Fraport Skyliners Frankfurt is back in the 7DAYS EuroCup after a six-year absence. Its most experienced player in the EuroCup is guard Akeem Vargas, who's playing his fifth season in the competition, the first four of them with ALBA Berlin. Before that, he was chosen as the Best Young Player in the German League, playing for Goettingen in the 2012-13 season. Born in Lancaster, California, Vargas grew up close to Frankfurt and now has the chance to play in front of family and friends. He is also ready to talk about his new life in Frankfurt and how the Skyliners do in their much-anticipated EuroCup return. Follow Akeem's blog throughout the season!
Things have been going well for us in the EuroCup. We got two wins, at home against Fiat Turin and on the road against Rytas Vilnius, in a tough environment to play. Unicaja lost in Vilnius, so that tells you how great our road win was. I am really happy and I believe that all of my teammates are super excited that we got that win in a tough environment like Vilnius. It has put us in a great situation before Round 4 in our group. Erik Murphy, one of our two Finnish players along with Shawn Huff, had a great game. Both of them are a big part of our success. Erik played an unbelievable first half, giving us a lift, and a lot of guys stepped up in the second half to help us get a really good really win.
I am a really optimistic guy. I really believe that we can win every game before we even step on the court. I told a couple of my teammates that if we were able to control their offensive rebounds and make it a halfcourt game, those were the keys, in my eyes, to win. Our coach said pretty much the same thing and we got off to a great start. After being down 10-2, we bounced back and made it a tight game. We got a great push when our bench players stepped on the court, like Erik Murphy. He kept us in the game and at halftime, a lot of guys in the locker room realized that we had a great chance to win the game. It is a new competition for most of my teammates, who had never played the EuroCup before, and they might be surprised by the atmosphere in a couple of gyms, but halftime was the point when everyone on the team believed that we could win it. You could see the optimism in their faces and we made the right plays down the stretch.
"Our overtime win against Fiat was a great advertisement for the game of basketball."
Beating Fiat Turin in Round 1, in overtime, definitely helped us in Vilnius. If you look at our season overall, there were some really close games that we won. In the game against Turin, we ground it out in the end, and we had two really tough games in the German Cup and the German League that we won at the end, making big plays down the stretch. When you go into the fourth quarter, and the final four or five minutes, you know it is crunch time. Coach kept repeating that we know how to win these games as long as we keep our focus and stay concentrated. I am really happy to see that a lot of my teammates really made the plays we needed. Maybe we didn't score every time but we didn't get scored on, which is a great thing in basketball. Sometimes your defense can carry you, especially if you are not doing well on offense.
I have to say it was a great honor to play against Coach Larry Brown. It is always a big thing to play in the EuroLeague or the EuroCup because you face great opponents and of course, great coaches. Every kid used to be an Allen Iverson fan back in the day, and Coach Larry Brown was a big part of Iverson's success. It was a special feeling to see him there, on the sidelines. I have great respect towards him but, nevertheless, he was coaching the other team. He came in with a new team, with some players who had not been in Europe before, and we didn't know what to expect. If you see Fiat, you can tell that they play more of an NBA style than all the other teams. We managed to protect our home court, which is very important if you want to advance to the next round. This is exactly what we did -- and we have proven that we can win games at home and on the road.
I am of the new additions to Fraport Skyliners. One of our teammates, Quantez Robertson, is in his 10th season with the club. It is an almost unique situation -- an American player being here longer than all domestic players -- because here in Germany, Rickey Paulding has also been with Oldenburg for a long time. I have a lot of respect for Quantez, even from my time with ALBA Berlin, because he is a really great player. Now, being on the team with him, I feel truly blessed because gives everything he has for the team in each and every game and helps us on and off the court. He always finds ways to make good plays for the team. He is a tremendous rebounder, a great defender and is always willing to make the extra pass and get assists. The season he is having in the EuroCup is amazing; he has been really solid on the ball and in the passing lanes. It is a tremendous situation for me, having him as a teammate, and it is great for the club that one of its American players has been in Frankfurt for 10 years. He is definitely the guy I ask for most advice, on and off the court. He has been working with Coach Herbert and his staff for many years, and off the court he knows all the cafes, all the restaurants -- it is great to have a guy like him, who you can always call and will always have a good word for you, help you find a good spot. I have enjoyed his tips a lot so far!
"I really believe that we can win every game before we even step on the court."
Like I said, I have moved to Frankfurt after a few years in Berlin. One of the key reasons why I signed here was that I am actually from the south of Germany. My family is only 50 minutes away from Frankfurt and they can come to all of our home games. It is a good situation for me because I can have my family around more often and have their support. I really respect Coach Herbert and the way he coaches the team, too. He has always been very successful, always finding the way to have really good results in the German League. Talking about the cities, I am in love with Berlin -- obviously, I have been there for five years, I do love Berlin -- but I think Frankfurt is really nice, too, with the river and especially the part of the city where I live. I feel truly blessed that I have the opportunity to play for Skyliners and also to participate in the EuroCup again. Everyone knows it is a blessing to play in an international competition.
We play at home against Mornar Bar in Round 4 and this is a very important game for us. Like we said in the locker room from the very beginning of the season, we have to protect our home court. We are in a situation where, after winning in Vilnius, there is even more pressure on us on Wednesday night. We really want to be 3-1 in this group because that will give us a huge advantage going into the next couple of road games. I hope we can have a great crowd on Wednesday night. Hopefully we will conquer this win at home and reward ourselves, giving back to our fans and having a better chance to advance to the next round. It will be a key game and all of my teammates know that. It should be fun! Our overtime win against Fiat was a great advertisement for the game of basketball. I hope those fans will be back to help us celebrate a win together on Wednesday!