German basketball talent Tibor Pleiss

Photo from German Basketball Federation

heinnews’ David Hein took a trip up to Bamberg to talk to young German basketball national team center Tibor Pleiss from Brose Baskets Bamberg. They discussed Pleiss’s eventful summer; what he learned from playing against players like Sofoklis Schortsanitis; the insolvency of Köln 99ers; Germany’s new regulations for German players; and the NBA as a goal for the future.

heinnews: Tibor, you have been in Cologne for the past three years, what’s it like now in Bamberg?
Pleiss: I’m just getting used to things here. Of course it’s a pretty big change since the city is quite a bit smaller than Cologne. But it’s a classy team and I think I will fit in just fine. And I think we will have a very good season.

heinnews: Let’s go back to this summer. You had a pretty event time with the U20 European Championship in Rhodes and then the German senior team training camp as well as making the EuroBasket 2009 squad. Start with the U20s, the team came in with high expectations – possibly even of reaching the semis – but ended up fighting off relegation. What did you think about the U20s this summer?
Pleiss: We had a really good team. And we thought we had real chances of reaching the semi-finals. But every team had a way they could beat us. So it was basically a 50-50 chance each time out. We lost the first two games really close – the first one in overtime to Croatia and the second at the buzzer to Serbia. And that kind of hurt our mentality and our motivation since we knew we couldn’t reach the next round. We thought we should have gone a lot further and then we lost another game and ended up just barely staying in Division A.

heinnews: You had helped Germany get promoted to Division A the summer before. And the team came in with such high expectations, how important was at least avoiding relegation?
Pleiss: It was very important. We had a good success with the promotion. And then we thought we are in a pretty good spot and I think we put ourselves under a lot of pressure. So I was really happy that we ended up getting it done in the end.

heinnews: Then you were invited by German coach Dirk Bauermann to the senior national team training camp. What kind of feelings did you have about that?
Pleiss: It was pretty special to play against very good players. Of course it was pretty difficult since I had played with the U20 national team. Then after EuroBasket, I was pretty tired for the first couple of training sessions here in Bamberg. Maybe it was a bit much but slowly I am getting back to where I should be.

heinnews: How was Poland for the EuroBasket?
Pleiss: Poland was great, especially just being there. That was an honor. I didn’t play all that much. But being part of the team spirit was great. We really pulled together. It was great.

heinnews: Knowing that the big names were missing and that there were no real expectations on the team, how easy was it for the team to play?
Pleiss: It was easier because you were able to play more freely. As a team we went a lot further than many in Germany thought we would. I think that was our advantage because we didn’t put a lot of stress on ourselves.

heinnews: What was it like playing against a guy like Sofoklis Schortsanitis?
Pleiss: (Laughing) Actually I had played against him already. Back then it was in the Euroleague with Köln. That was a while ago. But it is pretty nice playing against him – and other great players. It’s a chance to show I can play. He knocked me down once. But it was okay.

heinnews: What kind of things did you learn from your time with the senior team?
Pleiss: I learned so much in the few weeks with the national team – much more than during the same time in the Bundesliga. It’s just a different quality and a much higher quality. You prepare yourself. There are a lot more drills in order to play at the highest European level.

heinnews: What was the most important thing you learned?
Pleiss: To assert myself under the basket; battle; to believe; and try to play with more intensity.

heinnews: The summer of course also included the whole mess with your former club Köln 99ers. The team filed for insolvency during your time at the U20s and your team-mate from there Philipp Schwethelm was also there. How did you respond to the whole situation?
Pleiss: That did stress me out quite a bit, I must say, trying to find another club. That wasn’t easy in this situation because I had assumed things would continue in Cologne. I really thought a lot about it, and I think that influenced me during the first couple games during EuroBasket because I was also in contact with my agent about a new club.

heinnews: How did you end up deciding for Bamberg?
Pleiss: I wanted to play in Germany. I also had offers from Spain, Greece and Italy. But I decided for Germany because I wanted to improve my game more first. At the end of last season I played more and more at Köln and I wanted to do that again in Germany this season.

heinnews: The past couple weeks there has been plenty of discussion about Germans playing in the BBL and the 6+6 regulation starting in a few years was implemented. The other option was 4+1 where one German had to be on the court at all times. What did you think about all this talk?
Pleiss: I think it was a very good discussion and important because Germans – especially young Germans – have shown at the EuroBasket that they can play. Someone like Robin Benzing for example. Or Elias Harris. You could see that these kinds of players can play in the BBL. This will give a lot of Germans the chance to show they can play as well. And the EuroBasket was important for that too, showing that they can play at the high international level as well.

heinnews: Let’s talk a bit about your future. You said you had offers from Spain, Greece and Italy, and there were plenty of NBA scouts and scouts from big European clubs at the U20 European Championship in Rhodes. What are your goals for the next three or four years?
Pleiss: In the next three or four years I would like to play in Spain. Every player has the dream of playing in the NBA. And that’s my dream. I will do everything I can to get there – prepare myself physically and in my soul – that’s important too. So, yeah, those are my goals for the future.

heinnews: And what are maybe two or three things you need to work on to get to the next level?
Pleiss: I think I need to get more athletic. Also when I make mistakes some times I give up too quick. So I need to get stronger at that as well.

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