Not too many players stay in the same place for 11 years, but Per Guenther and ratiopharm Ulm have proven to be a match made in heaven. The 1.84-meter point guard point guard joined the club from Phoenix Hagen in 2008 and has worked for Ulm ever since, the last eight seasons under head coach Thorsten Leibenath. Guenther earned the German League Rookie of the Year honor in 2008 and has been chosen as the competition's Most Likeable Player five times. A member of the German national team, Guenther is in his sixth 7DAYS EuroCup season – all of them with Ulm, of course. Fun, creative and easy-going, Guenther will tell us all about his team as he tries to help Ulm reach as deep as possible in the EuroCup!
We just got our first 7DAYS EuroCup win this season, against Galatasaray Istanbul in double-overtime, and I think that a win like that always shows good character. In double- or triple-overtime games, you always see one team giving in, but we really came together and it was a good win. It is a win that can help us a lot for the rest of the season because of the way it happened, rallying twice and staying alive. If we did this once, we can do it again! We were mentally tough and physically strong enough to play a double-overtime game and win it. We are a pretty deep team but you need a lot of players to compete at this level.
"I hope that this double-overtime win is the start of something."
It is great sign that Ismet Akpinar had a great game that night. It's is a great story; him with Turkish heritage doing so well against a Turkish team – and I know he likes Galatasaray! We just kind of fed off his energy. He played really free and help everyone else have a great fourth quarter. It is just a nice story. With everything that is going on in Europe right now – without getting too much into politics – he is a perfect example of someone loving two countries and showing respect for both of them. For him, it is always going to be special to play in Turkey, of course, but also against Turkish teams. I am really happy with the way he performed in that game.
Isaac Fotu played a great second overtime, too. I am also happy for him - first of all. In the first couple of days you know him, you think he is a very quiet guy but he has a great sense of humor. He has a great balance of being focused and working very hard, and that is something very valuable throughout the whole season.
This is my 11th season with ratiopharm Ulm. When you are 25 or 27 years old, you think about the possibility of playing abroad, seeing different countries and different cultures. But in life, you have to take decisions in order to be functional and comfortable. If you are playing well somewhere, you can stay or then take the risk and go somewhere else. The most important thing for me was playing a role in which I can play my best basketball and really be free. I enjoy that to the fullest in Ulm. I guess I will never know what kind of team I could have played for, but I enjoy playing 30 minutes, winning games and being out there every night for years and years and years. As an athlete, that was the most important thing for me. The team and the city are amazing; it is incredible how the club grew over the years to become one the biggest teams in German basketball. I think our arena has been sold out now in the German League for 120 or 130 consecutive games. I hope we can advance in the EuroCup and keep getting big crowds there, too, because it is important.
Also, this is my eighth consecutive season with coach Thorsten Leibenath. He is a great guy and we have a great working relationship. We went through a lot and he kind of helped me develop and make me the player that I have been, that I am. He got me when I was 23 – young, wild and angry! Now I am old and I went through a lot of phases in my basketball career with him. It is certainly a special relationship, it is true.
I was asked to talk about being the Most Likeable Player in the German League for five years. I don't know! I think we finished second a lot and that is a part of it. If you win constantly, people don't really like you. We went to two German Cup finals and two German League finals. We were good but usually Bamberg was better than we were. Maybe we were not supposed to win championships, but we have been close many times. I am a small guy, so maybe people identify with me more than a seven-foot athlete. Maybe that gave me pity votes for the nicest guy in the league!
"I am a small guy, so maybe people identify with me more than a seven-foot athlete."
Ricky Paulding won it twice, so I guess people like players who stay on the same team for years, too. Also, in Ricky's case, how he aged gracefully and got better and better as the main player in Oldenburg. In basketball, there are a lot of one-year contracts and so many changes, so it is important for teams to have players who are there for many seasons, faces you recognize. I hope there are more players like that but at the same time, it is difficult. Players like me, Paulding or Quantez Robertson in Frankfurt are loyal to our teams, but at the same time, you need the organization to grow throughout the years. In my case, the city and the people here are a great factor, but there is also a great fit with the coach and a very good financial situation. I have to be honest, I wouldn't have stayed 11 years if everything didn't come together the way it did.
So, we face AS Monaco at home next. I hope that this double-overtime win is the start of something. Our schedule does not get easier because we have very difficult games in both competitions. We cannot take nights off! We have to keep working, regenerate, take care of our bodies and go 2-1 in the EuroCup. We would take that situation any day of the week!