With a boom box under his arm, Moritz Wagner climbs into the waiting team bus for the German national basketball team. Mood music booms out of the box, which the 26-year-old center sings along loudly. Some teammates bob to the beat of the music, others are exhausted from the exhausting World Cup quarter-final against Latvia, which the DBB team narrowly won a few hours earlier.
By beating the surprise team Latvia at the 2023 World Cup, the team made it into a World Cup semi-final for the first time since 2002. Similar to today, the German team stood out back then with a strong team spirit and a special unity.
The DBB selection was led 21 years ago by exceptional player Dirk Nowitzki, who led the team to only its second medal in history. In 1993, the DBB team was able to win the European Championship title.
“Dirk was the best player in the world,” remembers Patrick Femerling, who stood alongside Nowitzki on the floor at the World Cup tournament in the USA. “But that wasn’t the only key to success. The team accepted and embraced their role. Everyone brought their maximum performance onto the field.” Just like at this World Cup.
Basketball talents were forgotten
The team at that time remained largely together and was able to cause a stir again three years later and win the silver medal at the European Championships. But then the break came: the DBB selection fell into a performance hole. The almost two-decade dry spell only ended last year with successful participation in the EuroBasket 2022. At the European Championships at that time, the team led by head coach Gordon Herbert secured the bronze medal.
“In the past, there was increased reliance on foreign players in the Bundesliga. As a result, we simply lost two generations of players who saw no prospects in professional sport,” Femerling told DW. But now, says the record national player, people have understood that it is important to promote their own talents. “The clubs have placed more emphasis on youth players and that is certainly one reason why we now have a good national team.”
Continuity and trust
Good youth work and a national coach who has continued to drive change in the basketball association since 2021 are among the main reasons for the current success. With his calm demeanor, the 64-year-old Canadian has put the national team back on the road to success. “He’s a very calm and level-headed coach,” says Femerling, adding: “He fits in well with the team.” In addition, Herbert has a good team of coaches at his side. “The medical staff, who are more than just doctors and physios, but are also often pastors.” In addition to the existing expertise of everyone in the team, this is also an important part.
The recipe for success is very simple: continuity and trust. This applies to the coaching and support staff, but above all to the selection of players. Herbert has nominated nine players for this World Cup, who also wore the German jersey at last year’s European Championship. In addition, the coach, who used to be one of the top players in Europe, demands commitment – i.e. full commitment – from himself and his players. “You can’t achieve your goals without commitment,” explains Herbert. “Everyone always talks about achieving goals, but first of all you need dedication and sacrifice. And all my players have that commitment.”
The main goal of the coach is to form a team. He takes the necessary time for this, because many of his players are at home in the NBA. Before the World Cup, he visited Dennis Schröder in Toronto, Moritz and Franz Wagner in Orlando and Daniel Theis, who is under contract with the Indiana Pacers.
Herbert goes out to eat with his players, gets to know them, talks to them about sporting and personal matters. “I didn’t know Daniel that well before, so I was really looking forward to the dinner. We had really good conversations,” explains Herbert. “Gordi has the right approach. He knows what he’s doing. And he has a good connection with Dennis, which is very important. So it all fits together very well,” says Femerling.
Femerling: “Dennis has grown up”
Dennis Schröder is captain and leader of the national team. A manager similar to Dirk Nowitzki. Above all, Schröder’s good relationship with the coach could be one of the reasons why the NBA professional is one of the key players in most games. “I can’t describe why it works the same way. He knows exactly what he needs and what he wants. But he lets all the people who are in the dressing room know that they are important,” reports Schröder in the DBB interview .
Schröder, who was considered an “enfant terrible” and a rebel in his early days, has changed. After his time in Braunschweig, he moved to the NBA to the Atlanta Hawks in 2013. The point guard continued to develop – athletically, but above all as a person. “Dennis has grown up,” says Femerling. “I think his development is very nice. I think that his role was sometimes very big and the expectations placed on him were too. But in the last two years you have seen that everything has developed very nicely.”
Youth work is the focus
But what if the target player has a bad day, like against Latvia at the World Cup? Schröder was only able to put four of 26 attempts in the basket. In addition, he did not even score from the three-point line. “It was my worst game ever as a basketball player,” Schröder later admitted on Instagram.
Others stepped into the breach for the captain that day. Franz and Moritz Wagner, Andi Obst and Johannes Thiemann took on responsibility. “We have a lot of quality across the board and the age structure from young to experienced is also very good,” explains the former national player and is certain: “This is the best national team we have ever had.”
The coming years will show how sustainable this current development in German basketball will be. Femerling does not fear a slump like around 20 years ago. “I hope that youth work – male and female – will continue to be promoted and promoted. And that people will continue to benefit from it.”