“We want players who are committed to play”- Gordon Herbert, Germany’s head coach looks towards Israel test and beyond

Feb 23, 2022 | Holyland Hoops

The Israel National Basketball Team plays two crucial FIBA World Cup Qualifiers against Germany in a home and home series on Friday in Tel Aviv and on Monday in Heidelberg as the blue-and-white look to build off of their 2-0 record after winning their first two games of the campaign back in November.

Head Coach Guy Goodes’s squad have already qualified for this summer’s Eurobasket where Israel will play their Group Stage games in Prague and the knockout stages in Germany should they advance. World Cup 2023 is slated to take place in the Philippines and consists of a number of qualification stages which sees the wins and losses from the first round carried over to the later stages making every one of the six games critical.

After defeating Poland at home and Estonia on the road in November, Israel will now host the first of two games in the February window against the 1-1 Germany which features Gordon Herbert as their head coach. The 63-year old Herbert took over the reins of Die Mannschaft in September after many years coaching in Germany for Skyliners Frankfurt, Alba Berlin and Wurzburg while also having been an NBA assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors and the Canadian National Team under Nick Nurse.

Gordon Herbert – Photo Credit: German Basketball Federation

The Canadian bench boss spoke to The Sports Rabbi about a myriad of topics from the upcoming games against Israel, his relationship with David Blatt, his thoughts on German basketball along with the challenges in front of him with the uncertainties presented by COVID-19 and the players being available for the various windows.

“I bring experience having coached in the German league as well as the Euroleague, NBA and the National Team. With these windows you don’t know which players will be available and it’s challenging when you just coach two games in November and then two in February. It’s strange for me and a challenge to get back into the routine.”

“We have six games in total, two that we played in November, two more now in February and two later on just to qualify for the next round and it’s not easy with the windows. The smaller countries have an advantage as they have their best players to play with. We don’t get our Euroleague players or NBA players and some of our best players are out with COVID and injuries. You have to adjust to the situation and move forward.”

Guy Goodes – Photo Credit: FIBA

Herbert will stand on the bench down the sideline from Israel head coach Guy Goodes and he knows that that in itself will be a challenge as the Holy Land has produced numerous top level coaches.

“David Blatt has spoken about Guy Goodes a lot with me and they have a good connection as he had been David’s assistant for a number of years. Israel has had a lot of good coaches, whether it’s Neno Ginzburg in Czechia, Guy Goodes, Oded Katash and Sharon Drucker.”

As for the two games, Herbert expects a tough challenge from the blue-and-white, “It’s going to be a challenge both in Israel and at home as they are 2-0 and play good basketball and are well coached. They play with great energy and good enthusiasm and have talent at all positions. We will take one game at a time, the first and then the second and like I said I don’t even know what the team will be with COVID and injuries.”

Gordon Herbert – Photo Credit: FIBA

Due to the fact that FIBA and the Euroleague don’t have an agreement to keep the international windows just for qualifiers, there will be some players who won’t be available for the first game but will be ready to go in the second game. This provides for a lot of uncertainty as to who will be able to play and who won’t be along with the potential issues that COVID-19 brings as well.

“I don’t know who we will have I might have 2-3 Euroleague players for the second game as some are on the registered list. It’s a possibility and I won’t know until Friday night or Saturday morning who is healthy and who may be available.”

“Even now it’s a challenge and not knowing who will be healthy and who will test positive and who is negative for COVID. There are always challenges you have to do the best with the players that you have. It’s an opportunity to play for the National Team.”

Gordon Herbert – Photo Credit: FIBA

During such a short period of time with the players, Hebert who played his college ball for North Idaho and Idaho, knows that the key is to just so what you can and not overload the players who have gathered, “It’s tough. When I was with Canada we only had one day before a game because of quarantine and COVID. Now we have 3 days. I just want to keep it simple and do a few things well. A huge part is having them play as a team with great work ethic.”

Herbert understands that there will be tremendous expectations both on him and his team especially due to the fact that Germany will be hosting this summer’s Eurobasket and the finals, “I like the expectations and we have a great group of players and great pool and we should have high expectations in the basketball community. Our players play in stressful situations and I look forward to it.”

Germany has a number of players who are making their mark both in the NBA and around Europe. With the retirement of Dirk Nowitski who was arguably the greatest product of the country, there is an opportunity for the next generation to find a niche and make their mark for their country.

Dennis Schroder – Photo Credit: FIBA

“Franz Wagner has really developed and exceeded expectations even for Orlando, Maodo Lo has had an outstanding season and Johannes Voightmann has been very good at CSKA. We have 6-7 players in the NBA and another group in the Euroleague. Dennis Schröder is committed to play this summer but right now our focus is on the February window. It looks like it now (That Schroder will play) but you never know. Dennis’s contract is over at the end of the season and we don’t know what will be. You never know what will be in the summer with insurance, injuries and contract issues with players.”

As for the rumors circulating that Austin Reaves from the Los Angeles Lakers will join the German National Team this summer, Herbert strikes them down in one fell swoop, “No. They’re not true.”

Another player who has been having an excellent season is Niklas Wimberg from Niners Chemnitz. However, he is not with the team after having turned down an invite for the previous window while Tibor Pleiss from Anadolu EFES is also in the midst of a spectacular campaign and could find his way back to the national team program after an incident a number of years ago. But the most important attribute for Herbert is the identity and commitment of the players who are part of the program.

Tibor Pleiss – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“The identity is extremely important and what kind of energy we can create as a team. We’ve talked a lot about that in the first window. The identity is what you feel as a team and what people from the outside see. It’s not measurable. It’s toughness, physicality, energy and unselfishness. Every team has to create an identity.”

“Niklas was invited to first window and was not invited now. We want players who are committed to play. There has been Covid and injuries so we need players who are committed. I’ve talked to Tibor and have had good conversations. He has played well and we will see where he is at. You try to get your best players to play and the most committed ones to play. It makes no sense to have a great player who is not committed. It’s better to have a good player who is committed.”

Gordon Herbert – Photo Credit: FIBA

Herbert spent time with Toronto Raptors Head Coach Nick Nurse as they worked together as associate Head Coaches of the Canadian National Team at the 2019 World Cup, “I worked with Nick for 3 years and was the head coach of Canada during the windows. It was a great experience. He has a tremendous basketball mind and he is very innovative, ahead of his time sometimes and it was a really neat and great learning experience for me as well.”

Interestingly enough while Nurse may be the Raptors coach right now, Herbert was an assistant with the club back during the 2008-09 season and also worked as a consultant with the Nets more recently, “I coached in the Euroleague in France as well as in the Greek League and then went to the Raptors as an assistant coach. It was an awesome experience and it’s a different type of game from the coaching staff to the organization and to what the NBA is. Awesome experience. I was also a consultant with the Brooklyn Nets a few years ago and worked with my good friend Kenny Atkinson and it was incredible to see how much the NBA has changed in 10 years.”

Both Herbert and former Israeli League coach Brad Greenberg have something in common, they’ve both won the FIBA Europe Cup as Herbert turned the trick in 2016 with Skyliners and Greenberg won the title just last season with Nes Ziona. In addition, Greenberg was also part of the Canadian staff in 2019 as well.

Brad Greenberg – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“Brad has been extremely successful as to what he has done in basketball and he comes from a great basketball family. He’s an extremely good coach and I was really happy for him when he won. So like Nick, Brad is a very good person.”

Yet another coach Herbert has had a long term relationship with is David Blatt as they have not only competed on the sidelines for years but were also brought together with Canada as well. In fact their relationship is so strong that Herbert tried to bring Blatt on board with the German National Team.

“I know David for a very long time and we coached against each other in Euroleague and in other competitions. He is a tremendous human being and one of the top coaches ever in Europe and even a better person. I tried to talk him into coming and joining me with the German National Team but he is still part of the Canadian program. He understands the NBA game, has great knowledge about the European game and I worked great side by side with him last summer. What he has done in Europe has been amazing. He is still involved with Canada and spoke to David about it and what he thought.”

David Blatt and Guy Goodes – Photo Credit: Euroleague.net

Herbert who grew up in Penticton, British Columbia was a part of the Golden Age of Canadian hoops back in the early 1980’s when they shocked the United States team with Charles Barkley and Karl Malone by winning Gold at the 1983 Universiade Games in Edmonton, Alberta under the tutelage of legendary head coach Jack Donohue.

“Playing for the Canadian National Team was a dream when I was growing up, not playing in the NBA or Europe. I learned so much about basketball and life from my head coach with Canada Jack Donohue. He was a tremendous motivational speaker, it was a great experience to be around all of those guys. What we were able to accomplish in 1983 and then in 1984 at the Summer Olympics we lost to Spain by one point and had to play the United States. We could have won a Silver medal. In ‘83 we were playing in front of our home fans and on our home turf. Coach Donohue put basketball on the map in Canada.”

After his professional playing career that primarily took place in Finland, Herbert began coaching in 1994 and ended up spending most of his time in the German BBL League which he explains as being one of the top competitions in the world, “The infrastructure of the clubs is outstanding. The organizations and the way the Germans do things is first class and first rate. The league is very good and the stadiums are excellent. They put a great product on the floor, from the teams, players and coaches.”

Gordon Herbert – Photo Credit: FIBA

In Germany, just like In Israel there is a quota of foreign players who are allowed to play in league games with 6 imports and 6 Germans, “I would prefer less imports and play with 4 and 2 like in France but that is my personal feelings. Three and two EC, 6 Germans 6 imports gives the teams with weaker rosters a better chance to be successful.”

Herbert feels that Germany has been doing a good job on an educational level as to how the players are being trained compared to North America, “They do a really good job in Europe with teaching fundamentals. It started in Yugoslavia a long time ago by teaching these fundamental to the kids as to how to play. The ratio of practice to games is a lot greater then the United States for example.”

Finally, Herbert who has been to Israel on occasion would like to at some point find a way to coach in the Holy Land, “Israel is the one country that I always wanted to coach in, whereas, I have not. I really like the people, the culture and the weather.”

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