SI Vault
Jackie MacMullan
June 15, 1998
Worth a Gamble?German wunderkind Dirk Nowitzki was the talk of predraft camp
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June 15, 1998

The Nba

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Worth a Gamble?
German wunderkind Dirk Nowitzki was the talk of predraft camp

Holger Geschwindner, a forward-guard on the 1972 East German Olympic team, spent half his free time after the Munich Games bemoaning the apathy toward basketball in his native land and the other half watching young Germans butcher the sport in pickup games. "But then one day in 1994, I watched this boy who instinctively was doing all the right things without knowing the game," says Geschwindner. "I was fascinated. So I asked him, 'Who practices with you?' "

The boy, Dirk Nowitzki, then 15, answered quickly: Nobody. Geschwindner, a project manager, began spending his 1�-hour lunch breaks working on all facets of the game with Nowitzki. He watched his pupil blossom. Three weeks later Geschwindner paid a visit to Nowitzki's parents in W�rzburg, who had never played—nor followed—basketball. "You don't have the slightest idea what you have here, do you?" he said to them.

The NBA does. Though the 6'11", 237-pound Nowitzki missed last week's predraft camp in Chicago, coaches, scouts and general managers were buzzing about Nowitzki's tantalizing ability to handle the ball and shoot the three.

Nowitzki, 19, excelled against top American high school seniors during the Nike Hoop Summit game in San Antonio in March. Playing for the International Junior Select Team, he scored 33 points, made 6 of 12 field goal attempts and 19 of 23 free throws, and had a game-high 14 rebounds. Within weeks, tapes of his stunning performance had circulated through nearly every NBA coach's office. "If you went by that tape alone," says Pacers coach Larry Bird, "you'd think he was the best ever."

"He's like a lot of European players in that he doesn't like contact," says Mavericks assistant Donn Nelson, who helped coach Nowitzki in San Antonio. "He has a lot of work to do, but he's smart and he can handle the ball. He has the kind of potential that leaves you curious."

Nowitzki had planned on attending the Chicago camp but was informed at the last minute by German officials that he needed to serve the final weeks of his one-year Army hitch, which means he will not be available to any NBA team until June 30—six days after the draft.

The speculation on Nowitzki is that he may withdraw from the draft and accept a scholarship offer from Cal or Kentucky. He also has the option of staying in Europe and playing for Kinder Bologna, which is prepared to offer him millions.

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Top college players long ago ceased playing in the predraft camp—they see nothing to gain by doing so and fear that injury or a poor performance could diminish their prospects—and big-name talents like projected No. 1 pick Mike Bibby of Arizona showed up in Chicago only to be weighed and measured. That left the games to lesser lights hoping to play their way into a late first-round selection and guaranteed money.

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