BWB Europe

FIBA - Nowitzki: programme is stirring global interest

TREVISO (Basketball Without Borders) - Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki has more than a passing interest in the development of basketball back in Europe.

Having moved to the US in 1998, the 27-year-old forward has held numerous training camps back in his native Germany, and is only too happy to be spreading the basketball gospel as a leading figure of the FIBA/NBA Basketball Without Borders programme, which is currently in Treviso, Italy.

Nowitzki is alongside the likes of Andrei Kirilenko, Gordan Giricek, Primoz Brezec and Zaza Pachulia, giving youngsters the chance to meet some of their basketball idols and pick up some useful tips.

The programme, which is in its fifth year, has involved budding ball players from 31 different countries so far this year.

"It's great here," Nowitzki told PA International.

"There are loads of young kids with a lot of talent from all over Europe here, and I've been shooting hoops with them.

"Basketball is my sport - it's the sport I love and it's really good when I can help to introduce kids to a great game."

Nowitzki remembers only too well the domination of soccer in his home country when he was growing up, but he is confident that basketball is now challenging for the attentions of children across Europe.

"I come home every summer and see the progress, and I think the Basketball Without Borders programme is really helpful because kids can meet the players and become interested in the sport," he added.

"I have camps for kids in Germany, and I just like to be involved in this sort of thing.

"Soccer is still the number one sport in Germany, but basketball is growing so fast - it's really great to see."

Even since becoming a star in the NBA, Nowitzki has seen a rapid development of the game back home in Europe.

He is hoping to take part in the EuroBasket later this year, and the FIBA World Championship in 2006 - two competitions which will give an indication of how other countries have caught up with the traditional superpower of the United States.

"I thikn we (Germany) are a good team, and we've come a long way since the debacle at the EuroBasket in Sweden in 2003 (when Germany were knocked out in an elimination game for the quarter-finals)," he added.

"We have a new coach and a couple of good new young players, so we should be in good shape.

"I think all of the players want to play in these competitions. I know (Andrei) Kirilenko is looking forward to it with Russia, and there should be plenty of good teams.

"Basketball is just growing all the time, and in competitions the US now can't just expect to turn up and win. It's not just developing in Europe, but also in places like South America.

"Basketball is just expanding all over the world, and it's a real pleasure to be a part of it."

By Rory Squires, PA International, Exclusively for FIBA