The leadership torch belongs to Dennis Schroder.
When Mavericks’ star Dirk Nowitzki announced last week that he would no longer play for his German national basketball team, the Hawks guard was left as the undisputed leader for his country. German coach Chris Fleming, an assistant with the Nuggets, said it will be Schroder who directs a new generation.
“The biggest thing is he was in a situation where he grew a lot in a short time with a very, very increased responsibility and his response to German basketball as a player and also as a role model is very big,” said Fleming, who coached Schroder at last summer’s EuroBasket 2015 Olympic qualifying tournament. “Especially with Dirk, who has carried the torch for the last years, literally and figuratively. Now, it’s Dennis’ turn to lead that generation forward.”
That is some major responsibility on the shoulders of a 22-year-old.
“For sure, I’ll take it,” Schroder said.
The Hawks host the Mavericks on Monday in a reunion for Nowitzki and Schroder.
The German team failed to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics at the EuroBasket tournament, held partially in Germany. There was an opportunity for another chance to qualify as a wild-card host for one of three tournaments to determine the final three Olympic spots. The international basketball governing body, FIBA, announced last week that those host spots went to Italy, Serbia and the Philippines.
Soon after, Nowitzki announced he had played his final game after 153 international contests. His final game was a 77-76 loss to Spain in the EuroBasket tournament. In that game, Fleming had the future of German basketball on the floor in the closing minutes, including Schroder.
“We are going through a generational change there with Dirk stepping back and some of the older guys stepping back,” Fleming said. “We finished that game against Spain, that we lost very closely, we had to two 21-year-old guys and a 20-year-old guy on the floor. A younger generation is starting to come in.
“It’s a generation that (Schroder) has to play a leadership role in. Dirk did a great job this summer of helping him and bringing him along because he knows. He’s a guy who can identify the most with the pressure of that situation.”
Schroder has often expressed his fondness and pride for playing for Germany. He has also credited the experience the past two summers as a key to his development with the Hawks. Schroder has played an increased role in the NBA, but it’s nothing compared to that of the national team.
“Dennis is a really, really talented kid,” Fleming said. “When he goes to play for Germany, the situation is obviously very different. He’s a very important piece in Atlanta but he’s for sure not the piece. When he comes to Germany, it’s a lot different.
“The pressure on him is considerably bigger. He’s often in a position to decide games. He’s going to finish the game and the ball is going to be in his hands. Having that experience is helpful for him and his development. You forget sometimes how young the kid is.”
Nowitzki played for Germany since 1997 and made his tournament debut at the 1999 FIBA European Championships as a 21-year old. He helped Germany qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the country’s first berth since the 1992 Barcelona games. Germany finished 10th in 2008. Nowitzki also helped Germany to a bronze medal in the 2002 World Cup and a silver medal in the 2005 EuroBasket.
Now, it’s Schroder’s turn.
“The last EuroBasket we played, Dirk said to the media it’s already my team,” Schroder said. “So I got used to it. Now that he’s not going to play anymore, it’s just me. If I’m playing, I’ll just try to be the best leader I can and help the team to get wins.
“I’m excited to play there. I think we can do great things as we keep building our young players. I think we can be a great organization and win some medals.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.