Heiko Schaffartzik is one of the oldest players on Germany’s national team. But he is still a leader on the team – photo by imago

With Germany hosting the 2012 SuperCup in Bamberg it was a chance to check out four teams fighting to qualify for EuroBasket 2013 – Finland, Germany, Poland and Turkey. heinnews’s David Hein caught up with Germany point guard Heiko Schaffartzik to discuss the state of the Germany team just before the qualifiers start; how the team is different since Svetislav Pesic took over from Dirk Bauermann as national team head coach; Germany’s qualifying group; his German Beko BBL club Alba Berlin bringing in a new coach; and the development of Tibor Pleiß.

heinnews: Hi Heiko, Germany are about to start their qualifiers for EuroBasket 2013. What’s the state of the team?

Schaffartzik: I think we have made a lot of progress. We’ve been together now for a month. There are some times in the games when you can really see, especially on defense, how we are very aggressive, very physical. But then sometimes we have breaks in concentration and maybe one guy makes a mistake and then the whole thing kind of collapses because we are a team defense-orientated team. So, we’ve made progress but I don’t think we’re as far as we should be. But as coach said it’s going to take hard work and patience and self-confidence. We just have to get one step better with every practice and every game.

heinnews: What would you say is the biggest thing the team needs to work on?

Schaffartzik: Running our plays, execution on offense. We have a very hard time getting open, getting into the plays and it’s hard for our point guards because they’re out there getting pressured, they want to pass the ball to somebody but they don’t have anybody to pass it to. That right there is the biggest thing we still have to work on.

heinnews: You at 27 are the second oldest player on this team behind Jan Jagla and then there is a group of 23-24 year olds like Philipp Schwethelm and others. And then there is a wave of even younger guys coming up like Philipp Neumann, Daniel Theis, Mathius Mönninghoff etc. You played with the guys that won the 2002 Worlds bronze and 2005 EuroBasket silver – Dirk Nowitzki, Patrick Femerling, Ademola Okulaja, Sven Schultze etc – and seen that generation pass, what’s it like for you to see the next generation come in?

Schaffartzik: We’re very fortunate in Germany to have these kinds of talents come in, also the under-18 and under-16 guys. There are Mönninghoff, Neumann, Theis, Dennis Schröder. But there are a lot of other names too. The thing is will they get the chance to play? Will they have the chance to develop? If I may say so, if we were in different country, I would not be concerned at all. They would play 15-20 minutes in Italy or Spain or wherever. Just in Germany, we’re trying with the six-and-six rule. That’s a small step. But I think that’s what it’s going to come down to. How will these players receive playing time and how will they develop and handle the pressure. And into what kind of players will they develop. But I think we are very fortunate in Germany.

heinnews: You went through the long Dirk Bauermann period and now Germany have a new head coach, the coaching legend Svetislav Pesic. What’s it like playing for him?

Schaffartzik: For me I basically just do everything that he says. I don’t question what he says. I’m also allowed to voice my opinion. He’ll ask for my opinion. But if he gives me an advice on what to do, I don’t question it. I just go ahead and do it. It’s just awesome to play for him at this point.

heinnews: What’s been the biggest change with Pesic coming in?

Schaffartzik: Defensively we are very aggressive. We are trying to deny everywhere on the court, where under Bauermann we played more conservative. Kind of protecting like American football and this is more like blitzing if you want to say. Offensively we play a lot more fast break. The danger there is that we may become a bit hectic and make turnovers, which you can see.  But the thing is if we develop this and get better – and that’s where patience, hard work and confidence comes in – then it’s going to be really good. But those are the two biggest differences – playing more fast break than slow, set plays; and defensively playing very aggressive, acting on the ball rather than waiting and reacting. Those are the differences in the philosophies of the two coaches.

heinnews: Azerbaijan, Luxembourg, Sweden and Bulgaria are in Germany’s EuroBasket 2013 qualifying group. That seems like a doable group. What are your thoughts on that grouping of opponents?

Schaffartzik: There are some good teams in there. It’s not going to be easy for us. Also going out on the road to play in Sweden, in Bulgaria, in Azerbaijan. So it’s not going to be easy if you take all of those things into the equation. But it’s our goal to qualify, hands down. That’s what we’re trying to do. If we do not reach that than we would consider that a failure.  It’s going to be tough but that’s our goal and that’s what we’re working for.

heinnews: Would like to ask you really quick about the club scene. Your team Alba Berlin have brought in a new coach in Sasa Obradovic, who knows the team, the history and the tradition there. What are your thoughts on him coming in?

Schaffartzik: He was successful as a player with the club, won the Korac Cup. He was successful with Cologne, winning the championship.  He was successful in Ukraine, winning the title. He’s known as being a hard worker and for playing hard and tough defense. I guess it’s a good choice. We’ll have to wait and see what happens because in basketball at the end it’s the results that count. We can talk about how hard we work and all that. But if you lose in the first round to Würzburg it was a bad season. That’s just the business we’re in. It’s just hard to say now. But I think from the general idea that was behind getting him, I think that was a good look from the club.

heinnews: One last question for you. What are your thoughts on the development of Tibor Pleiß over the past year and a half or so and also about him going to a Euroleague team in Spain?

Schaffartzik: First off, I would like to say that Tibor has made a tremendous development not only as a player at the end of the season last year. He was the best center in the entire league at the end of the season, and that’s a pretty good accomplishment for a 22-year-old. So he developed a lot there and he was a big reason why Bamberg won their third straight double. Also personally he developed. I remember the first time I met him he was hardly able to follow the conversation, and now he’s able to contribute and he has more self-confidence in who he is. And it’s very nice to see. If you know him for a while you can see him blossom.

In Spain I think it’s going to be a great, great challenge for him, and I’m rooting for him. I really hope he makes it. I really hope he goes there and does similar things as to what he’s done in Bamberg. And we’ll just have to see how that goes. But I think it’s the right step for sure. Why not? It’s very good and it takes a lot of balls in my opinion to do that, which maybe not a lot of people don’t see. But to leave Bamberg and your nest where everything is safe and to try something and go to this big, big team in Spain and this coach and these egos that are all involved, that’s ballsy. So he already gets a lot of props from me just for having the balls to go out and do that.

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