Looking at Fraport Skyliners Frankfurt's rosters over the years, one thing stands out: there always seems to be at least one Canadian in the squad. And it should be no surprise to see two Canadians, Brady Heslip and Trae Bell-Haynes, playing for Skyliners in the 7DAYS EuroCup this season. It all comes down to head coach Gordon Herbert.
The Skyliners playcaller is the only EuroCup head coach from Canada, having been born in Penticton, British Columbia in the western part of the country. The 59-year-old Herbert remains very connected to his homeland and that is one reason that Canadians keep popping on his rosters in Frankfurt.
"My familiarity with the Canadians is more than with the Americans because I know them more. I have coached them more and been around them more," said Herbert, who is serving his third stint as Skyliners coach, following a first between 2001 and 2004 and a second for the 2010-11 season. He is back on the team's bench now for a sixth season since rejoining Skyliners in 2013.
Canadians Tommy Stephens and Andrew Kwiatkowski played for Herbert's Frankfurt team in the 2002-03 EuroCup. Jermaine Bucknor was on the 2010-11 team with Jevohn Shephard joining in 2011. Andrew Rautins played for Skyliners in 2013-14 while Aaron Doornekamp spent the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons with the German club. Kyle Fossman was on the team in 2014-15 and Philip Scrubb played for Herbert from 2015 to 2018.
Herbert's connection to Canada is strong. He served as an assistant coach for the Canadian national team at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2002 and then as head coach in the February 2018 window of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Americas Qualifiers, where Canada went 2-0 with wins over Virgin Islands and Bahamas.
Despite having all those Canadians on his rosters over the years, Herbert says he doesn't feel any obligation or the like to have his compatriots around.
"No, no commitment," he said. "It has to fit with what we need and into our situation. If it fits it's great. But sometimes it doesn't fit."
This season, Herbert has Heslip, a 28-year-old sharpshooter who has played in Bosnia, Italy and Turkey, and Bell-Haynes, a 23-year-old point guard making his professional debut. But the club's history with Canadians was not the reason Heslip or Bell-Haynes came to Frankfurt.
"The reason why was because I knew it was a good club and it was playing in the EuroCup and it's always a strong competitor in the German league," said Heslip, who is averaging 14 points through seven EuroCup games.
"It didn't factor into it," said Bell-Haynes, who is putting up 7.7 points, 2.4 assists and 1.1 steals on average. "As a rookie, I figured that being in Frankfurt and in the EuroCup would be a good way to start off my professional career. So I jumped at the opportunity."
Heslip is actually playing for Herbert a second time as he played for Canada in last February's World Cup qualifying window.
"It was my first time getting to interact with him, and I really enjoyed playing for him there. We won the games. I just felt that he gives the guys a lot of freedom and that it would be a good fit for me," Heslip said.
While Heslip had first-hand experience with Herbert to call upon for his decision in picking Skyliners, Bell-Haynes said the coach had a good reputation.
"I talked to a couple of former coaches that knew Gordie, and they told me it would be a good place to play," Bell-Haynes said.
While most of his coaching colleagues regularly bring in Americans, Herbert says there is a reason he goes for the Canadians.
"I look at the Canadian market just because I am more familiar with it than the American market because I have been around the national team and I coached it last February so I became familiar with a lot of players, like Brady. When you are familiar with somebody, it makes it easier to bring them in."
As it turns out, though, Herbert also has a liking for Finland, where he played his entire 12-year professional career from 1982 to 1994. He started his coaching career there, too, from 1994 to 1999. As such, he knows the Finnish market well.
Herbert brought to Skyliners Finnish players Jukka Matinen (2002-06), Carl Lindbom (2010-11) Kimmo Muurinen (2010-11) and Mikko Koivisto (2014-15), while Americans A.J. Moye (2010-11), Ryan Brooks (2012-13) and Mike Morrison (2014-18) all played in Finland before coming to Frankfurt.
"I have a good familiarity with the Canadians and the Finns," said Herbert, whose son Daniel was born in Finland in 1994 and was recently hired as a Skyliners assistant coach. "Whenever I can, if they fit, I always take a Canadian or a Finn. But it has to fit with what we are looking for. But I like to have Finnish and Canadian players."
And just like Herbert has two Canadians on his team now, he also has two Finns on the squad, as well, with internationals Erik Murphy and Shawn Huff.
For Skyliners coach Gordon Herbert, it's all about familiarity.