heinnews.com’s David Hein has built a strong relationship with German national team coach Dirk Bauermann. He caught up with the former Bamberg coach to talk about the 2008 Olympics, being just the national team coach, if Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman will play at the 2009 EuroBasket, Germany’s draw for the tournament in Poland and a few other things. Here is part one. Part two will come on Tuesday.
heinnews.com: Dirk Bauermann, it has been some time since we talked. Just wanted to catch up with you. Since we last talked, you helped Germany qualify for the 2008 Olympics in China where Germany failed to get to the quarter-finals. How were the Olympics for you?
Bauermann: Oh wow. The Olympics were great. It was a tremendous accomplishment to be there. I think we played really well in Athens (at the Pre-Olympics Qualifying Tournament). In my estimation we deserved to go. I’m really proud of the guys. They played with a lot of quality and came through. And it meant a lot, especially to Dirk (Nowitzki) and his reaction after we beat Puerto Rico reflected that.
Being at the Olympics was great. It was extremely well organized. The Opening Ceremonies and the Olympic Village were a deep and emotional experience. It was second to none. I have won many championships and reached the Euroleague Top 16 with Bamberg and coached at the World Championships. But I have never experienced something like that. It was something truly special. We weren’t able to get to the top eight. It would have been great. But we knew it would be tough to beat the Chinese on their home court. It was hard but it wasn’t a big downer. It was really great to be there. Had we had the form that we had in Athens I think we could have done considerably better. But it’s extremely tough with just two weeks between the Pre-Olympic tournament and the Olympics to have two peaks that high.
heinnews.com: This season you are not patrolling the sidelines for a basketball club for the first time in more than 20 years after taking on the German national team coaching job on a full time basis. How was it watching the start of the European basketball season without a club to coach?
Bauermann: All of us coaches and players as are so competitive. We are used to competition on Wednesday and Thursday and then on Saturday or Sunday. And your body and mind are conditioned to perform at the high level on those two days. And when you don’t have that, it’s strange. But I knew it would be like this.
Still it’s difficult. I do miss the games but I don’t miss them as much as working with the players and building something out of nothing – taking 12 players and forming them into a cohesive unit. And working with the young players and making them understand what it’s like to perform at a high level. Also helping them deal with personal issues.
I am still young, relatively speaking. Sooner or later I will get back into club coaching. But this time off is very important.
And it’s important to help German basketball too. And not just the national team but the youth level as well. We need to cooperate better with the BBL and ProA and ProB. There are a lot of areas we need address to compete internationally. Still five years of doing both (club and national team) takes a lot out of you.
heinnews.com: As national team head coach, how much do you watch games in the German BBL?
Bauermann: Sure I watch a lot of games. I really watch teams with German national team players. Unfortunately there are not a lot of them out there. I just watched Leverkusen vs Bamberg, I mean Duesseldorf. And Leverkusen, sorry, I mean Duesseldorf …
heinnews.com: … It’s hard not thinking Leverkusen, isn’t it?
Bauermann: Yeah of course. So Duesseldorf managed to play the whole game without having a German on the court (actually, Matthias Goddek played five minutes). They have an eight-man rotation and played the whole game without a German. It just saddens me. Other teams are a little bit better. Still, it’s a huge problem. We have made strides as next year it will be four German players on the team. But that’s just not good enough. Other countries like Germany, Italy for example, are seeing the same thing of too many Americans playing in front of Germans. And we are going to have to pay a huge price some time soon.
heinnews.com: Is there anything you can do about that as national team boss, like talk to the coaches?
Bauermann: The coaches can’t do anything either. There is a set of rules and if they can have eight Americans and it’s their job and they need to make the playoffs or stay in the league then they will do that. I was at a round table in Karlsruhe and a coach or official said the coaches in handball, hockey and basketball have to be more courageous to play German guys. You can’t expect a coach on the hot seat to play a German. It’s only gonna work if everybody is dealt the same hand. Coaches will only play a lot of German players if they have to.
We need to get to 50-50 – six Germans and six foreigners. That will also help bring in better Americans. There are a lot of Americans in the league right now who are only average players. Many of the experienced German players are better than many of the Americans. But in German club basketball there is this stigma, “You’re German you’re no good, you’re American or Serbian, oh, you’re really good.” That’s not right and that angers me. We need 50-50. That will take some time – maybe to 2012 or so. But to save German basketball we need to do that.
Every year American college produces thousands and thousands of players. If we don’t protect our own we will get washed away. We need to talk to the club managers and BBL commission and other officials. If they don’t start going in the right direction, we’re really going to struggle to develop young players.
heinnews.com: After some seven years Alba Berlin is returning to the Euroleague. And the Euroleague Final Four is being played in Berlin in May 2009. How will that help German basketball?
Bauermann: If you look at the infrastructure of the arenas in Germany, I would say Germany is second to only Spain in Europe. Many of the arenas in Germany are just as beautiful as anywhere else. There is so much potential here.
But it is important that a club like Berlin in the German capital is in the Euroleague. Berlin have the best money, the best areana, the best infrastructure. The city is great. It’s vibrant and there are a lot of young people there. We need to have them in the Euroleague. And I think Alba have the best chances of any German club to be successful in the Euroleauge. That’s not to say that a team like Bamberg or Frankfurt cannot represent Germany well in the Euroleauge. But Berlin is the program with the best chances to turn into a Euroleague regular.
Part two coming on Tuesday