|Sonja Greinacher led Germany in scoring (14.9 ppg), rebounds, assists and blocked shots in last year's U20 European Championship Women but it wasn't enough for them to avoid relegation|
By Jeff Taylor
Spend some time watching Sonja Greinacher play at the U20 European Championship Women Division B this summer in Klatovy, the Czech Republic, and you'll understand why there is plenty of optimism in Germany about the women's game.
A 1.88m power forward/center, Greinacher played for Germany in the same age group last year in Division A, averaging 14.9 points and 9.2 rebounds.
She has developed her game further, she says, while on her adventure in the United States, where she plays at Gonzaga University in the state of Washington.
"I didn't really know what to expect before I got to Gonzaga," she said.
"I've been to the States before and knew the culture but I didn't know how it's going to be playing for a (NCAA) Division 1 basketball team.
"It's been really great so far.
"The team and coaches are nice and I feel like I'm learning a lot on the court and in the classroom.
"It's the perfect way to combine education and basketball."
Greinacher went to America during her high school years.
"I discovered Gonzaga after I played for a high school in Oregon as a foreign exchange student and they started recruiting me," she said.
"I think I'm on the way to becoming the player I want to be but I still have to work a lot on getting stronger and becoming a better defender."
MAKING A TRANSITION
Greinacher will soon shift gears and discover what the experience in the United States has done for her game in Europe.
"We haven't started practice with the U20 team yet," she said, "but I think I learned a lot in my first year at Gonzaga, especially when it comes to physicality.
"This will definitely help me when I play with the U20 team and hopefully will make the transition easier for me than it is the other way around."
There will be some differences when it comes to playing for Gonzaga and Germany.
"The style of basketball is pretty different at college level because it is faster and more physical and the focus of the national team is on the whole team and not on the individual players, as it sometimes is in the States," she said.
What is expected of her in Germany will be different to what has been asked of Greinacher in the United States.
"I will have a different role in the national team than the one I had at Gonzaga because I will be one of the more experienced players who has to lead the team and at Gonzaga I'm still pretty young and have to learn a lot from the older players," she said.
LIFE IN DIVISION B
Germany finished 15th out of the 16 teams in last year's U20 European Championship Women Division A, which meant a drop into Division B.
|Greinacher was impressed by the level of the top teams in Division A and that inspired her to work even harder to improve further|
The competition should be fierce this summer, so gaining promotion isn't a given.
"Last year's U20 European Championship was very competitive," Greinacher said.
"We learned our limits and watched the final games and it motivated me to work even more and harder on my game.
"I think, playing in the Division B European Championship this year, our chances of winning promotion are pretty good.
"We have a good team this year with a lot of players who have played in the first division in Germany and our goal is to give everything to get to the Final."
SENIOR INTERNATIONAL IN WAITING
Germany's senior team is always on the lookout for impact players and it may not be that long before Greinacher is a regular in that side.
When asked about her short- and long-term aims when it comes to Germany's national team, Greinacher replied: "I've been lucky enough to already get some minutes in the senior team and it's a great opportunity for me to get some experience at the European women's level.
"Our aim is to qualify for the EuroBasket Women next year in France. The older players in the team teach me a lot and I'm hoping to get more and more responsibility over the coming years.
"It has always been my goal to play for the senior team because that's where you can play with and against the best from all over Europe."
STRIKING A BALANCE
Greinacher says that while she is fully devoted to basketball, she wants to have a life outside of the sport as well.
"I'm a psychology major at Gonzaga and it's been really interesting," she said.
"I'm planning on playing basketball somewhere in Europe after graduation but I also want to earn my masters degree while doing so and not only play basketball.
"I think it is very important, especially for women to get a good education, and I can't see myself as ‘only' a basketball player.
"I need something next to that to be balanced out and to get away from it from time to time."
THE THRILL OF THE NATIONAL TEAM
To have the honour of putting on the Germany shirt is something that Greinacher treasures, yet she admits it was something that just sort of happened.
"I remember we won the youth German championship where the coaches of the national team were to recruit the players for the U16 national team and after the final game our coach told us who made it.
"I was really surprised and it was definitely an exciting time because I felt very proud to be able to represent Germany in the European Championship."
Germany will square off against Romania, Switzerland, Greece, Belgium, Israel, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria at the U20 European Championship Division B, which runs from 16-26 August.