And then it happened: Gordon Herbert had to laugh heartily. Otherwise, the coach of the German national basketball team prefers a sober tone in his analyses. In any case, his remarks are sparse, as if every superfluous word were blamed on him. But when in the middle of his review after the 106:71 win against the Hungarians in the final preliminary round match in the Cologne arena the announcement burst that a visitor should please drive his car out of the way, even Herbert relaxed the reins for a moment who otherwise keep his emotions under control.
He had reason enough: there was the grandiose performance in the last group game against Hungary. A competitor who, as the established group last, had of course already packed his bags. And there was second place in heavy Group B, which Herbert recalled had been labeled "Death Group".
Meanwhile, European champion Slovenia had secured the group victory with the 88:82 victory against Olympic bronze medalist France - and underpinned his ambitions of defending the title. Once again thanks to a gala performance by Luka Doncic, who scored an insane 47 points, the second best value at a European Championship. But while the defending champion's game is significantly tailored to one player, the German team convinces with a wide range.
Christian Sengfelder and Justus Hollatz fit right into the game
Herbert had given three key players a break against Hungary in the two NBA forces Dennis Schröder and Daniel Theis as well as defense specialist Nick Weiler-Babb. Schröder and Theis entered the tournament with injuries, but will return on Saturday in the round of 16 against Montenegro (6 p.m., Magentasport). Weiler-Babb had injured his shoulder in the defeat against Slovenia, and Herbert didn't want to make any predictions about future appearances. But even in such a decimated form, the selection of the German was convincing basketball Bunds - also because Christian Sengfelder and Justus Hollatz fit seamlessly into the game. This was remarkable given that neither had been on the floor for a second in previous games.
Sengfelder, who always drew attention to himself in the national team when the NBA forces were absent, immediately became the top scorer with 22 points. Hollatz distributed eleven assists and also provided evidence that he can be sent onto the field without any major concerns. A hallmark of this selection, as Sengfelder later noted: "We have learned that we are a very broad team, in every game another player can stand out. That makes us dangerous and unpredictable."
In fact, the German selection impresses with its balance. Of course, the NBA players Schröder, Theis and Franz Wagner stand out, but backup forces like Maodo Lo, Johannes Thiemann, Andreas Obst and Niels Giffey act at a similarly exposed level. Which shouldn't come as a surprise; all these players are seasoned Euroleague players, steeled in duels at the highest continental level.
Probably the biggest factor in the successful departure so far is the passionate defensive game. "It can always be there, it's a matter of commitment and communication," says co-captain Johannes Voigtmann, the most effective rebounder in the German team. It's not just about preventing opposing points; Winning the ball through effective rebounding promotes the team's dangerous speed game. Second and third throwing chances are developed under the opposing board with intercepted balls - a stylistic device that decisively brought about the victories against France and Lithuania. In addition to Voigtmann, the DBB selection in Theis, Johannes Thiemann and Jonas Wohlfarth-Bottermann employ first-class staff in this regard.
If successful, there could be a duel with Greece, one of the tournament favourites
Which brings us to the final feature of this team: team chemistry. A term that is often used in team sports, but during the preliminary round in Cologne every player reported that he enjoyed participating, without being asked. "It's really cool to play here," said Maodo Lo. He's enjoying this tournament immensely thanks to his teammates alone: "It's just cool to play this European Championship." This is also appreciated by the spectators, almost 237,000 visitors streamed into Cologne's Lanxess Arena in the preliminary round, never before have so many people wanted to see the preliminary round of a basketball championship.
Born in Berlin, Niels Giffey is hoping for a sequel in his hometown: "This support helps enormously," he said ahead of the round of 16 against Montenegro. Not least thanks to the performances they have shown so far, the German team is the favorite in their first knockout game. If successful, there could be a duel with Greece, one of the tournament favourites.
National coach Herbert doesn't want to waste any thought on that: It's still good to focus "only on the next game". He hopes that the team and the fans will continue to maintain their special bond. "We play a basketball that the spectators can identify with," he explained with a serious expression, "that's important for us." Herbert had long since caught his emotions again.