Patrick Femerling believes his Germany team-mate Dirk Nowitzki deserves the recognition he received this month in Serbia & Montenegro after proving yet again he is one of the top players in the world.
Femerling, whose fine play at center helped his national side clinch the silver medal at the EuroBasket, was full of praise for Dallas Mavericks forward Nowitzki, who was voted most valuable player of the competition after leading the tournament in scoring at 26.7 points per game.
He finished second in rebounding at 10.8 per contest.
As good as he was on the stat sheet, Nowitzki was even better as a person.
“It’s easy to integrate Dirk into a team because he is a great person, very easy going,” Femerling said to PA Sport.
“Dirk’s role in this team is pretty clear, he is the focal point in the offence and maybe the best player in the world with his height and his skills.”There is no doubt that Germany’s success was owed to the chemistry in the side.
Coach Dirk Bauermann merits all the praise that has come his way because his players may not have had the most talent, but they sure were one of the best teams.
“I think the only way we could have achieved something like this is as a team,” said Femerling, a 2.15m center with Greek champions Panathinaikos.
“Dirk knew it, and so did the rest of my team-mates.
“There were other stars with big names in other teams that didn’t achieve anything this summer because they lacked the team spirit.
“We know that Dirk is a superstar, that he is the best player, but we also knew right from the start that we had to work for each other, that as a team we had to make it happen.”
The success in Belgrade was all the more sweet for Femerling and his team-mates, considering Bauermann’s players had to overcome a series of injuries during the buildup to this tournament, most notably the one that sidelined small forward Ademola Okulaja.
“It’s one of the biggest victories for German basketball,” said Femerling.
“It was very unexpected for many people but I think we accomplished something great.
“Before the EuroBasket, we had lots of problems with injuries and with uncertainties. I think considering this, it’s an incredible achievement.”
Femerling, who scored 18 points against Italy and 10 against Ukraine in the group stage, admitted he struggled in the final games against Spain and Greece.
He had seven points in his team’s thrilling 74-73 triumph over the Spaniards in the semi-final and 11 points against Greece.
“I had ups and downs in this tournament,” he said.
“I started well but personally I don’t think I had my best tournament. The most important thing for this team, is that everybody tried its best and I gave my best.”
And there’s no question in Femerling’s mind that the best team won.
“Mentally and physically, we were exhausted in the final,” he said.
“And the Greeks played an exceptional game, they played great defence, they outrebounded us and they made the shots from the perimeter, they simply deserved to be crowned European Champions.”
Femerling will be able to experience first hand the impact of Greece winning the tournament for the first time since 1987 as he is returning to Panathinaikos for another season.
“I think this will be fantastic for Greek basketball,” he said.
“I hope this triumph will see more basketball fans turning up for games.
“I don’t know why the pavilions are not as full anymore as they used to be eight or nine years ago, but at Panathinaikos we have good fans and they are there when we need them. I hope they will come to every game from now on.”
Femerling, who played at Barcelona before moving to Pana, is looking forward to the season and is determined to return to the national team for the FIBA World Championship 2006 in Japan.
“I hope that I can play in the World Championships,”said the 30-year-old.
“I have always been proud to be a player in the national team, to represent my country.
“To be chosen to be one of the best players of my country is a fantastic feeling.
“It’s a privilege and not everyone has it, so I am well aware that I have to cherish it.”
And there’s no reason, according to Femerling, why Germany should not be as competitive in Japan next year.
“If everybody stays healthy, has energy and drive to come next summer to play, we can continue where we left off in Belgrade,” he said.
“I guess we will have to see what happens.
“I personally take it one day at a time, that’s my approach in life and in basketball.”