Earlier this month, in the morning hours of a Friday workout, Precious and Promise Idiaru finally got to keep their teammates quiet. Most of them, at least.
The Kansas City twin sophomore forwards were crowded around a television in the Roos’ weight room, as the team took a break to catch the final moments of the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup semifinal between the United States and Germany. As the group watched a contested German layup, most arms flailed one way, hoping for an offensive foul that would give Team USA the ball back.
But as natives of Speyer, Germany, the Idiaru brothers pointed the other way, and they would have the last laugh. Their home country upended the tournament’s heavy favorites with a 113-11 win, advancing to the final and extinguishing Team USA’s shot at gold.
“Many of my teammates are obviously American and they were all talking trash,” Precious Idiaru said with a laugh. “I was over the moon when they beat the U.S.A., I could just make everyone shut up for a few minutes.”
In the end, the Germans would keep the entire international basketball world quiet. Led by tournament MVP Dennis Schröder, Germany defeated Serbia in the final to win its first world championship. The team’s rousing success in the Philippines was a boost for a country and a basketball profile on the rise.
That includes four NBA players on the most recent roster — such as Schröder and Franz Wagner — and, of course, a legend like Dirk Nowitzki. But it’s also trickled down to the college level in the U.S. Of recent, the most notable players have been Wagner and his brother Moritz, who both had big-time careers at Michigan. The team that went to the Philippines also included former UConn big man Niels Giffey and former Columbia star and Ivy League first teamer Maodo Lô.
According to realgm.com, there are 29 Germans set to play across the various NCAA levels in the 2023-24 season.
One of those players, Denver sophomore guard Dan Mukuna, had a running conversation with his brother back in Germany as the tournament unfolded. They were both confident before the first game had even tipped because of Germany’s bronze medal run at EuroBasket 2022, where the Germans downed Montenegro and Greece in the knockout rounds. Then, as he watched videos of the team’s preparation for the World Cup, he saw something that gave him even more faith.
“We put our egos aside, we just knew our roles,” Mukuna said. “Head coach Gordie Herbert talked about roles, what their roles were going to look like. He made it very clear at the beginning so that there would be no confusion or discussion in the team. We had great characters, great leaders that stepped up.”
After the national team’s success in the Philippines, it could be that more Germans find their way into the sport and, ultimately, college basketball in the U.S.
Mukuna and Idiaru admit what is obvious: Germany is first and foremost a soccer country. Both started off as soccer players before growth spurts brought basketball into the equation. For Mukuna it started at a young age — about eight or nine — and led him to the International Basketball Academy of Munich before landing with the Pioneers as a versatile, 6-foot-8-inch guard. He’s worked on his strength and defense this offseason as he looks to break into third-year coach Jeff Wulbrun’s rotation.
The transition from grass to hardwood came later for Idiaru and his twin brother.
They were 6-foot-1 soccer players who whizzed around the perimeter handling the ball while playing basketball on the side for fun. Then, a massive growth spurt hit around their 18th birthdays and suddenly they were 6-foot-10 and looking to pursue college basketball in the U.S. The twins were a part of Marvin Menzies’ first recruiting class at Kansas City, and made 24 starts between the two of them last year as freshmen, showing exciting potential as big men with perimeter skills.
With the national team bringing home gold, it might not just be growth spurts that push young Germans away from the pitch onto the court. Idiaru, for one, has already seen interest tick up back home.
“This championship means a lot to the nation, even I am getting messages on Instagram from kids asking me about how I did this, how I came to the States,” he said. “When I was their age no one was interested; so it’s exciting to see 12-year olds interested, wanting to know where they can apply to train and play in youth leagues.”
At the press conference following the gold medal game, Schröder reflected on the fact that back in Germany, only the championship game was aired on TV. He talked about his wish that in the future — be it the Wold Cup, EuroBasket or the Olympics – that the folks back home be able to watch all the games.
But he also talked about the progress basketball has made in Germany.
“We see the steps,” the Toronto Raptors guard said. “Now we go to the Philippines or Okinawa and everyone knows our team. In Germany as well people start recognizing what we are doing for our country, representing it.”
The win in the Philippines was the highlight of German basketball’s ascendancy, but the effects can be seen on college basketball courts throughout the U.S. That includes the Summit League, where Mukuna and the Idiaru brothers will suit up against each other multiple times this year. More matchups like that could well be on the way.