Per Guenther is the face of ratiopharm Ulm. And the point guard’s loyalty and all-out gritty playing style have conquered the hearts of the league’s fans, who have five times in a row voted Mr. Ulm as the German League’s Most Likeable Player. The Pascal Roller Award is the actual name of the honor distinguishing the league’s most likeable player. But it may as well be renamed the Per Guenther Award.
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily representative,” said Guenther with a usual modesty that has won over fans around the league. “There are other guys in the league like Rickey Paulding from Oldenburg or Bryce Taylor of Bayern. There are a lot of guys who are equally deserving of a reward like this.”
Still, Guenther jokes: “If I can make it six, I would take six. If I could be like Bill Russell, I would try to make it 11,” he said referring to Bill Russell’s 11 NBA titles. “Somebody has to step in and stop me.”
Guenther, however, has bigger goals, and would give up all five of his Most Likeable Player awards for a league championship. “I would give up a lot more than those five,” said Guenther, who reached the BBL Finals with Ulm in 2012 and 2016 - both times getting beaten 3-0 in a best-of-five series against Brose Bamberg. “I would even take a cup title, that’s how desperate I am these days.”
These days see the 28-year-old Guenther - a coach’s son who grew up in the city of Hagen - playing some of the best basketball in his career. He is currently averaging 10 points and 3.5 assists while shooting 43.8 percent from three-point range in the 7DAYS EuroCup. In the German League, Guenther is scoring 12.4 points on 42.3% shooting from long range to go with 4.9 assists.
This is a contract year for Guenther, which in the past has meant the 1.84-meter playmaker would think about playing for other, clubs but end up re-upping with Ulm - like he did for two years each in 2013 and 2015. One of the reasons Guenther has stayed in the city of 118,000 people in southwestern Germany was loyalty and appreciation.
When asked what has kept him there since 2008 while watching a number of players come and go at Ulm, Guenther said: “I think it was a mix of always being a great fit, a logical fit. I was always loyal and thankful for the opportunity I had received. Looking back, I started when I was 21 years old, and I don’t think I was good enough to be a starter in the BBL.”
The club struggled to stave off relegation in his early years with Ulm, but still Guenther was given the opportunity. “I just think that it has to be reciprocal. It has to be give and take. If you’re a German kid and everybody is moaning that you don’t get a chance, and you get a chance and you say, ‘no thanks, I’m out,’ that cannot be. It’s not how it’s supposed to be.”
Guenther said he always had a great relationship with Ulm’s management and the city. And then they just kept growing. “They turned into this amazing place. How can you leave this place? They truly have vision about how this can happen, and they just go out and do things. I don’t think they are at the end of their journey. I think there are amazing years to come in basketball, and I don’t want to leave Ulm and see how I missed something, or I left too early,” he said. “I’ve always been happy here and you don’t mess with happy. It always made sense for me to stay.”
But at the same time, German players are getting better and more recognized outside of the country. In addition to a trio of Germans in the NBA, Joe Voigtmann and Robin Benzing are in Spain, Heiko Schaffartzik is currently playing in France and Maxi Kleber returned to Germany after experiencing the game in Spain. Is that an itch for Mr. Ulm?
“It’s obviously interesting. I can’t see myself changing teams in Germany, so yeah, that’s the only thing left. I’m interested in other cultures, I speak a little bit of Spanish, and I love to travel. At the same time, I am just at a level of comfort where things just have to be perfect,” said Guenther, who married his long-time girlfriend this past summer and is hoping to start a family soon. “I don’t have just two suitcases at home and throw them in my car and we change teams for a couple of months … It would have to be a great situation and a great spot where I would be really intrigued.”
Guenther’s out-going personality and game would definitely play outside of Germany. But what would Ulm and the German league do without one of their biggest faces - Mr. Likeable, Mr. Ulm.