After the satisfying and crushing sweep of 8 time Beko BBL champion Alba Berlin, it seemed like everyone in Skyliner country had fast forwarded to the final and already put in their votes of finals MVP for Jordan Theodore over current MVP Brad Wanamaker and dreaming of a second celebration at the famous Frankfurt landmark Romer. However for some reason everybody seemed to forget about the pesky ratiopharm Ulm who have not only made basketball life extremely difficult for the little darlings of the Beko BBL Frankfurt, but drove the 2016 Fiba Europe Cup champion to the brink of elimination as they have been the huge surprise of the playoffs upsetting the EWE Baskets Oldenburg and now is one game away of reaching the final. Everybody was awaiting a response from the Fraport Skyliners in game two in Ulm after their bitter 90-86 loss in game one at home, but instead lost the game in crunch time for a second time in a row which is as unusual this season for the team as it is for Mike Morrison not to be the recipient of an alley-oop pass and finish with a crushing dunk each game. Following the game at the press conference, Fraport Skyliner head coach Gordon Herbert gave his two cents to the loss and kept it short stating it was difficult to win when the opponent shoots 80 free throws in two games. The facial expression of Herbert during his brief direct words was the kind you would get when your best friend had fooled around with your woman or when the family dog in barren North Dakota where the nearest town is 30 miles away without a sports bar mixes up the remote for some ground beef on the eve of the Super Bowl. One could of painted Gordon Herbert all red and added some feathers and a black beak and he could of fit in well as a replacement for Red in the new flick Angry Birds. Herbert can be as angry as he wants to be, but come Saturday, he will have to funnel that anger into positive energy and help his team break out of this quick sand, because the team is sinking quickly. Frankfurt seems to have the long season talking with their bodies while ratiopharm Ulm seem to be very fresh at the moment. They need to break out their typical Skyliner basketball which is letting their league best defense spark their offense which has that Bamberg junior like tantalizing ball movement to get back on track in this series.
It wasn´t all to long ago where the Fraport Skyliners couldn´t buy themselves a win as who could forget the second half of the 2013-2014 season where the 2004 Beko BBL champion seemed to grow this nasty phobia that they were unable to win games in crunch time as their reluctance to pull out close battles in that time was about as unlikely as any sane basketball fan now to doubt the possibility of Durant and Westbrook of achieving the upset of the Golden State Warriors. However in the last two years, the Fraport Skyliners have had a steady progress and development in the players play and team chemistry that has put the team into a viable position to reach the Beko BBL final again something they last did in 2010. What the club has produced in the last two months has been extraordinary as they have constructed a 12 game winning streak in the Beko BBL, brought home the Fiba Europe Cup title and swept the helpless and caged Alba Berlin who wanted to fly, fly, fly away, but instead were stopped by the bars in their nest penitentiary. If someone had boldly predicted before the season that Frankfurt would sweep and totally lock down the Alba Berlin offense to an average of 65 points in the three game series, one would have declared you as crazy. The Fraport Skyliners may have been idle for almost a week, but were able to stich up their walking wounded and rest while ratiopharm Ulm had to recuperate faster from their exciting 3-1 series win against the EWE Baskets Oldenburg were the last three games were decided by a combined total of nine points. Some may have been thinking, if one can sweep the mighty Alba Berlin then why not ratiopharm Ulm? Ratiopharm Ulm entered the Fraport arena with a very strong roster and with their heart and soul diminutive German national player Per Guenther who is their motor and their own Godzilla Raymar Morgan who had not been a beast in the Oldenburg series, but a super beast averaging 24 points and nine rebounds in the four game series. Ratiopharm Ulm wanted to steal the Frankfurt home court advantage on the road and did shocking the Fraport Skyliners in game one 90-86 in OT as they were the first team in five and a half months to depart the Fraport arena with a win. It was a first in many areas for fans and players to bear as the Fraport Skyliners couldn´t execute and hit open shots as if they were on the beach and missed the water and played defense as if it was the first day of training camp as their Skyliner brand of basketball was nonexistent. Fraport Skyliner American Jordan Theodore who enjoys to take over in crunch time couldn´t get the job done in OT and was the first to point a finger at himself. “I didn´t play well at all. I have to play better and will in game two. We didn´t execute on offense and just got beat over and over on defense. In the playoffs, you need to play with a lot of intensity, but we didn´t. We weren´t ready to play. I give a lot of credit to Ulm for getting the win. We lost the game in the first half”, explained Englewood, New Jersey native Jordan Theodore. One may have thought, that ratiopharm Ulm may be more fatigued after the hard four game series against the EWE Baskets Oldenburg, but they were ready to play from the jump and just played an overall solid game and were the first team in months to have scouted correctly in making so much so difficult for Frankfurt. “We played hard tonight. We knew that Frankfurt does a great job with their high low play with Voigtmann and Barthel and I felt we did a good job taking that away. On offense we did a good job executing despite Frankfurt keying in on me and not letting me get more shots”, stated ex Boston Celtics shooting guard Chris Babb.
It is sometimes bizarre how two seemingly similar occurrences happened at the same time almost one year apart with two new players coming on board to their respective teams and being dominant right away and being the central figures in the complete turnaround of the teams. Back in November of 2014, the Fraport Skyliners had started the season 3-7 and were totally underachieving, but had severe injury woes to battle. Fraport Skyliners head coach Gordon Herbert had little choice, but to get another point guard for the injured Richard Williams and hauled in Justin Cobbs who was a much traveled rookie in his first two months having been shortly with 2016 Euroleague finalist Laboral Kutxa Vitoria (Spain-Liga Endesa), was the last cut of the NBA Charlotte Hornets and also briefly played with VEF Riga before coming to Frankfurt. Cobbs had the magic touch and instantly helped the team to winning six of eight games and turned around the season leading the team into the Eurochallenge final four and from last into the playoffs where the club bowed out to FC Bayern Munich. In Ulm the same kind of scenario surfaced this season as the club was battling intense injuries and head coach Thorsten Leibenath responded by bringing in ex NBA player Chris Babb who played at Iowa State(NCAA) with ex Ulm forward Will Clyburn and played 14 NBA games with the Boston Celtics. After being cut by the Golden State Warriors, Babb was available and like Cobbs last season snatched up in November. Like Frankfurt last season, ratiopharm Ulm got off the wrong side of the bed and started the season with a pathetic 2-7 record until November 21st where the Babb came on board and the Ulm season turned around rapidly as the club commenced to win 13 of their next 14 games putting them into great position to reach the playoffs. Babb had some huge games this season like his 29 points game in the 91-72 victory against FC Bayern Munich where he dropped seven three pointers or his huge scoring contributions in the wins against Braunschweig with 20 points and 21 points against the Giessen 46ers. Despite having played against the big boys of the NBA, the humbleness of Babb is as refreshing as the massive intense playoff spark that American Raymar Morgan has given the team. “I think that after we won our first few games, it was an overall confidence thing that helped the team in the winning streak. Guys started to fall into their roles and we learned what it took to win games”, stressed Chris Babb. Babb is still searching for his first professional title and already has gone a step further than Cobbs last season by reaching the Beko BBL semi-finals. However now Babb has the biggest challenge of the season trying to get past the Fraport Skyliners which has been an extreme difficult task for most teams. Even if Fraport Skyliner Jordan Theodore has won his first professional title this season, he is as hungry to win a second and will be a big hurdle to overcome for Babb and co.
Chris Babb is a 26 year old 196cm shooting guard from Arlington, Texas playing his third professional season and first with ratiopharm Ulm. He started his basketball career in 2008 with Penn St. (NCAA) playing a total of 63 NCAA games. He then moved to Iowa St. (NCAA) where he played from 2011-2013 and as a senior played 33 games: 9.1ppg, 3.4rpg, 2.2apg, 1.1spg, FGP: 47.8%, 3PT: 38.2%, FT: 74.5%. In 2013 he started his professional basketball career with the Boston Celtics (NBA) playing 14 games: 1.6ppg, 1.2rpg, also played at Maine Red Claws (D-League) playing 33 games: 12.0ppg, 6.1rpg, 3.4apg, 1.1spg, FGP: 44.1%, 3PT: 35.4%, FT: 78.8%. Last season he played for the Maine Red Claws (D-League) playing 47 games: 15.4ppg, 5.6rpg, 2.8apg, FGP: 52.2%, 3PT: 36.9%, FT: 78.3%. He spoke to German Hoops before game three against the EWE Baskets Oldenburg.
Thanks for taking some time to talk to German Hoops. Congrats on the 2-0 lead against the EWE Baskets Oldenburg. Many had Oldenburg favored, but how vital has the mindset of ratiopharm Ulm been for having the 2-0 lead?
Our mindset has been good. We had been battling injuries, but now everyone has been healthy. We just have been very focused going into the series with Oldenburg and in the first two games. We have done a good job sticking to the game plan moving the ball well and playing good defense.
Ratiopharm Ulm stole the first game in Oldenburg 90-81, but the home team played you very tough. How key was containing the paint area in game one where Oldenburg had their difficulties?
That was huge. Their big man Brian Qvale is great at finishing on the pick and roll. We did a good job as a team taking away the paint from Oldenburg. Paulding has been shooting well, but we still did a good job picking our spots and playing the best defense that we could and not let them get out on transition.
Whenever May comes around in Germany, it means the first sign of warm weather, people showing off their newest shades in the café´s, men drooling again at the sight of mini-skirts moving with the motion of the cool spring breeze and family´s doing bike trips on the weekends when the spring weather is nice. On the basketball side, it is time again for the Beko BBL playoffs and one player that seems to have an almost guarantee pass to the being able to battle for that coveted title is Mr Oldenburg Rickey Paulding who has been their eight out of nine seasons since his arrival to Oldenburg in 2007. However in those eight attempts, he has only been able to win one title which was in 2009 as the EWE Baskets Oldenburg beat the Telekom Baskets Bonn in one of the more memorable final´s series in the history of the Beko BBL. Paulding and co were close a few years back reaching the final and despite being swept by the Brose Baskets Bamberg lost the three game series with only a combined seven points. Paulding isn´t getting any younger at age 33, but he still plays like a 27 year old and seems like his body is ageless as he still looks as fresh on the floor like a young buck belonging to the top 5 perimeter players in the Beko BBL as his consistency over the years with age has been commendable. Especially at age 33, every new playoffs experience has to be of big worth for the ex Missouri(NCAA) player as he doesn´t know if it might be his last. It is never good to look ahead, but the American probably has realized that there could be a possible semi-final date with the Fraport Skyliners, a team that not only he wants to seek revenge on, but also his teammates. This season, the Fraport Skyliners won a do or die game in January for the ticket to the Beko BBL cup final 4 in Munich and recently were easily disposed of in Frankfurt as they couldn´t find a remedy to stop their lethal ball movement. Two facts riding on the side of Paulding who can compete with the best American smiles in the Beko BBL when he displays his wide grin and glistening white teeth, in that he beat Frankfurt back in 2009 in the quarterfinals of the playoffs and also has beat ratiopharm Ulm in the playoffs in a hard five game series . Paulding wants more after winning his second title last season with the cup on his own floor as he wants another title to make him a tad more immortal in Oldenburg even if achieving it this season will be a difficult task with the competition level, but not many expected it in 2009 either.
Every weekend, Fraport Skyliner point guard and the pride and joy of Englewood, New Jersey, Jordan Theodore has too battle against top rated point guards in the Beko BBL and some nights, he comes out the winner both in the team and match up category, but as of late, he has only been coming up the master in the head to head battle while his team the Fraport Skyliners have been coming up short in the victory department. After having a 6 game winning streak in the Beko BBL, the 2004 German champion currently is riding a three game losing streak. Theodore held his own in Ludwigsburg against American Kerron Johnson producing 22 points, but losing 74-70, then held a basketball boxing match against Jordan Taylor as he hit the game winning shot propelling 9 time Beko BBL cup winner into the final in Munich and last weekend the ex Seton Hall guard supplied 21 points to Brad Wanamaker´s 12 points, but the Brose Baskets Bamberg crushed Frankfurt 71-58. Theodore returned back to his own living room after three games on the road and was ready for the next battle against German national player Per Guenther and ratiopharm Ulm, currently one of the hottest team´s in the league having won 13 of their last 14 games. In this long and illustrious winning streak also belonged the 68-61 win of ratiopharm Ulm over the Fraport Skyliners on December 12th at home as Theodore couldn´t play in that game due to injury as German national player Konstantin Klein moved into the starting rotation notching 14 points as Guenther achieved 10 points and six assists in the win. It was the little things that Ulm did and Frankfurt didn´t that paved the win for guys like Chris Babb and Taylor Braun. One thing that Theodore has had often this season after games in the Fraport arena is that winning smile and non stop talkative mode that let´s him go on and on about the beauty of Frankfurt basketball as he has a 16-2 record this season in Beko BBL and Europe Cup play at home. In his first meeting with Guether and with revenge on the minds of his teammates, he and the Fraport Skyliners came out with an exceptional effort over 40 minutes as it was another day at the office where the offense was rolling and the defense was standing tall beating ratiopharm Ulm 92-73. Theodore didn´t start the game as he hadn´t practiced all week, but still amassed 10 points and four assists in the rout. “I was sick this week and I was a last minute decision to play. Klein did a good job and we still took care of business. We knew that it would be a good game. I didn´t play in Ulm and all I wanted was a win tonight. I wanted show my presence and this was a great win after the loss in Bamberg. We did a good job on Guenther and credit Klein for locking him up. Klein showed a lot of pride after losing the first time. We did a good job attacking Guenther and taking him out of the game”, stressed ex Seton Hall guard Jordan Theodore. A big key in the Frankfurt victory was the superb play by the German twin Towers Johannes Voigtmann and Danilo Barthel who combined for 35 points, 14 rebounds and six assists. Especially their amazing passing game once again dazzled everyone as they continue to demonstrate why they are the best passing 4-5 duo in the German Beko BBL. Even if Canadian national player Aaron Doornekamp led all players with 8 assists, the passing flavor of the game were called Voigtmann and Barthel as they just took apart the Ulm defense all night long. Some come to games to witness the cool decision making and amazing game control of Jordan Theodore, Aaron Doornekamp make splash sounds from the corner, Mike Morrison make crushing authority dunks or the beautiful precision passing from all over the floor from Johannes Voigtmann or Danilo Barthel. “We really rely a lot on Voigtmann and Barthel, but what else can you expect when you have two guys like that that can score, rebound, pass and work so hard. It is a big advantage when you can give the big man the ball and let him go to work. Their passing is huge. It is a big advantage when they have a good position with the ball. It opens up the floor for their 1-1 play or if the double team comes, they know where to find us”, expressed 5 time CIS champion Philip Scrubb. Ratiopharm Ulm really had no cure of how to stop 40 minutes of always attacking mode on offense and couldn´t crack the always aggressive Frankfurt defense. “When you play against a good team, you have to be ready for 40 minutes, but we weren´t. We were unable to execute on offense and looked confused on defense. Their two big men really hurt us with their scoring and when they can pass as well it gets tougher. We have a very athletic front court, but we were unable to use it to our advantage”, stressed ex Boston Celtic Chris Babb.
Matt Howard is a 27 year old 203cm forward playing his second season for Strasbourg IG (France-ProA) and last season played 41 games averaging 7.9ppg, 5.1rpg, 1.7apg, 1.1spg, FGP: 55.8%, 3PT: 25.0%, FT: 71.6%; Eurocup: 15 games: 10.7ppg, 6.9rpg, 2.3apg, FGP: 49.5%, 3PT: 33.3%, FT: 70.3%; Euroleague: 2 games: 9.0ppg, 7.0rpg, 2.5apg. He started his basketball career in 2007 with Butler (NCAA) where he played until 2011 playing a total of 139 NCAA games and as a senior played 35 games averaging 16.7ppg, 7.7rpg, 1.5apg, 1.1spg, FGP: 48.9%, 3PT: 42.6%, FT: 78.1%. In 2011-2012 he started his professional basketball career with Olympiacos S.F.P. Pireus (Greece-A1): Greek League: 6 games: 4.0ppg, 1.5rpg; Euroleague: 2 games: 1.0ppg, left in Jan.’12, in Feb.’12 moved to EnBW Ludwigsburg (Germany-BBL) playing 13 games: 12.1ppg, 5.8rpg, 2.2apg, FGP: 60.3%, 3PT: 36.4%, FT: 83.3%. IN the 2012-2013 season he played for Chorale de Roanne Basket (France-ProA) playing 32 games: 9.0ppg, 6.1rpg, 1.5apg, FGP: 57.6%, 3PT: 35.5%, FT: 76.8%. IN the 2013-2014 season he moved back to Germany to Ratiopharm Ulm (Germany-BBL): Eurocup: 16 games: 8.8ppg, 5.3rpg, 1.9apg, FGP: 57.9%, 3PT: 30.0%, FT: 68.3%; German League: 35 games: 9.6ppg, 5.1rpg, 1.1apg, FGP: 56.5%, 3PT: 14.3%, FT: 78.7%. He spoke to German Hoops before the Eurocup game against the EWE Baskets Oldenburg for the ticket to the 2016 Euro Cup quarterfinals.
Matt thanks for talking to German Hoops. Welcome back to Germany. You played with two teams in Germany with Ludwigsburg and Ulm. What did you learn to appreciate most about the country of Germany?
Germany is a very nice country that is very modernized and for Americans you can always find things that you would get at home. I had good experiences in Germany and it was an easy adjustment coming from home.
However you don´t have the best memories against the EWE Baskets Oldenburg. You are 0-4 against them in your career. How pumped are you not only to get your first win against them tomorrow, but also to win by more than three points?
I didn´t really think about that I have lost against them 4 times, but you are correct. More important than having lost four times against them is getting the win in Euro Cup. Maybe getting the win my third time here will be a good one.