A day after Franz Wagner´s life changed becoming a Lottery pick for the Orlando Magic and a millionaire, his ex NBBL(U-19 coach) youth coach Josef Dulibic had a smile across his face that could of lightened up even the grimmest of darkness that has been covering the city of Antalya, Turkey with all the brush fires that have spread across the country. It wasn´t too long ago when Dulibic had his first encounter with Wagner in late summer 2017 when he had just taken over as Alba Berlin youth coach. That was only four years ago, a time where the NBA landscape was filled with a lot less German players. Daniel Theis and Maxi Kleber hadn´t played an NBA game yet, Isaac Bonga and Moritz Wagner wouldn´t get drafted until 2018 and Isaiah Hartenstein was only a big young prospect that had good chances of making the NBA one day. The only player in the NBA in 2017 was Dennis Schroeder.Back in 2017 It had been a few months since Franz Wagner had won the German JBBL(U-19) title with Alba Berlin at age 15 and now at age 16 was ready to conquer the U-19 league. Josef Dulibic remembers that first meeting with Franz Wagner and having those first opening talks with assistant coach Andreas Fischer in late summer 2017. “The first thing I told Franz was that we saw him as a NBA prospect. He was so happy when he heard that, but at the same time very shy about the news. Now four years later he is a NBA Lottery pick. Time really flies”, stressed Josef Dulibic. With another German player with Franz Wagner being drafted, it is so important for the German basketball community. “The German population have seen more and more German players reach the NBA. Bonga and Mo were drafted in 2018 and kids notice that. The more guys that get drafted the better. Kids from towns have to be able to believe that anyone can get to the NBA”, warned Josef Dulibic.
Franz Wagner was born on August 27th, 2001 in Berlin and played his whole young life in the Alba Berlin organization. He got used to winning rapidly in the youth area winning the JBBL-U16 final in 2017 against IBAM(International Basketball Academy Munich) in Frankfurt and a year later helped the Alba Berlin NBBL(U-19 team) secure the next title in Quackenbruck against FC Bayern Munich. In 2018 he also added another title to his collection helping Germany win the Albert Schweitzer tournament in Mannheim, Germany with the German U-18 national team. His rapid progression continued as he always was younger than most at every new level and it wasn´t any different as he made his easyCredit BBL debut at age 17 helping destroy Science City Jena 112-55 as he contributed 12 points in only 10 minutes as he went 4/4 from the field and showed his grittiness on defense with 3 steals. That season as a 17 year old, he would score in double figures in 6 games in Germany´s top professional league. He was able to hold his own against older players and continued to develop nicely. He went 4/5 from the parking lot in three games and went 4/4 against FC Bayern Munich from outside in a tough 82-77 loss where he steered 16 points. That season he played 35 BBL games averaging 4.6ppg, 1.3rpg, 1.3rpg and got valuable international experience playing 21 games Eurocup games averaging 2.7ppg, 4.1rpg, 1.6apg, 2.0spg, FGP: 61.2%, 3PT: 38.8%, FT: 88.2%. In 2019 he made the trek to the University of Michigan(NCAA) where he played a total of 55 NCAA games. As a freshman he averaged 11.6ppg, 5.6rpg, 1.0apg, 1.3spg, FGP: 61.0%, 3PT: 31.1%, FT: 83.3% and as a sophmore averaged 12.5ppg, 6.5rpg, 3.0apg, 1.3spg, 1.0bpg, FGP: 56.3%, 3PT: 34.3%, FT: 83.5%. He showed sound consistency scoring in double figures in 34 games in his Michigan career. As a freshman he scored 22 points against Purdue and 21 points against Oregon and in his second season scored 21 points against Iowa and Indiana. He had already been on Mock NBA Draft boards two years ago before he came to Michigan and remained until the 2021 NBA Draft as he was hot on NBA team´s radars the last years.
I reached Franz Wagner´s ex U-19 head coach Josef Dulibic on vacation only 6 hours after the German youngster had been taken as a Lottery Pick at #8 by the Orlando Magic. The 206cm versatile guard made German basketball history being the highest German ever picked in the NBA Draft at #8. Ok so he isn´t alone, but shares that spot with legend Detlef Schrempf. He was able to even outlast the greatest German player of all-time Dirk Nowitzki who landed at #9 in 1998.The speculation had been massive for a long time that the German would be picked very high. Landing at number 8 is incredible, but could that Lottery pick notoriety add some unwanted pressure on him? “Franz is a guy that has come so far, he has always needed pressure to push himself. He has always looked for the challenge on the court. If he hadn´t been a lottery pick then he would have told himself I should have been picked higher and continued to push himself to get better. Franz is just a real sport head”, stated Josef Dulibic. Many saw him going to the Golden State Warriors to join the Splash brothers, but coming to the Orlando Magic to be teammates with brother Moritz actually seems like a very good situation for him. Some years ago, the Florida franchise tried to gain success around a nucleus with Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic, but that didn´t pan out. Now the Magic are rebuilding and Franz Wagner should be able to fit in beautifully. “Often guys get drafted, but never get a chance to play 25-30 minutes and be able to learn from their mistakes. But when you’re a Lottery Pick there is more tolerance. Plus being with brother Mo should also help. I see Franz getting a chance with the Orlando Magic”, said Josef Dulibic. Getting a chance right away can only be beneficial for him, but sometimes it doesn´t hurt to get some growing pains and having to fight for minutes. “It is really difficult to say what is correct and better? Getting a chance to play right away or having to fight for minutes. There are so many examples in the past where you never know what is better. I remember Anthony Bennett being the number #1 pick, but he didn´t make it in the NBA. While new NBA champion Giannis Antetokounmpo wasn´t a #1 NBA Draft Pick, but has dominated over the years. At the end of the day there is no regelation. At the end of the day it is all about the player and how much he wants to invest”, warned Josef Dulibic.
The NBA has changed over the years and that definitely helped Franz Wagner with his chances of not only being drafted, but also being able to be a Lottery Pick. He is a 206cm guard that can defend many positions and simply is versatile. Often teams look for that player that does one thing very well in the past, but then again being versatile is a huge asset nowadays. Plus the way teams play now has changed over the years as well with their lineups. “It is a little surprising that he was taken so high as a Euro player. Picking that classical big man like Pao Gasol and Dragan Bender isn´t as common anymore. NBA teams now like to play with four wing players and a big man. Having these bigger wing players like Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowdor are the new trend in the NBA. Franz fits in well in the NBA now. He is a modern player that plays good defense and can hit the three”, expressed Josef Dulibic. But he can do so much more. His penetration was feared in the NCAA and his footwork is extra special. What could really help make a Franz Wagner go from possibly being a solid NBA player to being an impact player is being able to stabilize his three pointer. He showed in his one easyCredit BBL year in Germany that he could hit from the parking lot consistently being at 39%. In Michigan his shooting from outside dipped down to 31% and 34%. One thing that will definitely help the German in the NBA will be the spacing. “The three point line is farther back, but he definitely will have more space. I watched some videos of him recently and he seemed to have changed the mechanics of his shot. I thought it was better when he was in Europe. But I am confident that his shot will continue to develop in the NBA. NBA teams have such large coaching staffs that they will help him. Franz definitely needs a good shot in the NBA. He has to reach 40%”, warned Josef Dulibic. It definitely will not only be fun, but very exciting to see what kind of path Franz Wagner will take with the Orlando Magic. “It is hard to say how far Franz can go in the NBA. The differences are so minimal. I think the most important thing is which player makes the most out of his opportunity. A player needs to have that hunger to be better than the others, get the chance to play and the character plays a big role as well. Franz has all these attributes to make it”, warned Josef Dulibic.
Of course Josef Dulibic is very very excited that his ex player Franz Wagner was drafted and knowing that he will have a good chance of having a NBA career, but he also remembers coaching him back in 2017-2018 which still brings him extreme joy. He remembers seeing Franz have unbelievable abilities at a young age. He was always the youngest where ever he was starting in the JBBL(U-16), then the NBBL(U-19) and then with the BBL team. “Young talented players need to be able to have the opportunity to develop quickly. They should never be held up, but given the chance to be able to do as much as possible early”, warned Josef Dulibic. The German was that good that he never even played his second NBBL season, but was rewarded with joining the BBL team. Also off the court, he showed just how gifted he was in the class room as he graduated from German high school(13 grades) at only age 17. He made gigantic steps in 7-8 months in his only NBBL year. “The Alba Berlin NBBL team was filled with so much talent. Franz was the youngest and one of the most important players on the team. You would never have thought that he was two years younger. He was so good without the ball and he knew how to make great decisions. Plus his scoring showed in the top 4 tournament. He always played with maximum intensity and he always gave everything whether it was against the worst team or against the best team”, remembered Josef Dulibic. Many people questioned his decision to go to Michigan in 2019 including myself. I once stated during my play by play of a Pro B playoff game between Lok Bernau and the Fraport Skyliners Juniors in March 2019 that I expected him to stay with Alba Berlin, because legendary Spanish coach Aito was proving that he would give young Germans minutes and he didn´t need to go the NCAA route. Boy was I ever wrong. “Everyone in the organization was sad to see him go to Michigan. He would of surely played 25 minutes in the next season. Now we see that he did nothing wrong. I think that going the NCAA route and getting to the NBA is harder than if you try via Europe. There are so many talented guys in the NCAA. Many were 3-4 years older than Franz and were more athletic. He was able to withstand all that adversary and play well”, stressed Josef Dulibic. You would think after spending an intensive year with him that Josef Dulibic would have enough stories ready for any time one is holed up in an elevator or traffic jam on the highway, but there weren´t many. “I have to be honest that there was no real wow story with Franz. I remember more the little things. I´m a guy that likes to play jokes on others. One thing that I will never forget about him was that whenever I said something, Franz was always the first to laugh. He always knew right away what would happen next from me. Franz is a great guy and the dream of every coach. He has had a fairy tale career until now”, stated Josef Dulibic. An ongoing gag with Alba Berlin is that it is a shame that there were only two basketball Wagner´s. If there would have been five or six Wagner brothers, well then Alba Berlin could have had a Wagner player every two years and had constant basketball enjoyment. Now Alba Berlin can watch from a far as Franz Wagner will take on the NBA and attempt to make his ex club proud.