College Basketball Nation: Dirk Nowitzki

Few people can better turn an NBA yarn than Charles Barkley. Case in point: This linked video, posted this weekend on Dirk Nowitzki's newly launched YouTube stream, of Barkley in the locker room at a celebrity softball tournament.

The Round Mound of Rebound recounted the first time he saw Nowitzki, a future Hall of Famer with the Dallas Mavericks, play. Dirk torched "Michael, Scottie, a bunch of guys, like, NBA players" in an international game. Naturally, Barkley immediately tried to (illegally) recruit the 18-year-old German prodigy to play at his alma mater, Auburn.
"I said, 'where you going to play at?' He said, 'I have to go in the army." I said, 'you can't go in the army playing like that.' So I call Nike and I says, 'find out about this kid and tell him I'll give him anything he wants to go to Auburn. Just tell him, anything he wants, we'll get it done.'"

Barkley also has a few funny words on the subject of SMU and recruiting in the SEC, and calls the $200,000 Cam Newton scandal at Auburn "a good investment."

Auburn football fans may recoil, but naturally this is all done with tongue planted firmly in cheek. You should not come away from this video thinking Barkley just confirmed the infamous Auburn scandal. Rather, you should come away thinking two things:

1. Charles Barkley is hilarious. (Duh.)

2. Dirk could have been the second-best player in Auburn basketball history. Oh, what could have been.

(Hat tips: SB Nation's Mike Rutherford, Beyond the Arc)

Dirk Nowitzki once manhandled Colorado

June, 15, 2011
Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki might have been recruited by Northwestern and come close to going to Cal, but does anyone remember the time he put on a show against American college players?



Schools don't normally reminisce about their losses, but Colorado recalls how in 1997 during the team's four-game tour of Europe, an 18-year-old Nowitzki played on the German U-22 national team and went up against a Buffaloes team then coached by Ricardo Patton.

The result wasn't pretty for the Buffs. Nowitzki scored 35 points on 12-of-17 shooting, draining four 3-pointers and grabbing eight rebounds. According to the recap, Colorado had hopes of mounting a late comeback in the game, but then this happened:
Nowitzki, one of Europe's top players in his age group, scored 10 points in the game's final 2:00 after Colorado had closed Germany's lead to 72-66. With time running out on the shot clock and 2:00 to play, Nowitzki buried a 26-footer and then scored seven more points after that to secure the win.

The Germans won 83-66 in front of a sellout crowd in a game in Saarlouis, Germany that was broadcast on the country's version of ESPN, and Nowitzki showed that even as a teenager, he was really, really good. Colorado was coming off a trip to the NCAA tournament, but had lost Chauncey Billups to the NBA draft and was no match for Nowitzki.

Nowitzki would go on to get drafted in the first round the following year and eventually lead the Mavericks to an NBA title.

"That was a very talented team from Germany," Patton said after the game.
As you may have heard, Dirk Nowitzki, the current No. 1 man-crush in this humble writer's basketball life, spurred the Dallas Mavericks to the franchise's first-ever NBA title Sunday night. In the process, Nowitzki solidified his legacy as -- and I'll just quote Grantland's Bill Simmons here -- "one of the 20 best basketball players of all time, the best European player ever [and] one of the best shooters ever. [...]" Pretty much, yep.

Dirk may not have changed the way we look at international players at the professional level -- there have been many other pioneers in this regard -- but he has irrevocably changed the old, tired notions about international players lacking the internal makeup to become NBA champions. Thanks to him and his forebears, the number of international players in the NBA and the college game continues to grow at a rapid pace.

Funny story, though: Nowitzki almost wasn't a purely international player. In other words, he was closer than you might think to giving American amateur hoops the, ahem, college try. And what college nearly lured this future NBA legend? Why, Northwestern, of course.

The Chicago Tribune's David Haugh chronicles the time Nowitzki, then an unheralded unknown from Germany, was seen shooting by a local Chicago reporter -- David Kaplan, now a WGN-TV host -- at a Final Four event Nowitzki's team was visiting in San Antonio in 1998. Kaplan saw Nowitzki draining 3s and wasted no time contacting then-Northwestern basketball coach Kevin O'Neill (now USC's coach) about offering the 7-footer a scholarship.

Seriously: This is a true story.
"Kap called me saying there's this 7-footer making all these 3s and wanting permission to offer him a scholarship for Northwestern on the spot,'' O'Neill recalled Monday. "I said, you gotta be kidding me … but OK.' [...] Nowitzki mentioned he was looking for an American college to showcase his skills for the NBA. Kaplan's quick recruiting pitch on behalf of Northwestern sold the idea of Nowitzki feeling comfortable amid Chicago's heavy German population.

"He told me, 'Sounds great, I'd love to set up a visit,' '' Kaplan said. "Then everybody saw him play, and there was no doubt he was going pro.''

First of all, it's imminently strange to hear a reporter admit to not only spotting a kid and informing a local basketball coach -- ostensibly a focus of his own coverage -- but to a) asking for permission to recruit that player, b) doing so and c) offering that player a scholarship on the spot. That's, shall we say, unusual.

And then, of course, there's the fact that Nowitzki might well have been a Northwestern Wildcat were it not for the fact that pretty much everyone soon realized he was a pro-level talent. The Milwaukee Bucks selected him No. 9 overall in the 1998 NBA draft, then quickly traded him to Dallas for Michigan forward Robert "Tractor" Traylor. The rest, as they say, is history.

Still, can you imagine? Dirk in college? At Northwestern? It sounds thoroughly strange. (Almost as strange as the recruiting pitch that nearly got him there.) It also sounds downright awesome. Oh, what could have been.