Another comeback helps Ramstein topple Kaiserslautern

Story and photos by Thomas Warner
contributing writer

Royals get 4th straight DODEA crown

Ramstein head coach Andrew O’Connor (far left) and assistant Andrew Short had to endure a few bumps along the road this season before the team secured its fourth straight DODEA championship.

WIESBADEN – The Ramstein Royals have needed comebacks to get basketball wins several times this season and the most recent one earned them a championship.
Ramstein fell behind by 15 points to rival Kaiserslautern but used a long jump shot by senior Joshua Gedeon to score a 46-45 win at the DODEA Europeans championships. Ramstein and Kaiserslautern had met four times already and split those games but the final one was for all the Division 1 marbles and it went down to the last seconds.
“It’s just surreal … on that last play they were in a zone defense and it was supposed to be a different person but it ended up in my hands,” said Gedeon. “I couldn’t hit shots throughout the game but I hit the one that mattered.”
Gedeon’s basket capped a back-and-forth final quarter after Ramstein had trailed 15-6 out of the gate, 19-10 at the end of the first quarter, and 25-15 at halftime. Many inside the packed Clay Kaserne gymnasium might have figured this was going to finally be Kaiserlsautern’s year to win it all but instead Ramstein rode the back of Euros most valuable player Naser Eaves to nab its fourth straight Europeans crown and continue it’s mastery of the Raiders in games that mattered most.
“It’s a mental game when you play with K-Town … they are more talented than us,” said Ramstein head coach Andrew O’Connor, now winner of six Europeans’ titles while coaching the Royals. “Skillwise they have all those shooters. We don’t have the shooters that they have so we really had to work our offense and we had to play great defense to beat them.”
The defensive push began when both teams went scoreless for four minutes to start the second quarter. It picked up even more in the second half when Ramstein finally pulled even and got an advantage. Game referees allowed both teams to play physical basketball throughout the contest and it featured lots of banging around the basketball and on the wings by both squads.
“It’s definitely physical with us and K-Town,” said sophomore Ramstein point guard Jerod Little. “All glory to God. I just always believe that if we listen to what our coach says and we follow what he says we can do anything. I believe in my team and they believe in me. Coach is a smart man.”
Little’s steal and subsequent score gave a spark early, when Ramstein was reeling, and Eaves had a put-back basket when Little missed which kept Ramstein from falling behind by double digits. Kaiserslautern was composed in all phases to start things off but Ramstein had seen deficits before and showed how to respond. The Royals trailed against Stuttgart in the Euro semifinals, to Black Forest in the regular season finale, and versus Kaiserslautern by 16 points at halftime on the RHS home floor during the regular season.
“We let it come to us, that’s all we try to do,” said Eaves, who had 15 points and 13 rebounds, plus several steals and assists in a dynamic finish to his junior season. Eaves made the all-tournament team for Ramstein along with Sincere Dudley, while Kaiserslautern chose seniors Isiah Washington and Marlon Robbins.
“When we faced them the first time in the tournament (a 35-33 KHS win) we didn’t execute,” said Dudley. “In this one we just wanted it more. I’m really sort of speechless after this one.”
Dudley rejected a Raider shot into the stands and had another block early on, when not much positive was happening for Ramstein. An unsung hero for the Royals was Gabe Fraley, playing off the bench for much of the season and delivering his finest performance in the championship game. Fraley scored on a pair of 3-point shots and stole the ball and drove on the final play of the third quarter for a lay-up that put Ramstein ahead 36-35. Fraley ended up with six assists and 10 points.
“It was my teammates, they just kept giving me the ball and I tried to make them proud,” Fraley said. “They’ve been telling me to shoot all season but I haven’t been doing. Tonight I said I would do it.”
Both crowds were into the game, jousting behind vibrant cheer squads and raucous student sections. Signs and banners peppered the stands as Marlon Robbins started a fast break that led to a basket from Washington and another Kaiserslautern lead. Little answered with a Ramstein 3-pointer and sophomore Jason Jones had late rebounds and a rejection that were big for the Royals.
Kaiserslautern still had time at the end to do something but in reality saw its balloon burst when Gedeon drained his right side 3-pointer, sending the blue-clad boosters into delirium and finalizing the score.
“That was a suggestion by my assistant coach (Andrew Short) and I went with him, I trusted him, and it was the correct call,” O’Conner said of Gedeon’s re-entry to the lineup after spending much of the second half on the bench. “That’s what I love about our team … it takes everybody if we expect to win consistently. Everybody has to give something and on our team we can all depend on each other.”
Little scored eight points for the victors, while Kaiserslautern got 18 from Washington and 10 from Robbins.

”To me, he’s the best player in DoDDS. The inside/outside, the passing, the rebounding, the way he makes his teammates want to play harder – I mean, the shooting is like the fifth most important thing for a basketball player. He’s really solid in all phases of the game.” — Ramstein coach Andrew O’Connor on Euros MVP Naser Eaves

Kaiserslautern 68, Stuttgart 48
Washington had 20 points and Dotson scored 24 as Kaiserslautern easily advanced to the finals. Dotson produced points and big rebounds in all four quarters while Washington scored all over the court on five jumpers during the opening stanza.
Kaiserslautern used three 3-point shots by Starkey to forge a 38-26 halftime lead, controlling the boards and raising the tempo with good ball movement and passing. They got a basket from Robbins and five late points from Bryce Pretlow as things broke open in the late stages.

Ramstein 44, Wiesbaden 41
It wasn’t until a full-court pass by Little for a slam dunk by Eaves that Ramstein could relax. Eaves had tons of shots in the first half but hardly registered points. The Royals trailed by one at the break but Eaves caught fire, with 12 points, multiple rebounds and big play in the second half.
The home court student section noise helped ignite Wiesbaden, which was propelled by Isaiah DeVane’s 12 points. Donte Hurt sank two 3-pointers in the fourth period but Ramstein and Eaves completed the fast break dunk and things were settled.
Dudley had seven total rebounds and a key put-back in the final three minutes, to go with an Eaves baseline jumper that kept RHS ahead. Gedeon scored nine second-half points and joined Jones with defensive help.

Ramstein girls nearly knock off Naples
Advancing to the Division I semifinals gave Ramstein a chance to prove their season had been one of progress and growth. The Lady Royals outdid Naples (18-2) in the first half before falling 39-31.
Leading 26-18 at halftime, the Ramstein team did not shoot well when it counted. The fourth quarter was the clincher, when Naples used the free throw line to finally go ahead. Ramstein was 4-of-12 from the line in the game while Naples hit 10-of-20.
Adelina Bonilla led Ramstein with eight points while Shemilia Johnson, Baileigh McFall and Yhari Dupree each scored six. The Lady Royals lost the consolation game 40-27 against Vilseck and wound up in fourth place overall at the tournament.