by Uygar Karaca / firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have watched enough FIBA competitions since the beginning of the 90s, then there is no way that you did not hear the name Henrik Dettmann. The long-time head coach, who was the mastermind behind Germany’s successful semi-final runs at Eurobasket 2001 and World Championships 2002, has been the Finnish head coach in two different stints(1992-1997 and 2004-2022) and showed the entire world how to build a consistent, solid national team program almost from the scratch.
Finland advanced to the Last 16 Round from Group D, with just two losses (vs. Israel in overtime and vs. Serbia, the group leaders) and getting ready for their next opponent: Croatia. The goal is to achieve something that they never did since this only time back in 1967: They never made it to the quarter-finals despite some painfully near misses in the last 10 years.
Eurohoops reached Finland’s icon figure Henrik Dettmann, who joined yet another Eurobasket with the Finnish team, this time with another role.
– You stepped down from your role in the head coaching position after 18 years but stayed with the Finnish National Team as a sporting director, while your long-time assistant Lasse Tuovi was promoted to the head coaching position. Why did you make that choice? Did you leave head coaching altogether?
I have to make it clear that this does not mean I will stop coaching in my career. I started as an international NT coach in 1992, and I coached for 30 year stretch in National Team setups. Probably that shows that I simply cannot get out of basketball. I gave my whole life to this sport. It gave me my family, fans, and experience. I learned so much from basketball. So I could see myself standing on the sideline in the future, be it a club or national team.
In short, I didn’t really take a step back from coaching really, but I wanted to make sure that the program can continue with the values and principles that we established. Therefore, I became the sporting director. I saw so many Eurobaskets and World Cups. I know the tournament itself gives you a huge learning experience. I. felt that the younger generation of coaches, need to have this experience so they can develop. We need to develop coaches, this has been all the time our goal to improve the program of Finnish basketball.
– Starting with the 90s until this day, we knew you as a National Team coach other than for some brief stints in Germany, France, and Turkey. (Mitteldeutscher(2003-2004), Braunschweig(2004-2006), Dijon(2010), Besiktas(2015) and Strasbourg(2016) Is this how you preferred? Were there any offers from clubs during your long tenure in the Finnish and German national teams?
The dynamics in the national/club team coaching are different. You don’t have the time that you need initially; you have to find a way to make players play together. In the end, this was more like an accident above than anything else. I had offers from some clubs which I rejected. I’ve been coaching in clubs but maybe I’ve been naive to try to implement too long-term goals for a short-goal environment. I don’t believe in short-term thinking. That hurt me in some cases.
– Like Beşiktaş?
(Smiles) Turkey and Beşiktaş were a different story. We have to respect the Turkish mentality and understand that I cannot make Turkish people change their minds even if I wanted. If you get to Turkey, you need to respect and live according to that mentality.
I really loved my time in Beşiktaş. It was my best time in basketball. I loved the appreciation of the fans and their engagement in basketball. I really loved Istanbul, a wonderful place.
But I have this one story: Back in that time, there was a young guy, Enes Berkay Taskiran that needs further development. He had to use two hours a day just to travel back and forth to travel for practice. I thought that was a waste of time that would take away from his focus on developing himself from the practice. And also that was damaging his concentration in school as well. I believe that education is very important for a basketball player. In school, you learn how to learn. The better learners we have, the better basketball they are going to become in the future. You need to know how to learn. I suggested some solutions to alleviate this problem. But unfortunately, the club didn’t see this or did not have the possibilities to organize to make bring a more effective solution.
In the end, the same rules apply everywhere. Long-term planning gives you better results everywhere. I think the Finnish NT program is a great example of that. This was the only way that we could be competitive. You can see the same kind of mentality in ice hockey. We are the world’s best in ice hockey.
– Your strive and labor in the national team program put Finland on the basketball map throughout the successive major tournaments since 2011. But people quickly forget how close Finland missed the last 8 in the previous tournaments. Despite some remarkable results, Finland is usually not seen not even in the dark horses. How did you assess the team this time, is the best possible result on the horizon?
The team has developed. He has a superstar that is important but he had another one back in the past: Petteri Kopponen. He was the one who carried us along the time.
Our dream is to play for a medal on a given day.
We don’t know when it will happen, but we know it will happen as long as we are able to develop and stay with the progress we had during the past 15 years.
For someone, this might be a long long time and many might not even have the patience to live with this philosophy.
But there are no shortcuts. Only long-term work will fulfill your dreams.
We started from being ranked 84 (Finland Fiba world ranking 2007).
This whole process thought us to be humble and gracious and to give time to ourselves to reach our goals.
Finland become the best Ice hockey country in the world through long-term working philosophy – we believe we can do it in a major sport like Basketball as well.
– It just stoke me when I observed Bojan Bogdanovic kind of deliberately missing the last free throw in the game against Ukraine. If he made it, Croatia would have climbed to 2nd in the group standings and supposedly play against Poland. So they preferred you, I think.
That’s speculation and this is one theory…Maybe they are already looking at whom they will meet in the next round. But if that’s actually true, that shows that you don’t trust yourself and your teammates.
Does it really matter whom you are playing next if you want to win it all?
– We can describe the Finnish team as a smart one: 3rd in the assist per game, most frequent transition team, using not many pick and rolls. This was something deliberately organized I suppose?
We are trying to be different. Otherwise, we would have no chance to beat the bigger teams and the bigger countries if we play the same basketball. We have to play in a different style. And this goes through our whole playing system. We installed this system on all levels, starting with U16. This is one reason why you see 8 players who are on their very first Eurobasket campaign. They are able to play together because they have their base from the youth levels. This has been our strength.
– You compared Lauri Markkanen to Dirk Nowitzki once, how far has he progressed regarding that comparison? Can we say that it was Dirk Nowitzki’s legacy to have players like Lauri Markkanen and Moritz Wagner?
Starting with the last part of the question: We can bring the origins of the legacy even back to Toni Kukoc. He may be the first real tall player who had all these abilities.
When you watch both Lauri and Dirk Nowitzki play, it is hard not to compare them because they are both good shooters, both mobile players, and they are both extremely important to their team. Regarding human characteristics, I don’t really prefer to compare them. Because it is their own world and it is better for us not to go and compare the behavioral characteristics of individuals.
Lauri took a big step in Cleveland last year and this summer, he developed a lot, as well. The National Team is really good for these players because they come from another environment to a new one. They learn new things and a new, different style of play. This is such a learning experience and they become better. I expect Lauri to have a great season in the upcoming NBA calendar.
If you look back at Dirk Nowitzki and his career, every summer he came back to the German National Team, he was always a better NBA player in the next NBA season.
“Franz Wagner is an excellent player and these are the types of players that make the difference at the end of the day. There are many good players playing in this tournament but unfortunately, we can watch them once in 4 years. I am sure the fans would like to see them more often.“
– The Finnish team also had one promising player in the NCAA, Tennessee Volunteers member Olivier Nkamhoua; who played well in the qualifiers but did not join the team in the Eurobasket. Usually, we see the NBA players or their clubs who close the path for a national team campaign in the summer or autumn but what was the reason for his absence?
The university wanted him back in school. We did everything we can but in vain. This does not happen with NBA players that much, anymore. The NBA coaches praise this tournament as a developmental stage for their players because they understand that the best way to play for their players is to play tough games.
– Which other teams did you get impressed with so far?
There are so many good teams and good players. Serbia and Slovenia have Jokic and Doncic obviously while Lithuania has a lot more capacity than they have shown in the first round. But of course, Germany is going well, they are playing very collectively.
– Indeed. They lost only to Slovenia in the “Group of Death” and getting ready to play against Montenegro. Looks like they have a realistic chance to go for a medal. This reminds me of the legendary German teams that you coached to Eurobasket and World Championships semi-finals in 2001 and 2002. That team was led by Dirk Nowitzki but was also helped a lot by players like Henrik Rödl, and Ademola Okulaja.
This year’s team gives me some similar vibes in terms of team play. Moritz Wagner shines and Dennis Schröder is a star-caliber player but players like Maodo Lo, Andreas Obst, Johannes Thiemann, or Nick Weiler-Babb are giving vital contributions on both ends of the court.
Yes, I agree. Back then, the philosophy that I always had is that: It is a players’ game. I think when you give the responsibility to the players for their actions, their behavior, and how they play, they grow and develop, and they learn. In the bronze medal game against New Zealand, we had 32 assists if I’m not mistaken. That shows what kind of players we had. They were unselfish and played for each other. They liked to be together, we had great personalities.
– By the way, how do you reckon that semi-final game against Turkey in Istanbul where Hedo Turkouglu sent a 3-pointer to push the game into overtime? That day, we won.
We all hate to lose but if there is a type of game that you can lose, this is definitely it. In my opinion, it was one of the great experiences in my career.
– There are a lot of complaints about FIBA, regarding the overall organization, match schedule, and referee decisions. Is FIBA’s position worse than before? What to say about 22 seconds loss in the game between Georgia and Turkey?
One thing that we haven’t realized is that the development in basketball comes so fast. This setup of the tournament was already made 4 years ago. I think everybody realized that we cannot play back-to-back games in these tournaments in the future. We need to protect the players, we need to give them a rest, and we need to respect them. This is obvious.
Then we have the second problem; you are not allowed to talk about referees ever but the discussion about refereeing is, of course, a part of a big topic. Players are human beings playing basketball. We also have to understand that the players, the coaches, and the referees make mistakes. It is part of the art and drama. Basketball is an art. We have to solve our internal problems, we have to respect the game and put our egos aside so the game can win.
When it comes to that “22 seconds” issue, I’m sorry for the ones who are hurt because of this thing. We need to investigate and see how that was possible to happen. The only good part is that now it is history. In the future, I don’t want to call it a disaster but let’s say, this historical “moment” we will keep on asking ourselves: How could that happen? I don’t think we will ever find a good answer for that. That was a sad story. Such things of course should never happen in basketball. Maybe we can find in the future a kind of backup, when we live in this data world, we always create different backup plans. With the clock and timing, I imagine that the technology can help us in the future so that we don’t lose 22 seconds.”