The following is OldSchoolBaller’s interview with German Head Coach Dirk Bauermann. OSB (don’t worry about her real name) writes for ELA’s favorite German basketball blog Gruebelei.de and does Hell of a job. In addition to being offered in its original German form on their site, the interview was also published in BasketMe’s EuroBasket 2011 guidebook, if Spanish is more your thing.
You can follow Gruebelei.de on Twitter @gruebler. Now, let’s get a little bit of Dirk action.
Oldschoolballer: As you know, the Eurobasketguide of Basketme includes a big history section. The first question might fall into this category, because it really goes way back in time (laughs).
1994 at the World Championships in Canada, when you had taken over the National Team head coaching job on very short notice, Germany was eliminated in the preliminaries with only one loss in a 3-way-tie with Puerto Rico (finished 6th) and Greece (finished 4th) and went on to finish only in 12th place. Do you feel like you could have gone a long way in this tournament with your team had it not been for this unfortunate elimination?
Dirk Bauermann: We really were unlucky with this elimination and could have gone far at the World Championships 1994 with this great team although the 2 best players, Detlef Schrempf and Christian Welp, had chosen not to play in Canada. But this is really a long, long time ago (laughs).
osb: You worked as an Assistant Coach at Fresno State University in the NCAA. Other Germans played in the NCAA not only in the past (Schrempf, Welp, Blab) but also currently (Harris, Giffey, Mönninghoff). Is this NCAA experience and interaction good for German basketball or is it rather sad seeing the young German talents leave instead of having them play in the domestic leagues?
DB: It’s - besides the sport’s ambitions - a really great opportunity for young people to develop as people and to learn a language to perfection. We are happy to have this opportunity for our players. For some of them it’s a very good chance to develop, also from a sports point of view, because of the structure of German basketball, they do not get the necessary playing time to take the next step in their careers. They might find themselves on the bench of a professional basketball team, but that hasn’t helped anybody yet to get better. So through a scholarship in the NCAA, they receive a sports and college education at the same time, which is perfect for some of them. Others might be better off in Germany or Europe in general because they might need more advice and support with sports issues or more time to practice. That is often better taken care of here, because you can have a focus on sports over the entire course of 12 months. The season in the USA is short; practice times as well as the possibilities of interactions between coaches and players are heavily restricted. Therefore there are also players that I would advise to not go overseas, but rather stay here. You always have to look at the individual situation very carefully.
osb: In the past years, the German national team is reloading the roster with young talent such as Benzing, Pleiss, Ohlbrecht and Harris (who will not be able to participate). From your point of view, where is Germany now into this evolution process?
DB: In 2009, 2 years ago, we really went through a quite radical change. Players of course developed much faster, playing on the national team very early in their careers, even having played at a European and a World Championship already and being only 19 or 20 years old. On the one hand we are further along in that process than other nations on the other hand the players are still very young. I think we are still only seeing the beginning of it with this generation of players and that’s why it is so much more important that Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman are joining the youngsters this summer for the Eurobasket 2011. In 2, 3 or 4 years from now we will see a very, very strong German national team – even without the two NBA-Stars.
osb: What do you think it could mean for the youngsters to play alongside Dirk Nowitzki? Given the short time of only two weeks he will have to prepare for the tournament, could Dirk be most important when it comes to support for the youngsters or will he still be important by himself?
DB: We really only have a very short preparation time together, too short indeed. I think Ibaka and the Gasol brothers have joined the Spanish team from the very beginning of their preparations quite some time ago. That of course is a disadvantage for us, no doubt about it. Dirk is very important as a mentor and leader obviously but of course he also is the cornerstone of the team as a player.
osb: France as your opponent in Group B has 6 NBA-Players on their roster, with a 7th one even being cut from the team. Does this leave you in awe or does it impress your younger players?
DB: Yes, of course, France does have a very, very talented team, as they had many times before but they never really made it to the top. The NBA is a league where athleticism rules supreme due to a different set of rules and a bigger court, just to name two differences. The European style of play asks for quite a different set of skills, that’s why I think we can even beat a team like France. But surely they are one of the heavily favored teams and a strong contender for a medal.
osb: Your group B with France, Italy, Serbia, Israel and Latvia has been called the “Group of Death“ by many. To reach 3rd seat in that group is a must, and your goal if you want to make it to the 2012 Olympics or the Olympic qualifying tournament respectively. What are your chances to reach that goal?
DB: “Death Group“ is an appropriate name. It’s the strongest group in the tournament in my eyes. Spain’s group is strong as well, but our group B with that overall depth even more so. If you think further it might not even be enough to reach 3rd seat as you will then face the survivors of group A which probably are Spain, Lithuania and Turkey. So either way you look at it – it’s going to be a very, very tough task to reach our goal of at least 6th place for the qualifying tournament. We will try to be a compact and intact team as always, with the addition of two outstanding players, and then we will wait and see if the dices roll our way.
osb: Your Group B plays their games in the fantastic Arena of Siauliai. Unfortunately the infrastructure of the city didn’t allow for the teams to make Siauliai their headquarter too. Meaning you will have to shuttle back and forth between your hotel in the Latvian capital of Riga and the venue site in Siauliai, Lithuania for 2 to 2.5 hours before and after every game. Does that concern a head coach?
DB: Not really. As long as those are the same conditions for everyone then it simply is what it is. If anything, it might be a small advantage because in my opinion other teams might have players on their team with more of a “primadonna attitude”. Our guys are very goal-oriented and able to handle the circumstances. They do understand what is at hand and what has to be done to get there. In all likelihood we are bound to handle that adversity better than others.
osb: This season in the German top league (the Beko BBL) we have seen a lot of different defensive variations like varying zones, matchup-zones, box-and-one among others. Will we see something similar from the German national team or does the short preparation time not allow for something like that?
DB: At the top of European basketball you barely see that at all – be it on the club or national team level. You might come across it every now and then but basically everyone is just playing a very intensive and hard-nosed man-to-man defense. Why we have seen that in the Beko BBL lately is anybody’s guess but for the top flight European teams it’s not really an alternative so you won’t see that from us either.
osb: You recently had your first team practice with all guys on board including your two NBA-players Chris and Dirk. Were the other players a bit overexcited or even uptight? Even though Dirk Nowitzki surely isn’t a prototypical star, much less sees himself as one, it is nonetheless the 2011 NBA Champion and the MVP of the Finals entering the gym, getting ready to practice with you. I know I would be nervous.
DB: There are two things that one can notice: Those two guys are really making it easy for their fellow teammates with their open, friendly and guy-next-door attitude. It’s more that you get the feeling they have been there with the team all summer long. Of course there was tension and nervousness around, I think that’s quite normal. But usually it takes but one or two days and everything is back to business again.
osb: As a summary: What is your outlook on Eurobasket 2011?
DB: Our first goal of course is to reach the next round but we are anything but the favorites to advance. We are still a very young team and haven’t had the time to gel. Conventional wisdom has Serbia and France in front as well as Spain and Lithuania. It will be very difficult to get to the Olympics but we surely have a chance, even if it’s only an underdog’s chance, but we have to make it past the group stage, obviously. If we had it our way, we would have liked to be seated in an easier group, that would not only have helped with the chances of advancing but also give the team the much needed time to come together as a group. With the current scenario the team will be under pressure from the very start, knowing they will not be as far as a unit as they ultimately could be. But these are the realities and we will deal with it.
osb: Thank you very much, Mr. Bauermann, for taking the time. We are grateful for the pleasant talk and very interesting interview. Good luck to you and the team in Lithuania!
DB: It was my pleasure, and thank you very much!