By Janine Engeleiter
Heavily pregnant women struggle along the sidewalk talking about the sad failures of some World Cup scenes instead of obstetrics, breathing techniques or a diaper-changing course. That’s the point when football fever has reached everyone.
Well, almost everyone.
Another world championship was taking place in the backdrop of the roar of vuvuzellas. For the first time in history, 17-year-old basketball players were given the chance to demonstrate their skills internationally at the 2010 FIBA Under-17 World Championship in the northern German city of Hamburg.
And most of the spectators’ eyes were focused on the young Germans, who came into the tournament with a long and strong warm-up phase. “It’s very tough for our players to fulfill the expectations. Everyone – friends, family, press – is here and watching them,” German head coach Frank Menz said of the uncommon situation for his young players at a press conference during the tournament.
Anselm Hartmann in fact was busier off the court than on it as the German national team captain had to patiently deal with numerous photo sessions and interviews.
The 17-year-old initially spent his time on the football pitch before playing basketball parallel until finally deciding on the later. “You can see that you can achieve something quicker in basketball. Everyone plays football. That makes it more difficult to establish yourself,” Hartmann described his decision.
Basketball however is more often the first choice in the United States or Baltic nations such as Lithuania, where the sport is traditionally anchored into the society and the opposing masses produce some of the best players in the game. Basketball players proudly play in front of big crowds for their school. And this interlocking of school education and high performance sport is rarely utilized in Germany.
Hartmann attended the sports school in Jena last year and will return to Oldenburger TB next season. In addition to the U19 Youth NBBL league, the Wahnbek native can also play against men in the Regionalliga league. The playmaker hopes to “play at a higher, more intelligent level against better and more athletic players.” The lack of playing time however has often been a problem and a reason for stagnating talents.
Hartmann also has the possibility of completing his secondary school Abitur in Oldenburg and have integrated training sessions. But very few are privileged enough to enter such a program since sports are usually organized at the club level. In addition, there is a “lack of quality and variety of views of the coaches” according to Martin Esters, the coach of an academy in Wisconsin.
After the German team finished last summer’s U16 European Championship in 11th place they were a bit lucky to finish the U17 worlds in eighth place. That was helped by beating less organized teams early in the tournament.
Youth basketball in Germany remains as sluggish as a pregnant woman.