Playing on the road is part of the routine for any student-athlete, but a team currently visiting the area definitely raises the bar for travel.
The TuS Jena under-19 mens basketball club, from the city of Jena in eastern Germany, is visiting the Atlanta area for the third time since 2000. Members of the club are spending about two-and-a-half weeks locally, with a mix of sightseeing and about 10 basketball games on the itinerary.
On Thursday, the Germans recorded victories over a pair of local teams in a doubleheader at the Dobbs Creek Recreation Center, beating North Forsyth 88-63 and overcoming a second-half deficit to top Forsyth Central 88-79.
Both the visitors and locals saw it as a good opportunity to get a look at styles of play that differ from the familiar.
“For us, it’s a good chance to play games and [experience] a totally different style of playing the game,” said Tino Stumpf, head coach of the German club. “This is not European basketball. European basketball is more controlled and in some ways, I think more fundamental, but the American game is quicker, it’s more athletic and it’s up and down.”
Stumpf said he hopes his team will be able to integrate some aspects of American play into their game back in Europe, like increasing quickness and learning to attack on the fast break.
Conversely, North coach Bobby Pless was impressed with the versatility of Stumpf’s athletes in the half-court.
“I’ve always liked the European style of five-man motion, big men that play like guards, so I knew it would be a good experience for our big guys, because that’s really been my goal for two years is to get us more versatile,” Pless said.
“It was just good to play somebody different,” Central coach Steve Barnes said. “Somebody not in the region, not in the county that’s just glad to be here. They want to play and they love this country and it was just fun. ... I hate that we had the opportunity and we didn’t pull it out for the old U.S. of A, but that’s OK.”
John Hawley, a player development coach at Suwanee Sports Academy who is hosting the team, said players spend the mornings running the clock for a girls tournament, part of an agreement allowing them to sleep at the academy and earn meal money to defray expenses.
“They’re basically working for their food,” said Hawley, who has a long-standing relationship with the club and took his players to Germany in summer 2000 as head coach at Dacula.
Most of the visiting athletes attend a sports school associated with the TuS Jena club, Hawley said.
“In Europe, school sports are nonexistent. It’s all through clubs,” Hawley explained, noting that German students are free to attend any school they like.
According to Stumpf, the ultimate goal for the club is to send athletes to the German national team, which competes in international competitions like the Olympics.
Danny Kurban, who plays center for the club, said that the learning curve has been steep for his teammates this week, as they’ve learned to contain the fast break and deal with the pace of basketball as it’s played here.
“American basketball is pretty fast,” said Kurban, 18. “In American basketball, every player can dribble, shoot. The European [game], it’s more [focused] on position, so that’s a really big difference.”
Kurban said he would like to attend college in the States, and is looking forward to visiting Atlanta during the final days of the team’s visit. So far, the players haven’t had much opportunity to get out and look around, but will do some touring after their basketball obligations are over in a few days.
“We are in the gym for about 10 hours per day, so it’s really focused on basketball [right now],” he said.
Sports Editor Jared Putnam contributed to this article.