Photo from DBB

German 20-year-old center Tibor Pleiss experienced a pretty exciting night June 24 when he was selected by the New Jersey Nets with the first pick of the second round of the 2010 NBA Draft – No. 31 overall – and ended up a new big man prospect for the up-and-coming Oklahoma City Thunder.

So is Tibor Pleiss the next Dirk Nowitzki or the next Peter Fehse? One thing is certain, there is something about the Thunder and Germany.

After picking him in the second round, the Nets swapped Pleiss and draft rights to Jordan Crawford (the 27th pick) to the Atlanta Hawks for the rights to Damion James (Atlanta’s No. 24 pick). Oklahoma then gave Atlanta an undisclosed amount of cash for the rights to Pleiss.

The young Pleiss will play for Germany at the 2010 World Championship this summer in Turkey. And Thunder Executive Vice President/General Manager Sam Presti told the club’s website that Pleiss will return to Germany to play for his BBL club Brose Baskets Bamberg in the Euroleague. And then all is open for Pleiss’s future.

The German BBL league and German Cup double winners Bamberg were pleased for Pleiss about getting drafted – the first German to be picked since Peter Fehse in the second round in 2002.

“I am happy for Tibor. It’s a great story for him, but also for our club and all of German basketball,” said Bamberg manager Wolfgang Heyder.

Bamberg have two years left on their contract with Pleiss though there is an exit clause.

The Thunder meanwhile are thrilled to have the young big man – who is more than just size.

“It was more the substance. We saw a guy who could move really well. We saw a guy who had dexterity. We saw a guy who really seemed to enjoy playing,” said the Thunder’s Director of College/International Player Personnel Rob Hennigan.

“I know that sounds simple, but it’s hard to find nowadays players who really love to play, especially players Tibor’s size.”

Hennigan added: “He has some savvy defensively and I think once his body catches up to his instincts and his savvy, I think that’s when you’re really going to see him take off.”

Pleiss is just the first of a group of very talented young German players who will likely join Dirk Nowitzki in the NBA. Robin Benzing of ratiopharm Ulm and Gonzaga to-be sophomore Elias Harris are both next on the list while Telekom Baskets Bonn center Tim Ohlbrecht did not get drafted but does not turn 22 until late August.

The Bergisch Gladbach native Pleiss is just the second German player drafted since Dirk Nowitzki was selected by the Milwaukee Bucks with the No. 9 pick in the 1998 draft and then traded to Dallas. In 2002, the Seattle SuperSonics picked German big man Peter Fehse midway through the second round with pick No. 49 overall ahead of Darius Songaila, Luis Scola and Rascal Butler.

The two Germans picked before Nowitzki were Detlef Schrempf with the No. 8 overall selection by Dallas – from Cleveland – out of the University of Washington in 1985. And then Christian Welp was chosen by New York from Milwaukee via Seattle at No. 16 overall in 1987.

Of course no one expects Pleiss to be like Nowitzki – a former NBA MVP. But no one expects Pleiss to be like Fehse either.

In 2002, NBA teams were looking for another version of Nowitzki and Seattle had thought they had found someone in Fehse, a 6-foot-11 power forward/center who like Nowitzki was in the second division in Germany when he was drafted.

Fehse never materialized on the foreseen potential and even struggled to make a real contribution for a top flight in Germany and ended the 2010 season in the fourth division.

Curious though is that Pleiss landed with Oklahoma City – of course the successor to the Seattle SuperSonics.

Schrempf was a long time star with the Sonics. Welp – like Schrempf played at the University of Washington in Seattle – has since retired and lives in Seattle. And of course it was Seattle who drafted Fehse.



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