| ||Paul Nilsen is a freelance basketball journalist writing for various web-sites and publications across Europe. If you would like to contact Paul you can e-mail him here email@example.com. |
It seems quite apt that the two nations who have had to wait the longest to be featured in our preview of EuroBasket 2009 should be Germany and France.
Both have spent much of the entire calendar year doing nothing more than waiting nervously. One nation hoping and praying their greatest ever player would commit and another sweating on their place in the tournament.
In the end, only one team got what they were hoping for.
While all of the talk surrounding Germany has been about the absence of their marquee player Mr Nowtizki, they will arguably pitch up in Gdansk lacking something even more fundamental than a bona-fide NBA superstar - a true identity as a team.
Coach Bauermann has been left with a strange mix of veteran players who had hoped to be sitting with their feet on the sofa relaxing and chilling but instead, are now forced into extending their International careers alongside some promising young players for whom unfortunately, this tournament has simply come far too soon.
Without Dirk Nowitzki the team appears to be a little lost, particularly in the sense of ambition and consequently it is a case for German fans of whether they see the glass as half full or half empty.
Most people seem to have now written them off as no-hopers and whether that is just being brutally honest who knows. However with what seems to be little or no expectation, Bauermann can maybe harness that situation to good effect and without pressure, his team can perhaps play more freely and surprise a few people.
It will be tough of course without so many of those Olympians from last year but they do have some hungry young players and a fair sprinkling of experience remains to perhaps get them past what looks to be (fortunately for them) the weakest group in the competition.
This in itself is reason for Germany to stay positive. Latvia remain unpredictable while Russia have their own stars either absent or struggling with injury so there is plenty to play for.
The more experienced brigade who will be vitally important during this transition period for German basketball are the likes of Greene, Jagla, Femerling and Schultze - all serviceable players who know what it takes to get the job done in major tournaments.
These guys are ably backed up by a raft of young talent that Bauermann will mould for years to come including the likes of Pleiss and Ohlbrecht. In the guard spots too, there is some fresh young talent alongside the capable hands of Steffan Hamman in the form of young shooter Lucca Staiger
So, quite what the true aim of this German Eurobasket campaign is, who knows? Fundamentally it is a learning curve for an impressive bunch of players who will lead Germany in their pursuit of Olympic success in 2012 and a farewell to the handful of veterans.
During the recent Efes Pilsen World Cup in Turkey, Bauermann and his team showed they can get results but this is the true acid test for life without the best German basketball player ever. Something that could now be a regular feature moving forward and we therefore watch with huge interest on how this team fares.
Key Man - Some people might scoff at suggesting big man Patrick Femerling is the key man and that is fully understandable. However without Nowitzki, I sense that this veteran big man has a huge role to play not just on but also off the court with so many young players. There is a good chance Germany could start poorly or be on the ropes during games and his experience will be vital. He will also be important even when on the bench to keep confidence levels high. Could be a difficult tournament for Germany but the likes of Femerling should limit any damage. Can still score, rebound and make a big contribution.
Sleeper - Lucca Staiger is well known to fans of the NCAA but unproven at this level and the arrival of the Iowa State shooter is a big boost. His first major tournament in a Germany vest could be exciting since Bauermann will rely on him for some offensive production.
X Factor - Jan-Hendrick Jagla can be hard to figure out at times. The seven footer prefers the ball in his hands outside rather than mixing it up in the paint and he certainly seems to divide opinions. Consequently, this could be the time for him to really come to the fore and to produce some big performances - something desperately needed for his nation to progress. He has not always realised his promise at this level and after a mediocre year in the ACB, he could be the difference between Germany springing a surprise and progressing. Now in his late twenties he needs to show up with some mature and influential displays.
Weak Points - A lack of overall quality compared to recent campaigns and specifically Germany look weak in the back-court and on the wings. Not sure they will have the firepower to keep up with other nations. Thankfully that probably won't be an issues against Russia.
Strong Points - Nice options at the center spot while as a team, a lack of expectation and the hunger from their young players makes them a dangerous opponent.
Wish You Were Here - Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Kaman, Per Gunther
What fans should pack in their suitcase - A life-size blow up inflatable of Dirk. But the questions is - who has got enough in their lungs to blow that thing up?
Movies and Movie Titles for Germany - ‘Groundhog Day' for the moment when Nowitzki said he wasn't pulling on the vest in Poland.
Key To Success - Quite simply staying in games for as long as possible. A good start will be tough against the French but with so many inexperienced players on board, belief will be a big factor. The veteran players and Bauermann need to really convince these guys that they can not be intimidated physically or mentally at this level. The second game with Russia is likely to be the true gauge of Germany's prospects.
Tournament Prediction - 13+
In just five words - Without Nowitzki it looks bleak
You have to wonder if the French could peak too soon in this tournament or even run out of steam after being the only team to have played in true competitive games during preparation time.
That was hardly through choice of course, more out of necessity as they held their nerve to book the final spot in Poland through the Additional Qualifying Tournament.
Always at the forefront of any major tournament in terms of pundits choosing their favourites, that particular trend has been magnified even further with the good form they now take onto the floor in Gdansk.
The question is whether this time, Les Bleus will actually live up to expectation or whether this will just make yet another possible disappointment seem even worse.
Perhaps with Tony Parker now looking relatively invincible, they actually have a player who can lead them to overdue glory. Winning Group B certainly looks to be a distinct possibility.
Momentum into the second round could be good but then suddenly as the games get more intense, the inconsistency that has dogged the French national team could rear its ugly head once more.
France do have an almost unique habit of spectacularly blowing big opportunities and the likelihood is that they will get another one in 2009 to showcase how they can be the very best around at pressing the self destruct button.
Will the losses even in the last month act as a wake-up call? Has the time finally arrived for this group of players to show the mental focus and application required to get onto the podium in Katowice?
The talent is definitely there, a head count of NBA talent highlights this. In addition to Parker there is Ronny Turiaf, Nicolas Batum and Boris Diaw. Supplement that with the likes of Ian Mahinmi, Nando De Colo and Florent Pietrus and you can see why France have got game.
However having game and having the courage and focus to see it through are two very separate things. French flair needs to be complimented by some new found French focus if they are to stop under achieving.
Key Man - Parker has to be a big favourite to possibly land Tournament MVP if France excel and his qualities are well known to basketball fans around the world. He will be the really strong focal point this team needs to pick up a medal and he provides the excitement and buoyancy this team thrives on. He is playing like a superstar that truly wants a medal hanging round his neck in a few weeks time and that bodes well for this team.
Sleeper - Nobody is a sleeper on this team after the Additional Qualifying Round
X Factor - Antoine Diot is an exciting young guard who comes into this tournament in impressive form. If he can show maturity beyond his tender years then his contribution could be hugely influential in how France progress. Fun to watch and seemingly a great kid, he is a player that is still learning his trade but probably off the bench he can have a big impact.
Weak Points - France can get complacent and leave too much to Parker offensively while they do sometimes appear to lack reliable shooters at times. Above anything else, they seem to be able to have the kind of collective mental collapse that results in not only losing games, but also medals and places in future tournaments.
Strong Points - When they put their athleticism and ability to lock down opponents into gear they can make their opponents crumble. They have the ability to really turn the screw on defence and can potentially rebound, block shots and pressure the ball better than most teams in the tournament. Batum in particular is a good defender and can lead the way. Oh and this Tony Parker guy makes them pretty strong too offensively.
Wish You Were Here - Mickael Pietrus, Joakim Noah,
What fans should pack in their suitcase - A tent and sleeping bag if they think their team might reach the last weekend in Katowice since hotel rooms are even rarer than a Parker missed lay-up.
Movies and Movie Titles for France - Well taking into account their impressive ability to go from one extreme to another performance wise during qualification or in tournaments I think there is only one movie for France and that is simply - ‘ The Good, The Bad And The Ugly'.
Key To Success - Parker staying healthy of course and they have to make some shots down the stretch of this tournament from all over the court. The talent of Parker alone combined with supreme athleticism inside might not be enough.
Tournament Prediction - 4-8
In just five words - Have momentum to reach podium