The Gentle Giant Sascha Hupmann Passes Away At Age 49

Miles Schmidt-Scheuber meeting Sascha Hupmann on the street in Munich in the summer of 2008

I have often had those moments when I´m somewhere and I see a guy who has that suitable professional athlete´s body, but I´m not sure if they are one. Then I will go up more times than not in a shy and uncomfortable way, because I don’t want to ask that line of “Excuse me but are you a player” and then be wrong. I remember every so often when I was a kid waiting to get autographs from MLB players at hotels and only seeing them in street clothes which made me a bit unsure if they were a player or not because they weren´t in uniform. I made wrong assumptions on many occasions and usually either got a laugh of disbelief that they could be mistaken or the usual line back “I´m not a player”. Your only on this earth once, so why not press your luck and see if it´s a player or not. Pressing my luck and asking people if they were players was an adolescent thing, but it stayed with me even far into adulthood. It was late June 2008, and I remember it being a very very hot day in Munich. I was there for a weekend as the German BBL season had ended. It was sometime in the early afternoon and I was walking down the posh Maximillian street and then I reached the Bavarian Opera house. There were some tour buses in front with typical tourists and a lot of buzz. Then I noticed this giant. I literally thought now that´s a giant. If that guy isn´t a basketball player then I don´t know what he could have been. His body was made for basketball. I knew he was a player, but the whole time I was thinking, that he had to be a German player, but who. I went up to him and asked if he was a basketball player. He just smiled and said yes. The ice had been broken. I was happy that I had been right for my assumption and the big 216cm guy seemed content even if I didn´t know who he was. We engaged in a short conversation and he told me his player life story. The big giant that I had met in downtown Munich was none other than Sascha Hupmann who at that time was 38 years old and already retired from a professional career since 4 years. Today on April 14th, 2020 he is dead. The German passed away on Sunday in the United States at only age 49. He succumbed to a neurological disorder called Ataxia.  People affected by this degenerative disease  can have problems using their fingers and hands, arms, legs, walking, speaking or moving their eyes. He was only 9 days shy of his 50th birthday.

                Hupmann was born in Munich, Germany on April 21st, 1970. He began his basketball career with  DJK Sportbund Munich and then went to the United States in1988 and played at a high school. His overseas journey in the States would last 5 years as in 1989 he went on to play 4 years at the University of Evansville (NCAA) helping lead the club to two NCAA tournament appearances in in 1992 and 1993 and two MCC titles. Even 27 years after graduating, he is still remembered fondly from his days when he was strapping on the Purple Aces jersey. He was a tough physical big man that brought 250 pounds to the scale. He twice got A-Midwestern Collegiate Conference honors and had very good stats in his last two seasons where his team made it to March Madness. In his junior season he averaged 12,3ppg and 8,1rpg. He was able to make another huge jump in his development as a senior as he averaged 11,5ppg and 10,6rpg. He registered double doubles in the two March Madness games he played leading his team in points and rebounds in each game. He is in the school record books as he ranks third all-time in blocks with 160 and ninth all-time in rebounds with 716. That is an amazing feat considering that he was hurt for a majority of his 4 years at Evansville breaking his metatarsus three times.  Recently the German was honored along with the early 90´s teams at halftime in a game against Northern Iowa. Despite being in a wheel chair for some years now, he always managed to have a positive attitude despite the pain he was going through.

            After his stellar college career at the University of Evansville, the gentle giant would have an illustrious professional career in Europe from 1993-2004 playing 5 years in Germany and 5 years in Greece winning a total of 7 titles. Despite having a great NCAA career, he didn´t land right away with a top German team, but played his rookie season with TVG Trier where he played alongside Trier legend James Marsh and American point guard Carl Brown. After a strong rookie season, top teams took notice. Legendary German national coach Dirk Bauermann was head coach of the Bayer Giants Leverkusen and had just won his 5th BBL league title in a row and wanted to add a few more and needed that aggressive big man and hauled in Hupmann. Hupmann played 2 seasons with Leverksuen playing alongside some other German legends like 1993 Euro winner Henning Harnisch and Euroleague winner Michael Koch and Denis Wucherer. Hupmann would win 3 titles and help keep the dynasty going. The German then went from one dynasty to the beginning of the next one. Lever kusen won their 7th BBL league title in a row with him and then Alba Berlin would start their own dynasty winning 7 in a row from 1997-2003. Hupmann was an important role player in that first Alba league title being that consistent high performance rebounder and being that rim protector. He averaged 8.8ppg, 8.5rpg, and was second in blocks in the league with 1,6. He also helped win the cup title in 1997.

            After playing in Germany for 4 seasons, he then needed a change of scenery and culture as he played 5 seasons in Greece. Money was surely a factor, but as well as seeing a new culture and living in a warm place was a important for him being there for a longer period of time. It also was a honor to be recognized as a top player as he signed with top European and Euroleague team  Panathinaikos Athens (Greece). He played there from 1997-1999 winning two Greek league titles. In his two seasons he was reunited with Michael Koch again as well as being teammates with a young 17 year old Antonis Fotsis who was just at the start of an amazing career and teammates with then 36 year old NBA champion Byron Scott who probably had unending Magic Johnson stories to tell. In his second season he was teammates with 3 time Euroleague winner legend Dejan Bodiroga. He then moved to Iraklis Thessaloniki (Greece) where he played from 1999-2002. There he also had the fortune to play with some great players like Greek legend Dimitris Diamantidis, ex NBA player Buck Johnson, Lazaros Papadopoulos and baby Shaq Sofoklis Schortsanitis. He returned back to Germany and closed out his career with  TSG Ehingen (2.Bundesliga). There he was a veteran that was able to help young German talents develop further and make the next step. One of those young talented players was 3 time BBL champion Lucca Staiger who once scored 106 points in a youth game in the Ehingen organization. In Hupmann´s last season as a professional in 2003-2004, Staiger was only 15 years old when he was teammates with him. That may have been 15 years ago, but the German still remembers Hupmann fondly. “He was an unbelievable player, but an even better person”, stated Lucca Staiger. Another young teammate of Hupmann was Nico Simon who retired last year after having a solid 11 year German BBL career where he won a BBL title with Alba Berlin and belonged to the German national team in 2012. He was 16 in Hupmann´s last season. He also remembers the gentle giant very well. “I have the utmost respect for Sascha and his great career. I had the luck to play a season with him in Ehingen. I think of him as a very special person who didn´t shy away from us young guys and showed us the ropes. I will always be very thankful for that. His charismatic and positive way will always be in my memories. My thoughts are with his family in these hard times”, stressed Nico Simon”, explained Nico Simon.

            The three time BBL allstar also was a member of the German national team for numerous years in the 90´s. He played 67 caps and took part at the 1994 World Championships and 1997 European championships. One player that accompanied him in 3 places with Leverkusen, Panathinaikos and the German national team was Michael Koch who later made a name as a head coach in Germany with the Telekom Baskets Bonn and today is the manager of BBL club Giessen 46ers and has very fond memories of him on and off the court and is hurting like so many other people that knew him. “I went a long way with him as teammates with Leverkusen, Panathinaikos and the German national team. We had known for a while that he had been sick. Leverkusen had a gathering some years ago and he couldn´t make the reunion. He had two sides. As a player he was a robust and tough player that wouldn´t shy away from making a hard foul. Off the court he was the generous nice person that would come to you at 3 Am if you were in need. He was a very open person. I have a memorable story about him when we played in Greece together. We were playing a Spanish team and they had a tough defender named Augullo who was defending Dejan Bodiroga very hard. Our coach came over to Sascha on the bench and told him, you know that Augullo guy is driving me crazy. I want you to go in there and defend him. He understood his role no matter if he played 1 minute or 20 minutes. On the first pick and role, Sascha put him out of the game with his aggressive play. When he returned to the bench he said you see I did my job. That was the type of player that he was. He had no ego and played every second for the team. He had been struggling the last years with his disorder, but he was always positive and never in a bad mood. His death really hurts”, stated ex Euroleague champion Michael Koch. After his basketball days he went back to Evansville and worked in a school. He is survived by his wife Brooke and son Noah who had grown to be a seven footer like his dad and also shared his dad´s passion for the game and was playing high school basketball at Covington Catholic. The gentle giant had been in a wheelchair for a few years and his condition continued to decline. There is still no cure for Ataxia as well as no medicine or the possibility of having surgery. I was shocked when I read the first few posts on social media which had me googling right away. A few hours later there were numerous stories from various German media outlets on Easter Monday afternoon. Even if my brief encounter with Sascha Hupmann is 12 years old, I remember as if it was yesterday. There was literally a giant in front of me that seemed to be in very good health at least from my naked eye. To me he seemed like he could of still played then. This young death shows how a person´s health can go in a totally different route at any time. He was unfortunate to be hit with the incuriable disorder Ataxia. In a time now where the whole world is affected by the Coronavirus crisis, we should always be thankful for our family and cherish every moment. A person may be in very good health, but then unexpectedly get hit by some disorder and disease. You never know what can happen to a loved one. Sascha Hupmann was taken way too early. His family and friends will never forget him. He made positive long lasting memories in the States and in Europe. R.I.P Sascha Hupmann.

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