It´s mid-June in Germany with beautiful weather all around and with German football taking a little break before the seasons kicks up in August, the professional German basketball leagues are on vacation while the clubs are seeking the right pieces for the new rosters for the upcoming season. But some players aren´t on vacation yet, but sweating and training hard for various international competitions this summer. The German men´s national team will be battling in the World Cup while the German U-20 team will be facing interesting competition at the European championships in Tel Aviv. Team Germany is preparing for a 4 nations tournament in preparation for the Euro championships with an 18 man roster which will be trimmed down to 12 for the European championships. The team is having breakfast together at Kienbaum in Berlin where they are preparing for the European championships and as guys walk in for their first meal of the day, one could witness an array of massive talent like 2017 NBBL champion Nelson Weidemann of FC Bayern Munich, rising Vechta star Philipp Herkenhoff who had a massive BBL playoff series against Bamberg, 2019 NBBL title and MVP winner Bruno Vrcic and top point guard Bjarne Kraushaar. But wait a minute another guy walks in and it looks like Richard Freudenberg. But it isn´t the 2015 NBBL MVP of the Fraport Skyliners as he would tower over most with his 205cm, but this young man is only 198cm, but has the blond hair and has that similar parting of the hair like the ex St Johns(NCAA) forward Freudenberg. The guy sure looks German with so fine features and actually is, but he actually grew up in the United States in Lincoln, Nebraska. His name is Sam Griesel and out of nowhere was selected to join the U-20 national team in training camp with the opportunity to make the final 12 man roster for the 2019 U-20 European championships in Israel. His opportunity to play for the German U-20 national team didn´t come overnight, but was a process that took about two years. “Two years ago when I started to get recruited from colleges, the coaches found out that my dad was German. Coaches told me that it would be to my advantage to get a German passport which could make my chances of playing overseas easier. Then my Italian trainer who had a 10 year professional basketball career in Europe knew a German agent and he got in contact with the German basketball federation. They then watched me play in the NCAA tournament and now I´m here”, stressed Sam Griesel. He is that Nebraska kid with that German connection.
He is a 19 year old 198cm small forward that was born and bred in Lincoln, Nebraska. You would think that a town like Lincoln is small enough to make special basketball connections, but so far the kid hasn´t met retired player Andrew Drevo who hails from the same town and had a long career overseas with a long tenure in Germany. So how does a country kid from Nebraska have that German connection? Simple his dad is German and his mom is American. His dad came over to the States when he was 25 and met his mother and made Sam. The 19 year old didn´t find his love for basketball right away, but like so many young kids in the States was fascinated by soccer a sport that is so loved and popular among the young. But when he was around 11 or 12 years old, his attention shifted to basketball. He first got noticed in high school when he played for Lincoln East High School. But that didn´t happen right away, but moreover when his junior season came around. “I didn´t think that I would go anywhere with basketball before my junior season. But then I grew five inches and had my breakout year as a junior”, stressed Sam Griesel. In his senior year, he made another step as he led his team to a record 24 wins and a trip to the Class A state tournament. In his final season he averaged 17,1ppg, 6,1rpg,2,3apg and 1,6spg. He earned first team in Super State honors and finished as the sixth all-time scorer in school history. His next step was making the right choice for college. During his senior year in high school, he had committed early to South Dakota, but then decided not to go after head coach Craig Smith left for Utah State. The American had already visited North Dakota State and then decided to go there. When looking back, he never regretted making that decision. “I loved North Dakota State from the first visit. I really like the environment there and I´m looking forward to this season. We should be really good again”, added Sam Griesel.
One of the fun things I like to do is when I´m covering some player is too see what former players at that school have played in Germany. North Dakota State have produced some great talent over the years. Actually the list isn´t long as only three players have done so. The first was Michael Tveidt who played at NDSU from 2006-2011 winning the Summit Title in 2009 played for Phoenix Hagen. The second and most known player was Taylor Braun who played at NDSU from 2009-2014 winning the Summit League title in 2014 played for ratiopharm Ulm and the last and most recent was Dexter Werner who played at NDSU from 2012-2017 winning the Summit League title in 2014 and 2015 played his rookie season with Lok Bernau. Griesel talks fondly about Taylor Braun as the achievements that he did there is common knowledge. “He is a role model for me. Coach brought him up to see us many times. I also have seen Dexter around campus. I look up to these guys as they embody what NDSU is all about. They show that it is possible for guys from a mid major school to have success overseas”, said Sam Griesel. In his freshman season he played 24 games averaging 6.1ppg, 3.8rpg, 1.5apg, FGP: 53.8%, 3PT: 25.0%, FT: 58.1%. But despite finishing the season strong, it didn´t start off so well. He got injured after four games and sat out two and a half months missing 10 games. When he came back, he became the starter after the second game back. “As I started games, my confidence really grew. I got better used to the pace and let things come to me. I had my best game of the season in the conference semi-finals against W Illinois scoring 20 points”, expressed Sam Griesel. NDSU then proceeded to beat Omaha 73-63 and win the Summit League tournament. “I will never forget the whole experience and then having the chance to play in the NCAA tournament. I always had dreamed of playing in March Madness”, said Sam Griesel. After beating North Carolina Central 78-74 and contributing 10 points and 6 boards in 28 minutes in the first round, then it was time for the big showdown against powerhouse school Duke who were sporting two of the best players last season with Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett and a legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski the winningest coach of all-time in division one. The game was held in Colonial Life Arena in South Carolina and had 18,000 crazy fans as bedlam was on the menu. Oh and a little side note the date was March 22nd, the 19th birthday of Sam. “It was a cool birthday present being able to play Duke. Williamson and Barrett are legit. Williamson is a freak of nature with his size. Barrett is a skilled, big physical guard. They will do well in the NBA and have special careers. Playing Duke was a cool experience and shaking coach K´s hand was very special”, added Sam Griesel. He finished with 4 points and 3 rebounds in 24 minutes in his last NCAA game losing to Duke 85-62.
He still will have three more years to continue to develop his game at NDSU. When he was growing up and starting to get interested more for basketball, he started looking for those role models and players he could study. His favorite player was Derrick Rose and even when the ex Chicago Bull was having problems, he continued to look up to him. He compares his game to a Nicholas Batum of France and a Paul George. Especially with the ex Indiana Pacer George he sees many similarities especially with the frame and height. Two of his biggest strengths on the court is keeping his teammates involved and annoying opponents on defense, but he has other assets in his game as well. “My versatility is important. I can play the positions 1-4. I thought I did a good job as a freshman attacking the rim and being a slasher on the wing”, stated Sam Griesel. Making the transition from high school to the NCAA rank isn´t an easy one especially the crazy athleticism that is abundant. His shot is also something that is still a work in progress as he shot only 37% from the field and 25% from outside as a freshman. When his shot wasn´t falling, he then used his driving to the rim which continued to up his confidence when it wasn´t raining from the parking lot. It will be interesting to see if his offensive role will increase more in his sophomore campaign.
Back to German soil. That is where Sam Griesel is at the moment. Actually in Berlin at Kienbaum where many of the German national basketball teams get ready before commencing big tournaments. This is his sixth time in Germany and his grand parents from his father´s side still live there. It surely wasn´t easy going to a foreign country and getting to know many new hungry German basketball players, but he took it in stride. “I came to Germany having no idea what to expect. I came here with an open mind and went with the flow”, added Sam Griesel. The transition from the NCAA game to the European game has been a test and he has been impressed with the skill level of his German teammates. “The game is faster here than in college. The guys are more physical here due to being able to play against grown men. I feel that I have been able to incorporate the physicality and speed into my game. I have been able to play fast and still be under control. My teammates are a lot better skill wise than I thought. I always thought that Germany was a soccer country, but that is a stereotype. I really have been impressed by how good the players are”, added Sam Griesel. He has been lucky that the pace of the game has fit his style. He really has been able to profit from playing fast, because he enjoys getting out on transition. With so much talent around him, it hasn´t been difficult to have certain players standout. “I have been impressed with my roommate Nils Hassfuerter. He has played for many of the German youth national teams and has helped me a lot with translating things. I also have been impressed with Isaiah Ihnen. He has a lot of potential. It will be interesting to see what he can do further down the road”, said Sam Griesel.
This weekend he will be able to showcase his talent at a tournament in Italy facing off against Greece, Slovenia and Italy where he will see close up how they operate. 18 players were supposed to have been at the workouts in Kienbaum, but only 14 were there. A few may follow as Joshua Obiesie was in the states at NBA workouts as he had good chances of being drafted, but in the end wasn´t selected. Also Alba Berlin guard Jonas Mattisek is expected to arrive soon. Only 12 players will make the trip to Tel Aviv for the European Championships. It would be something if he could make the 12 man roster and continue his stay in Europe and continue to gather added useful experience on the court and seeing new cultures. He is optimistic about his chances of making the final roster. “I feel confident about my chances. I feel like I have shown what I can do on the offensive and defensive ends of the court. I´m taking this experience day by day and grinding it out and playing as hard as I can”, warned Sam Griesel. He has stiff competition from a few guys like Bruno Vrcic, Isaiah Ihnen and Quirin Emanga with whom he has been working out the most with in the last week. His game in his freshman year was helped by head coach David Richman at NDSU and in the last week, he has had to take orders from German coach Alan Ibrahimagic and has needed no real adjustment period as they seem to be similar in what they do. “Both make their jokes, but can also get intense on the court yelling and having that competitive spirit. Both told me to trust my game and play with confidence. That is the best version of yourself”, added Sam Griesel. It will be interesting to see how the American with the German passport continues to faire with the German U-20 national team and most importantly will he make the 12 man roster. “I want to get the most of this experience meeting new people and having fun. But at the same time competing at a high level and playing hard”, warned Sam Griesel. Even if he doesn´t make the 12 man roster, he still won. He will come home and still be that Nebraska kid with the German connection and be able to tell his NDSU teammates some amazing stories that will last a life time.