After being at the Adias Next Generation Tournament in Belgrade it was time for another trip. This time to Uspring, which could be barely called a village and belongs to the town of Schelklingen in southern Germany near Ulm.
Since the late 1990s, Urspingschule has served as one of the leading academies in German basketball. It has produced a number of players currently playing in the German BBL league, including former German international Lucca Staiger.
Having lived in Germany since 1997 and covering youth basketball for more than a decade it was about time to see this place.
The reason actually is more specific than just “wanting to finally see this place”. His name is Jason George and is considered as one of Germany’s top young talents in the 2001-born generation. And the 15-year-old was playing for Urspring in the U19 league NBBL against MTV Kronberg. The last time I was close to seeing him was February 19 when Urspring were playing in the U16 league JBBL against Crailsheim – a team that I had already seen with interesting players such as Vincent Hoffmann, Jekabs Beks and Benjamin Moser. Instead of the Urspring-Crailsheim game, I checked out the Bayern Munich vs ratiopharm ulm JBBL game. That was worthwhile to get a chance to see Ulm’s young talents including the Austrian-born Timo Lanmüller and Hungarian big man Adam Krasovec. Both of those youngsters proved interesting talents but unfortunately 2002-born Noah Jallow, Jeremia Agyepong and Dennis Akhler all did not play for Bayern.
During the game a text message came in that Jason George had collected 39 points and 31 rebounds in the Urspring vs Crailsheim game. Argh. That sealed the deal – it was time to see Jason George.
So, George averaged 22 points, 17.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.4 blocks in five regular season JBBL games. In two playoff games he has averaged 34.5 points, 22 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.0 blocks. Despite playing against players up to four years older than him, George was averaging 7.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists 1.1 steals and 0.5 blocks in 31 minutes over 11 games.
My years in Germany have seen about 10 trips to Ulm for BBL or German national team games. But little did I know that Urspringschule was just about 30 minutes away from Ulm. Exiting the B10 just a few kilometers before Ulm, the B28 highway leads you through the towns of Blaustein and Blaubeuren before entering the village of Schelklingen. Then take the K7329 roadway about a kilometer and nestled along the woods is the Evangelical boarding school Urspringschule – founded in 1930 in the buildings of a former Saint Benedict monastery formed in 1127 and run until 1806. The boarding school houses about 200 pupils and has a number of academic and apprentice offers.
Walking through the grounds brings one back to a simpler time when everything needed was encompassed in the community. And the surrounding landscape provides plenty of options as well – woods, fields and the Urspring creek. And the players get a shot of reality walking from their rooms to the Neue Halle Urspring gym as they pass by a stall containing about 10 rabbits.
Walking up to the you see right away just how successful Urspring has been since it started with their trophycase visible from outside. Inside are two boards full of newspaper clippings featuring past players who have come through the academy, which had teams playing in the JBBL,NBBL and ProA/ProB over the years.
Some of the former players include Mahir Agva, Kevin Bright, Kevin Bryant, Malik Müller, Kenneth Ogbe, Jermain Raffington, Justin Raffington, Christian Sengfelder, Nicolai Simon, Lucca Staiger, Christian Standhardinger, Maurice Stuckey, Sid-Marlon Theis, Akeem Vargas and Julius Wolf.
And those players helped Team Urspring legitimately dominate the NBBL. With current Nürnberg Falcons head coach Ralph Junge at the helm of the program starting from 2001 to 2014, Urspring won the first two NBBL titles in 2007 and 2008 and five of the first seven going up to 2013. The academy also won the 2011 JBBL crown under the name Team ALBA Urspring.
Urspring’s NBBL team needed to beat Kronberg in the SouthWest region as well as get Young Tigers Tübingen to lose to Eintracht Frankfurt/Fraport Skyliners the next day to grab a spot in the 16-team playoffs. Kronberg had already been eliminated from the playoffs and were looking to play spoiler.
Kronberg’s main man without a doubt was Felix Hecker, who came into the game averaging 28.2 points per game including dropping a season high 44 points against Urspring earlier in the season. Hecker’s 243 shots taken were 130 more than the next highest on the team.
Urspring meanwhile had three guys averaging in double digits – Noah Kamden, Moritz Noeres and Patrick Teka, the last who did not play due to a suspension.
From the first glance, one could tell that Jason George is a baller. At 2.00m/6-foot-6, George has good length and a solid frame. He could easily incorporate any additional height he might add.
Throughout warm-ups he was working on a floater with his off left hand as well as righty layups high off the glass. George, who wont turn 16 years until May, also showed some pretty good ball-handling while also flashing some bright orange shoes.
At the start of the game, George drew the defensive assignment of hounding Hecker. And George did a good job early on, regularly denying the ball getting into the hands of Kronberg’s main weapon. Hecker tried shooting over George and was regularly forcing tough shots. He also tried to drive on George and was blocked twice and in general struggled getting shots over the longer youngster. Hecker even tried with a couple steps running start and still couldn’t get past a back-peddling George.
Felix Hecker even tried with a couple steps running start and still couldn’t get past a back-peddling Jason George
Hecker also was forcing things otherwise and ended up committing seven turnovers and numerous times visibly exhibited his frustration about not being able to do things he wanted to do. Of course averaging 22 shots a game, Hecker would not stop attacking offensively. He ended up scoring 30 points but it was a difficult 30 points, hitting just 10-of-26 shots including 3-of-13 three-pointers. Hecker’s efficiency of 14 was the second lowest of the season – and 26 fewer than the 40 he had in mid-November when he poured in 44 points.
At the other end, George struggled with his long range shot. After averaging 30 percent from three-point range in the NBBL coming into the game, he missed all six of his three-point attempts and went 4-of-10 for the game in scoring 10 points.
He used his dribble a few times in collecting five assists in the game – dishing a couple times when he probably could have tried to score himself, including feeding a trailer on the break instead of going up for a spectacular finish – something he showed in warm-ups.
George also had a nice hook finish after driving from the left side and showed some good footwork with a drive, stop, turnaround jumper on offense.
In addition to the 10 points and 5 assists, George ended the game with 5 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1 turnover in 29 minutes. He also gained another fan.
This will not be the last time I head out on the road to see Jason George play. There are areas to improve of course but there is a lot to like in the package that he already possesses.
Taking a look at some of the other players from the game …
Noah Kamden (1998 – Urspring) is a low post player who is already physically mature and probably one of the stronger players in the NBBL. He is a bit undersized at 2.00m but does have some quickness and some athleticism. Most of his development is complete though it would be important for him if he could increase his range on his jumper – hitting just 25 percent from three-point range this season (8-of-32). But he is shooting 57 percent from inside the stripe.
Yannick Olma (1999 – Urspring) is a long springy player who is still very raw but is also very new to the game. His defense will get him on the court thanks to his solid athleticism and decent sense for blocking shots. There was also a behind the back dribble and pass after a steal on the break which came out of nowhere. So, there might be some more in there after some work.
Moritz Noeres (2000 – Urspring) is a solid sized guard who can shoot and rebound the ball. But there isn’t loads of athleticism there. He does have a solid understanding of the game though.
Nil Narku Bergmann (1998 – Uspring) is a smooth lefty point guard who gives you reason to be excited for one minute – whether it’s a nice pass or drive and finish at the rim – but then leaves you frustrated the next minute – with questionable decision making (0.6 assist-to-turnover ratio) and poor outside shooting (just 21 percent – 4-of-19 three-pointers). If he can get his game and mind under control, there is an intriguing skillset there to work with.
Nils Leonhardt (2000 – Urspring) is probably one of the main guys I need to get a read on at a next visit. Didn’t really observe him much but there is some nice length as a guard.
Jovan Mihic (2000 Kronberg) was actually my favorite player from Kronberg – more than Hecker, who just tried to force things and was given the green light to do anything he wanted. Mihic, who won the German U14 title with Eintracht Frankfurt, has nice length and is a hound defensively. He only joined the NBBL team in mid-season and scored 5 points to go with 5 rebounds – including four from the offensive glass (the second game this season he had four offensive rebounds). A lefty with a good drive, Mihic played a season high 22 minutes but could have taken a bit more of the initiative offensively – too often just giving the ball up, and most often to Hecker. But the five points were his first five of the season. So this might have been a breakout game – especially for his own confidence. A guy at least worth tracking.