who is a professional trainer now and former Glob Trotter. Vernon Goodridge who played for the warriors. All these guys were awesome and encouraging. It was great to learn from them, talk with them, and workout with them. I ended up not getting signed but learned a lot. I flew right to Mexico from there because I was talking to a few people and became connected. I stayed in Mexico from August until 2018February. Getting film and playing for money all across Mexico in underground tournaments. I then returned home because my dream wasn’t there and I didn’t see really enjoy the lifestyle it took for me to only get a taste of what I wanted. I worked out every single day with my good friend Iven, shooting and weight lifting no days off. But every gym we played in our tournament was outside or just had bad floors. It took a lot on my body. But it was important for me to be strong and ready for that type of basketball. The culture in Mexico is beautiful. But I went home not sure of what to do next but was satisfied with all the film I collected, experiences and new friendships. I started working for Nike events here and there while also working for Kids in the Game. I decided this time that if when I got home if I didn’t get a contract I would start to focus on my life. Getting an apartment in NY and put my drive toward working with making other people better. But I continued surfing social media to see where another opportunity might be. I found a few showcases and ended up being able to go to one in Las Vegas. This is when I met Drew Hanlen. I never was in front of someone in person who I considered a genius when it came to details of working out. This was a great experience especially against other top tier players with better resumes than me. I was very highly complemented on my game by the men running Pure Sweat in Las Vegas summer of 2018. But it wasn’t enough because I didn’t get any looks from any teams. I flew back to NY prepared to give it up and focus on working since it was almost late in July at this point. But then I got a phone call from Steve Sorensen of News Release Basketball. This man is the reason I am playing in Europe. He made it happen that I was on the plane to go to Europe to help with NRB camps. Without him doing that for me I would not be here with this Team. I flew to Europe originally to help kids in sports camps throughout Europe along with others and share my story of why I believe in GOD. It was always a great time and a lot of smiles from all the kids. I never seen myself as someone who gets attached pretty quickly but working with the kids, I proved myself wrong. All of this with Steve and NRB is how I played a practice game against ETV and got signed twos after.
Lets talk about your season with Eimsbuettler Hamburg. You finished your second season there helping the team in their first season to a 11th place and this season winning the Regionalliga North with a 19-1. How proud have you been with the rapid rise of this club that was only in the Regionalliga 2 two years ago and 4 years ago in the Oberliga.
I am overly excited that we have made so much progress in such a short time because it was all hard work from beginning to end, every practice and every game. It was exciting to be a part of though I have only been with the club for these last two years. From the coaches all the way to the fans and people who helped set up the home games, I hope they are feeling of the joy I feel because they are special to us and just as much a part of the wins. It also makes it fun to be apart of a team where guys are funny and we have a coach who wants to win just as bad as us, if not more. This quick success came from people making big sacrifices by taking on a heavy load of work for us to even have a season. I am happy we were able to go out there and win for the club. We worked to win so much that we ended up winning everything to move up; it really is a great feeling.
What is so amazing about this club is that despite the success, it is 3 guys that carry the team with you, Vidmantas Uzkuratis and Marcel Hoppe. Usually the title teams will have that undeniable balance, but you have done it with 3 guys and an array of strong role players. How much fun has success been this season?
Our success came from the way we practiced. It was so much fun to prepare for the different ways every team was going to guard us. But even more fun to go at these guys in practice. We were the main point contributors that is a fact but I do not want anyone to forget guys like Serg, Vladi, Leo and Kwame to name a few to get lost. Everyone was important on our team. So what made it really fun was watching my other teammates shine after seeing them work really hard throughout the season. Once this started to happen it made it easier to win because now other guys are showing teams that they are threats in other ways that help secure the win. Which brings me back to Vidmantas and Marcel having them both on the wings made us such a threat because they were like time bombs. For example, you never knew which one would blow up and lead us through an important run. Despite me being the leading scorer we relied on each other and held each other equally accountable for mistakes. I learned a lot from all of them but mostly from Vidmantas and Marcel. They are great players, great competitors, and great people.
How valuable has Uzkuratis been for the team and how has his experience and Lithuanian style helped your game mature at the European level?
Vidmantas is a very valuable piece to the team not only because of what he produces offensively but the way he is the leader and the veteran of our team. He is the first Lithuanian teammate I ever had but he showed me Lithuanians can hoop. He has a different leadership style than me but still gets guys to do what they need to. He has definitely helped me slow my game down, he taught me how to reserve energy during games and how to stay ready no matter if its not your night. Playing against him in practice always made me want to get better, I am glad I eared his respect in these two seasons because he definitely has mine.
How much of a pleasure has it been playing with German Marcel Hoppe? He has Pro B experience and had a solid NBBL career. Has it surprised you that he has remained with Eimsbuettel despite being a talented player that could play at a higher level? Is he more job orientated that he has to stay in the area? Sometimes job is more important to a player than basketball.
Having Marcel as a teammate has been great. He never was someone who talked a lot but his presence was always felt whenever he had to miss a practice due to exams or work. I was not surprised when Marcel told me about where he played before coming to Eimsbuttel. On the first day of practice I noticed how he picked his spots in the open run and the respect everyone was giving him. When he told me his basketball background it just all made sense it is just sad he was hurt. No it did not surprise me because it was close to his work, school, you do not necessarily need a car and its a beautiful city. The team makes it easier with how welcoming they are off the court, on the court you have to earn it and I think he liked that. He is a quiet person but a very competitive and disciplined person. It has to be true since he is also successful and smart off the court. He proved to me that you can make time for everything as long as you stay focused. He missed some practices because of his other responsibilities but quick story about how focused Mr Hoppe is. We had a big game Saturday night could’ve placed us differently in the standings had we lost and on the drive home Marcel is in the seat next to me with headphones in his ears and a flash light to his notebook. I tapped him and asked ‘what’s up what’re you reading?’ He responded ‘I am studying for a big exam Monday I only have one more day to study and I have to be ready.’ I nodded and let him continue. That should let you know how dedicated he was to everyone, the team, and his future. So if he continues to play or decide to stop to focus on work I think he will be making a good decision either way.
Talk a little about what is was like being teammates with 39 year old big man Thomas Trautwein. The guy finished his 21st professional career. What have you learned about German life from his this past season?
Thomas and I spoke a lot throughout the season even if it was just to ask how he is doing. He is a very intelligent person who works hard every time he is on the court. I asked him about his career the moment I got the chance to because I was sure he would’ve played somewhere I picture to be someday. He was very informing with how it was playing for different teams, honestly I was not expecting to ever hear about us getting a player like Thomas. I always automatically think someone who’s very tall with some skill will automatically be playing higher. But it was great to have him help us win games and me also being able to have conversations with him to learn from him as well. I have learned that German life is very strict, busy, and all about planning to stay ahead of your schedule. But then again the lifestyle in Germany is nearly the same as everywhere else. Everybody just trying to make it in a way that seems fit to them.
How big are the ambitions of the club for the future? I can imagine you will stay on board for a third season to continue the success in Eimsbuettel as well as continue to climb the basketball ladder for your game?
I can not speak for the entire club as far as the vision that they have for themselves but I do know it is a basketball club that wants to be organically grown. Any other specifics would have to be directed towards the club. Right now it is non-stop communication between me, my agent and my coach with ongoing discussions about the future.
Let’s talk about your game. You a 188cm guard that can fill the stat sheet with ease. Just from your stats you seem like a Russell Westbrook type of player. Who would you compare your game to an NBA player?
Thank you, that is a huge compliment. Russell Westbrook is a great player and one of my favorites to watch because he competes at a high level all the time. But I wouldn’t compare myself to one player; I have molded my game around many players. Pistol Pete’s ability to learn the game, Kobe’s work ethic towards the game, C.J. McCollum’s steady skill improvements and currently Trae Young’s range.
One ting that I noticed is that this past season you obviously scored many points each night, but also had double figures in rebounds and assists. Does it surprise you that you haven’t registered a triple double yet at the Regionalliga level? You were very very close as a rookie against Westerstede and Rendsburg
I have always been this type of player because growing up. I did everything else before I thought about scoring; it helped me get more playing time. So, for as long as I can remember, I have always crashed the boards and made the right basketball play in the half court or fast break, so I have always been more than just a scoring threat. Truthfully, I am always just out there having fun and never know if I am close to getting a triple-double or not since I am just trying to win. By the end of the game when I hear I am one short of a triple double in two categories, I admit it does suck. But I am more happy to have the win instead
What have been your most important goals as a player to accomplish so far with your game in the last two seasons? How do you feel have you grown as a player?
The most important goal I had for myself was becoming a better leader with my voice and not just leading by example. I really wanted to earn everyone’s respect enough so when I noticed something in the game, they would do it. This developed over time as I became more confident to lead when my chance came. It was a good feeling after practice or after a game when I am replaying those moments; it became important to me and to take the time to not be so hard on myself. I really feel like I have grown so much over these two seasons as a player and as a person. Challenging myself to see if I can become the man I envision by seeing that I follow through with the goals that will keep me on the right path. But as a player, I know I grew when it comes to being a leader, being vocal, setting the example, holding people accountable and knowing when and how to speak. It was situations that came up time and time again where I was able to witness my own growth. Even viewing the film from last season and comparing to this season I see I have become a bit more calm as a player. It makes me excited to see how I will continue to grow in the future.
What type of player is Tyseem Lyles in 2020 and what kind of player do you still want to become in the next years?
I am the type of player that wasn’t born ready, but didn’t give up. I am the type that is relentless, hardworking, energetic, and annoying on defense. I am the underdog constantly over looked, but not ever being outworked. In 2020, I am the same player as I have always been, focused. In the years to come I want to become smarter, sharper and calmer. All of this will come with experience and I know I will keep putting in the hours daily so I have no worries that I will reach the player I know I can be.
You didn’t know it at the time, but your 46 point explosion and career high against Achersleben would be your last game of the season as the Coronavirus hit. How big was this game and did you know you had so much at the end of the game?
This game was a very big game and a long drive to the gym. Teams were hoping one team would beat us to distort the rankings, or so it seemed. They were in third place and we were in first. We just knew we had to win, win and go home. This time was such a great time for me personally because around this time my grandmother had just got released from the hospital, that I was worried about for sometime, and my brother came to visit me. So it was a lot of good news around this time. Before the game all I was thinking about was making sure I had fun. Whenever it’s a big game in the past I have let my anxiety get the best of me and think myself into a hole. But I finally figured out what works for me to stay focused for big games and not let my anxiety win. A simple thing my coach from Tompkins Cortland Community College told me ‘You’re about to play the game you love, have fun young man.’ A lot of things coach Stevenson told me while coaching me at TC3 has stuck with me and continue to help me elevate my game. Coach Rich who is very motivating also played a part of the mentally I begun to understand. They both were dropping gems my entire time at TC3 the words they spoke to me then showed value to me in preparation for this big game. I didn’t know how much I had; the only thing I had on my mind was to stay focused and win. Coach Suekran took me out with just over a minute left in the fourth and then a thought my college coach told me came to my head. Coach Webb of Mercy College, during the summer of my college junior year had said, ‘The only difference between you and the pros is that you aren’t continuously relentless.’ So I always thought to myself I wasn’t ready until I was able to prove that. In my mind, I believed that I couldn’t be the player that I showed I am that game if I pass up good shots often or I am not as aggressive. Not to say that I have doubted myself this entire time, not believing I can do it, because I have done it but only on a non-professional level. So this game I proved to myself that I am already that, just in my own way.
You have a fascinating story. You are one of many Americans that pop up each season in the German regionalliga that began at the bottom and will not stop at anything to achieve their dreams not even at potholes. Talk a little about how the chip on your shoulder keeps you grinding and getting better and how you cope with your situation of where your playing on a daily basis?
Thank you. Shoutout to those dream chasers as well; it is always nice to hear about someone who didn’t quit that ends up making it. They all inspire me as well. Everything that I have been through in my life I have used to motivate myself in one way or another. I just want to be the best player that I can possibly be – that is what drives me. I used to look to all the rejections as fuel when I was in the gym and relate that to me wanting to be better. That got me this far, but it will not keep me going forever is what I had to realize. I thought about this because someone finally told me yes to my dreams and now that I have a chance, I had to let go of all that is negative, in order to have my complete focus on the now. So the only thing that keeps me going back to the gym daily/nightly is me and my desire to be better than myself yesterday. I look at my situation as a blessing; I am nowhere near ungrateful for this opportunity I was given. I have always wanted to say that when I am done playing basketball that I used every opportunity to get better, wherever or whomever I am playing for. I want to say I used every gym possible until I couldn’t do it anymore. I have made that promise to myself in college and haven’t looked back since because the work shows.
Your love of basketball came after your grandfather died at age 12. You told your mom you want to be a NBA player when you grow up. How much of reality do you have to remember to have when your only balling in the Regionalliga?
True. It is a constant reminder everyday but also I look at it as another opportunity to change my mother’s and my family’s lives for the better. I am sure it will take some more time but it is definitely still possible. I have not abandoned my dream of playing in the NBA; I just want to make sure I am ready when I decide to make that turn. Right now, I am focused on proving I can play with the best here in Germany in the years I have been here and am ready to work hard for that.
How much hope does a guy like Dallas native Curtis Hollis give you who was one of the top Americans in the Regionalliga west with Rhondorf this season who recently declared for the 2020 NBA draft?
Curtis motivates me a lot because he’s shown that he’s brave and that he’s ready to compete with the best. I wish him nothing but the best because when he gets signed, it will open the door for guys like me. I hope he continues to shine.
Before making the next step in the NCAA 2 at Mercy you had to pay your dues at Tompkins Cortland Community College (JUCO) That opportunity only happened after you couldn’t begin at Virginia Union University. You never gave up in this time. What did you learn about yourself then that you still have in your mind today when you face sudden adversary?
I remind myself that nothing can break me. At VUU, I worked extremely hard to barely make the practice team. During this time I let other people’s disbelief in me become my own disbelief in myself. Moving forward I was able to pull myself out of the place I was headed, feeling like a failure. It almost just felt like one day I woke up and stopped feeling sorry for myself because someone told me no one time. That’s when I got back in the gym and begun to teach myself and remind myself ‘nothing can break me.’
You then made the jump to Mercy College where you continued to make waves as a player. As a senior you played 28 games averaging 13.6ppg, 5.5rpg, 1.8apg, 1.3spg, FGP: 39.5%, 3PT: 30.1%, FT: 84.8%. How do you feel did you continue to develop as a player there?
My senior year I feel like I did not get better. I stayed in the gym just like the year before, but looking back, I think I was experiencing some mental blocks. Throughout the entire year I was having up and down games, I showed up when it counted and fell short other days. Once I left Mercy, that’s when I started to work with trainers to add more to my game. So I didn’t develop during the season but I definitely developed over that following summer. But to keep myself from going taking steps back I continued to sharpen the skills and fundamentals Coach Carroll from my school Tompkins Cortland Community College taught me.
You had any memorable games with Mercy College)NCAA2) but how will you always remember your last game beating District of Columbia 72-71 and pouring in 24 points?
That was a game to remember. We knew what we were trying to accomplish but during those moments it definitely did not seem achievable after all we were enduring throughout the year. This, nonetheless, was an unforgettable time.
How did head coach Joey King groom and prepare you best for a professional basketball career?
Jody did not groom me or prepare me for the next level but he did prepare me for the different type of people I would encounter on my journey. He had some assistant coaches who were really good who helped me elevate my game for the time period our paths crossed. I am thankful for the experience to play college ball at the Division 2 level on scholarship and meet so many different people. But the real people who helped elevate my game were Eric Fogle and Thomas ‘Tippy’ McTernan of Bedford Y and Antwone Stanley. These 3 people presented me with a mirror during different times of my life and pushed me a bit when I needed it most. Sometimes it was tough love, but it made me better.
Who won a one on one in practice back in the day you or Jeremiah Brown?
Jeremiah could definitely hoop; he was nice, but I do not recall us ever playing one-on-one but there were definitely days he would out preform me whenever we were able to guard each other in practice. He is someone I would have loved to see what basketball could have done for him.
Talk a little how blessed you are to have been able to live in one of Germany’s most beautiful places in Hamburg and play in one of the richest area’s in the city. How has it been experiencing day to day life. How have you remained grounded remembering you come from Brooklyn, New York?
It is easy to remember where I came from because I worked for it. I am able to experience this life without regret because I sacrificed my time and disciplined myself to get this far. I will forever walk around grateful because its something I am experiencing at the expense of my hard work. I know what it took to experience this much; I want more so I will continue to humble myself, and work even harder to see how far I can take it – doing so while being humble, grounded and authentic the whole way through.
Who was the toughest player that you ever battled that reached the NBA?
The recent most tough player that I played against who reached the NBA is Ivan Johnson. I played against him Summer of 2019 in the Dominican Republic during a professional tournament.
Please list your 5 best teammates of all-time?
This is my 5 best teammates in no order: Jeremiah Brown, Matthew Boyd, Roman Perez, Nicholas Johnson, and Vidmantas. It was really hard to pick my five best teammates but they should know its no love lost.
Please name your own personal NBA Mount Rushmore. Which 4 heads past or present would you pick?
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, and Shaquille O’Neal.
Who is better Michael Jordan or Lebron James?
Michael Jordan. I respect Lebron James and I am not denying the fact he has accomplished a lot and is one of the goats but for this debate I am on Michael Jordan’s side.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pete Strobl has been around the European basketball scene for 20 years having had a stellar professional basketball career and was an assistant coach for German easyCredit BBL team ratiopharm Ulm last season. Currently he is head coach of the Basketball Lowen Braunschweig. He played at Niagara (NCAA) from 1997-2000 and then had a 9 year professional playing career that took him to countries like Germany, Austria, France, Ireland, Iceland and Switzerland. He founded The Scoring Factory in Pittsburgh and wrote a must read book called Backspin. He is a very interesting basketball mind that doesn’t shy away from speaking his mind especially on Twitter. German Hoops and Pete Strobl (agency: Octagon Europe ) team up so often talking basketball with the title ‘Current basketball affairs with Pete Strobl (agency: Octagon Europe ). You can follow Pete Strobl (agency: Octagon Europe ) on twitter @petestrobl
How have you managed the team during the Corona crisis?
Without a blueprint or any previous experience with something like this, I think coaches worldwide have been forced to ‘game plan’ for a wide variety of different possible scenarios. This entire situation has forced all of us in the basketball world to respond to one of the most unique set of circumstances we’ve ever faced. Personally, I did my best to stay in contact with our players as much as possible to communicate relevant information as it was passed along to me. However, in the heat of the moment everybody was understandably most concerned about the overall health and safety of all involved. It was honestly a long awkward period of waiting to see how things developed and what would happen with the possible continuation of our season.
What are your thoughts on the tournament to finish the BBL season?
On one hand I’m selfishly disappointed that our team isn’t involved purely because of my own competitive nature. I also fully understand the reasoning behind each club making their own decisions based on the parameters at play. On the other hand I think it’s fantastic that there’s a push to find a way to finish the season in some way, shape or form. There’s obviously still a lot of hurdles to overcome and everything needs to be done to ensure that all necessary health precautions take place, but the overall idea is a good thing in that it’s forcing people to at least think about ‘life after’ this pandemic. Best-case scenario in my opinion is that basketball collectively is able to attract even more fans and can capitalize on being one of the very few live televised sports options for people to enjoy.
How do you move forward with your planning for next season?
Now that our season is officially over it’s important to shift the entire focus into planning for next season. Lately I’ve been watching a lot games of prospective players. It can be very time consuming talking to agents from all over the world, but I embrace the process because we need to make sure we find the right pieces to compliment what we already have here in Braunschweig. I’ve spent the last several weeks analyzing our team this season and how we performed. I’ve also used this time to look in the mirror to be critical with myself as well. I have big goals and it’s crucial that I continue to improve in every possible way (I’ll always have that mindset). Although we had some great moments and big wins, there are a lot of lessons to be learned to ensure that we continue to grow.