Carlisle visits Nowitzki in Germany

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June 20, 2008

Rick Carlisle returned from his European vacation with a greater appreciation for the continent’s most renowned NBA export. That’s what eight days in Germany with Dirk Nowitzki, his family and friends will do.

“We’re talking about the greatest European player in history,” Carlisle said. “There’s nobody else that’s been an MVP in the NBA, and for him to do that coming from where he did and facing the challenges he’s faced is phenomenal. And yet he’s still a guy who’s in his early prime and has a lot more years left.”

Carlisle visited Nowitzki’s childhood home in Würzburg and many of the courts he grew up playing on. One, to Carlisle’s surprise, had a linoleum floor. A visit or two to the neighborhood beer garden was also part of the tour. They caught Germany’s Euro 2008 match with Croatia during one trip.

Getting to know Nowitzki’s personal coach/mentor proved equally enlightening for the Mavericks coach. Holger Geschwindner, a member of West Germany’s 1972 Olympic basketball team, has a unique outlook on the sport, training methods and how to best use Nowitzki.

“I have a greater appreciation for his humble beginnings and some of the challenges that he faced in terms of facilities not being great,” Carlisle said. “There was an exorbitant amount of traveling that had to be done by both Holger and Dirk so that they could meet up and train in the early years.”

Carlisle and Nowitzki had the chance to talk in Dallas several times. They hit it off then and that bond grew even stronger half a world away.

“I really believe that Dirk and I both see the game very similarly,” Carlisle added. “We’re going to figure out the best way to play. That’s the bottom line. I don’t have any concerns about that and I don’t think he does either. We both realize the importance of maintaining a strong defensive disposition and that’s going to be the challenge.”

Nowitzki, who turned 30 on Thursday, has begun preparing for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament next month in Athens. This is most likely Nowitzki’s last summer of international basketball and his last hope to play in the Summer Games, which are hosted by China in August.

“The one perspective that I gained by going over there is how important the Olympic dream is to Dirk and the German team,” Carlisle said. “They haven’t participated since the ’72 Olympic that they hosted in Munich. This is a very important and patriotic thing for them.

“For a guy to be working out two or three times a day in early June for training camp that starts this weekend just tells you how important it is to him. I’m behind him all the way. I think it’s great. You can debate the merits of having guys play in the summer, but this really is about a dream and one last chance to fulfill it.”

Carlisle is about to fulfill one goal … his coaching staff. Former head coaches Dwane Casey and Terry Stotts are in Dallas finalizing contract details and preparing for next week’s NBA Draft. Mario Elie, one of Avery Johnson’s former assistants, and player development coach Popeye Jones are also expected to remain on staff.

Casey and Stotts are part of the group working out potential draftees at American Airlines Center. The Mavs currently have a second-round pick (No. 51) after trading their first-round choice to New Jersey as part of the Jason Kidd deal.

“We’ve seen a lot of guys,” Carlisle said. “Guys are competing hard and the coaching staff is learning a lot. We’re in a catch-up basis because we didn’t study the Draft a lot over the year. When we pick, whatever it is at 51 or if we move up, we’ll be ready.”