Franz Wagner, Germany have made great strides and can still make more

Franz Wagner had a strong finale to group play as he and Germany have made big steps forward at EuroBasket. (Photo by Alexander Scheuber/Getty Images)
Franz Wagner had a strong finale to group play as he and Germany have made big steps forward at EuroBasket. (Photo by Alexander Scheuber/Getty Images) /

The crowds in Cologne have been out in full force for their home nation in EuroBasket. But nobody would blame them for not knowing what to expect.

Yes, there were more than a fair amount of Luka Doncic Dallas Mavericks jerseys dotting the crowd as Doncic dazzled the crowd for Slovenia — especially his last two games including a 47-point effort Wednesday in the finale against France to clinch Group B. He was the headliner for the group.

Germany as a basketball team was still something of a mystery. Even hosting this tournament, nobody probably had a good feel for what Germany could do.

The tournament started with the German national team retiring Dirk Nowitzki’s international jersey, a reminder of the program’s past. This was going to be a display of this program’s future.

Coming off a triumphant return to the Olympics last summer — their first since 2008 — Germany certainly viewed hosting EuroBasket as an opportunity to re-establish themselves.

They are a long way away though. They had some veteran players like Dennis Schroder and Daniel Theis to anchor the team. But this tournament had to be about the program’s future and handing off the baton to a new generation.

A new generation that includes Orlando Magic forward Franz Wagner.

Franz Wagner and Germany are starting to emerge on the international stage as they advanced at EuroBasket. They still have a lot more work to do.

Admittedly from fans of Germany basketball that I have talked to, they did not know really what to expect from Wagner. He had not played for the national team before this tournament and he has spent a good chunk of his time playing in the U.S. both in college at Michigan and with the Magic.

Judging by the boisterous shout and call back after Wagner hit threes in the first half Wednesday, they know who Wagner is now. And the rest of EuroBasket knows Germany is a bigger force than they anticipated.

There was little to draw from Germany’s group play finale — a 106-71 shellacking with most of Germany’s main players sitting most of the game. Dennis Schroder and Daniel Theis got the night off. Wagner scored 15 points in 12 minutes and sat the entire second half.

For Wagner, it was good to see him be confident and aggressive after taking too much of a back seat in Tuesday’s loss to Slovenia. He had a nice up-and-under move around the basket, another twisting finish for a lay-in and plenty of three-pointers as he got himself going late in the first quarter.

Wagner was aggressive and quick with his attacks. And with Schroder out of the lineup, Germany was looking to put the ball in his hands.

This team is still Schroder’s team and he will remain the main creator. But Germany leaves Cologne with everyone understanding Wagner is their future. He made good on the hype and the fans believe it too — both in Germany and for the Magic.

That confirmation of his progress is what Germany needed to see.

Germany entered this tournament in the “group of death” paired with defending champion Slovenia, perennial power France and stalwarts Lithuania and Bosnia & Herzegovina. It was never a sure thing for Germany to advance to the knockout round.

But for the team’s development and growth with a lot of young role players filling in around the veterans and Wagner’s addition, they needed to get to the knockout round and possibly to the quarterfinals.

Now that feels like the bare minimum for this team. And it feels like Germany could develop into a future contender for EuroBasket.

They have all the makings of it. Schroder and Theis are solid veterans with Schroder able to get into the lane and create at this level. Wagner as the budding young star. And then a solid cohort of young shooters like Maodo Lo (he scored 21 points and made five 3-pointers in Wednesday’s win) and Neils Giffey (19 points Wednesday). Along with good big men who fill in roles with Johannes Thiemann and Johannes Voigtman along with Moe Wagner (out for EuroBasket with an ankle injury).

This is a good team even if they do not have NBA talent dotting all of it. Maybe all it takes is one strong EuroBasket run to inspire the next generation as Nowitzki inspired Wagner’s generation to pick up the game. There could well be more coming down the pipe.

Germany has played this tournament so far as if they had house money. They shocked France in the first game and their confidence has been difficult to tame since then. They are playing on the home crowd’s energy and their own potential and moxie. This is a fun team to watch — and as someone with no national interest, they and this group have been a lot of fun to watch.

This tournament could already be considered a success for that reason. But Germany has to feel confident enough to beat Montenegro on Saturday and reach the quarterfinals. Germany certainly should be favored after going 4-1 in that difficult group.

Germany has taken some major steps forward as a national program. Wagner has been at the center of this growth.

But there is still more they have to do. They are now in the knockout rounds. One bad night could halt all that progress and deflate all that energy.

Wagner has not played a single-elimination game since the NCAA Tournament. And he has not played a game where defenses are going to have a lot of their attention turned to him as a star player at this kind of a level.

There is still a lot for Germany and for Wagner to accomplish. And a lot more growth to come, especially as Wagner returns to his club team in Orlando and prepares for his sophomore season.

Germany had a lot to celebrate as they close group play and head back to Berlin for the final stage of this tournament. They have a lot of work to do to become a perennial power again and steal a spot on the podium of this and future tournaments.

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But it is very clear they have taken steps there. And it is clear Wagner has had a big hand in getting them there. He will continue to do so as he improves.