A ch du lieber! What in the name of tradition and protective tariffs has happened to good old American basketball? Say Pauley Pavilion nowadays, and people think you're talking about a set on the Today show. Say Detlef Schrempf—just pronounce it slowly, as it looks—and you're naming the runner-up for Pac-10 Player of the Year.
Schrempf is the 6'9½" towheaded Teuton who plays basketball anywhere Washington coach Marv Harshman asks him to—and occasionally, as we'll see, in places Harshman asks him not to. This season, playing forward, he has driven the Huskies to where UCLA alone once stood.
At the end of last week, Washington was ranked No. 16 in SI's Top 20, 21-6 overall and 14-3, a half game ahead of Oregon State, at the top of the Pac-10. With another West German—7-foot Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Christian Welp (pronounced velp)—and a little domestic help, Schrempf, a junior, is threatening to turn Harshman's motivational slogan, Final Four in '84, into more than just a promo for the NCAA championships, which Washington will host beginning March 31. The Huskies in something other than a receiving line at the Kingdome? Think twice before you say "Mush."
Until a couple of years ago, American coaches would have written off Schrempf or Welp sight unseen. That they're held in such high regard today only goes to show how far basketball has come in the Federal Republic. "When I was 13, I had to join a club to play," Schrempf says. "You couldn't find a pickup game. Now you can. Now there are hoops all over."
That's not to say the sport's appeal among West Germans comes anywhere near soccer's. "Basketball still ranks down there with badminton," says Buzz Harnett, a former U. of San Diego forward, who's now playing in the Bundesliga, the country's top league. But more and more tall young Germans whose height made it difficult for them to excel at soccer are taking hoops sabbaticals in the States, and American colleges as well as the West German national team are sharing in the benefits. For the first time ever, West Germany has a legitimate shot at making the Olympics on merit (in 1936 and 1972 the Germans, as host country, automatically made the Games). It must break out of a pack of about five or six middle-echelon European teams to claim one of the three spots still available to them for L.A. '84 at the regional qualifying tournament in Paris in May.
In addition to Schrempf and Welp, other West Germans currently playing in the U.S. include Indiana's 7'2" Uwe Blab; Uwe's little (7-foot) brother Olaf and 7-foot Jens Kujawa (yens ku-YA-va), who are exchange students and rival centers for Charleston and Taylorville high schools in central Illinois; 6'9" Thomas Deuster of two-year Centralia (Wash.) College; and 6'7" Lutz Wadehn, a freshman at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash. "Uwe Blab and Detlef Schrempf were talented in Germany, but they didn't dominate until they had played in the U.S.," says Jörg Trapp, coach of a club team in Hagen. "They're realizing their potential there."
Now about this Detlef Schrempf: His surname is an odd one even in his hometown of Leverkusen, an industrial city of 180,000 in the Rhineland. It has the highest consonant-to-vowel ratio of any name in the U.S. college game since Terrell Schlundt finished his career last season at Marquette. Schrempf is Harshman's first German since the immortal Uli Sledz, a 7-foot, 220-pound, 27-year-old monument to immobility, played 20 minutes for Washington in 1977-78. (The Huskies unhitched themselves from Sledz after that one adventurous season.)
That puts Schrempf in some perspective. But it ignores the fundamental question: Can he play?
Can he, for instance, handle the ball? "He's the white Magic," says Oregon coach Don Monson, who helped recruit and coach Earvin (Zauber) Johnson at Michigan State.
Handle the pressure? At last summer's junior World Championship tournament in Majorca, Schrempf hit a baseline jumper to send West Germany's game with the U.S. into overtime. Then, with the Germans down by five in the final minute of OT, he buried another J, fed Welp for two and nailed still another shot—with :02 left—to give Germany an 88-87 win over Kenny Walker, Pearl Washington, et al., the team that went on to win the gold medal. That's known as being a Basketballwunder.