|18 May 2011|
Every week, fibaeurope.com collaborator Mark Woods talks to players with a single travel destination in mind this summer, Lithuania.
Next in the series is Per Günther, the young point guard of EuroBasket 2005 silver medallists Germany.
Mark Woods writes on basketball for a number of British newspapers as well as broadcasting for the BBC and Sky Sports. He is also assistant editor of mvp247.com and can be found on Twitter @markbritball.
Want to spot a basketball fan in Germany? Look for tired eyes, proclaims Per Günther.
Those will be the ones defying the urge to sleep in order to follow the exploits of Dirk Nowitzki in the NBA play-offs.
"I try to stay up as much as possible," Günther declares.
|Per Günther has played for all German youth teams, and last year's World Championship was his first tournament with the senior team - now all he can think about is repeating this experience in Lithuania|
"Unfortunately, the Western Conference is really tough. They're late at night. But if it's a big game, like Game 4 against the Lakers, you have got to watch it."
The 23-year-old is enthralled, like so many of his compatriots, by the stellar play of the Dallas Mavericks and their talisman.
That, in just three months time, he could be at his side, team-mates in unison, at Eurobasket 2011 makes the fatigue even more worthwhile.
Germany is awaiting the return of its NBA star to national duty for the first time since the Beijing Olympics.
However, Nowitzki will find a much-changed team awaiting him even though the coach, Dirk Bauermann, still remains at the helm.
Günther, a point guard for Ratiopharm Ulm, admits there will be a certain sense of awe when the doors to the gym are opened for training camp and the man who might be Europe's greatest-ever basketballer steps in.
"That's huge for all the young guys who've not played with him before. As soon as he committed for this summer, it was huge for everybody. He's the best German player of all time. To be on the same team as him will be very exciting."
It will be also be another challenge in a still-young career. Last summer, Günther - who came through the country's junior ranks - was given a surprise call-up into Bauermann's senior team for the FIBA World Championship in Turkey.
The third-string playmaker, a rookie at that level, he made only three token appearances as the Germans ended in 17th place.
It was a small taste of the big time. But it left him hungry for more.
"It was huge," he reveals. "Once you see that stage, with all the great players, you feel you want to come back there. You don't want to see it just once. You feel ‘that's where I want to be every two years.' It was really motivating to keep pushing and to get better.
"Watching the guys on our team who have been there for a long time - like Jan Jagla and Steffan Hamann - the way they treated their body, the way they treat their practices, as a young player that helps you a lot."
|Germany with Dirk Nowitzki in its ranks is a different team, an immediate medal contender at EuroBasket 2011. Watching him play is worth a few sleepless nights, says Per Günther |
In truth, Günther learnt what it took to excel from the earliest age. His father, Dieter, was a regular in the German BBL for many years while his mother played in the country's second division. His elder brother, likewise, kept the tradition alive.
"So I grew up in the gyms watching all my family members playing," Per recalls.
"That was a big memory from my childhood. And then I got to play in the same gym and for the same team in Hagen that my Dad did.
"That was a big thing for me. People who've seen both of us play say we have pretty similar games. I guess I was destined to be a basketball player. It's something I always wanted to do."
That goal achieved, there are now other targets in mind in Lithuania. Retaining his place in the team. Pushing Germany beyond a first round group in Siaulial that also includes 2009 runners-up Serbia, as well as France, Israel, Latvia and Italy.
Perhaps even a medal - or a place in the 2012 Olympic Games.
It is not, he concedes, an easy initial stage. "But in a EuroBasket, you don't find a lot of bad teams," he confirms.
"I know there are three or four really top teams but everybody can play. A lot depends on who each country brings. But if we have Dirk on our team, then our ambitions obviously are a lot higher. Why not play the best teams in our group? If we have goals to make the top four, we are going to have to play them at some point anyway."
The star he has idolised on TV in the wee small hours will surely help Germany's cause.
"I guess we'll see," Günther adds. "It's a tough one to foresee because Dirk hasn't played with this group.
"So we'll see how that comes together and how good we can be."