When Gordon Herbert picks up his square black glasses and spreads his arms on the sidelines, it’s serious. In these moments, the 63-year-old basketball coach sometimes seems dissatisfied. Either with players who don’t execute his tactical instructions accurately, or with referees who don’t apply the rules consistently. Screaming and stomping – like many of his fellow coaches – Herbert is almost never seen. He prefers to fold his arms and watch the game with concentration.
Exuberant outbursts of emotion also did not befit a man who shows up to games in dark, well-tailored suits. In addition, Herbert, who is almost two meters tall, occasionally combines finely patterned shirts, but always black leather shoes. His elegant style catches the eye without making him appear unapproachable. He likes to joke with the questioners before interviews. Above all, Herbert exudes calm and authority at his first tournament as national coach. On Saturday (6 p.m., Magentasport) he and the German Basketball Federation (DBB) team will meet Montenegro in the round of 16 of the European Championship.
But who is the man who is supposed to lead Germany’s basketball players to a medal at the European Championships? Born in British Columbia, Canadian Herbert loved to play ice hockey in his youth. To this day, “Gordie”, as he is even called on the official website of the European Championship, stands for his love of playing with the puck. On the fringes of the European Championship, Herbert mused that he didn’t know whether he’d rather watch Leon Draisaitl play ice hockey or Slovenia’s superstar Luka Doncic play basketball.
Because his mother, a sports teacher and basketball player, convinced him, Herbert switched to ball sports as a teenager. After college in the US, he went to Europe – Finland to be precise – and stayed. There Herbert met his ex-wife and received Finnish citizenship. In the land of a thousand lakes, Herbert also earned a degree in sports psychology.
The national coach uses his knowledge from his studies when dealing with his players, also for unorthodox food for thought. “In hockey, a good team has racehorses and pigs. The best teams have players who are both – racehorses with a pig’s mentality,” said Herbert in a speech to the players. The head coach is considered a quiet talker, preferring to leave loud criticism to his assistant Klaus Perwas.
But when it comes to sporting success, Herbert also makes difficult decisions. At the beginning of August he retired Robin Benzing. The 33-year-old played for the national team for many years and was their captain for a long time.
The Benzing case caused a stir because the DBB dismissed the deserved player rather inappropriately and Benzing made no effort to hide his disappointment. It was a courageous step for Herbert, which in retrospect was probably the right one. Despite all the loyalty, the national coach had better players available for the wing positions.
The team around leader Dennis Schröder trusts and follows the experienced Herbert. The union does too. Last autumn, the long-time Bundesliga coach signed a two-year contract with an option for a further one that includes the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. “It’s about winning medals. At the European Championships, at the World Cup, at the Olympics. No matter what tournament,” he outlined a three-year plan at his presentation. Herbert was the first German national coach to move to Hagen, the seat of the association.
The Herbert team thrilled the fans at the European Championships. The five preliminary round games in Cologne were almost all sold out, up to 18,000 spectators flocked to the arena and celebrated the German basketball players. But Herbert only noticed the hype in doses. After the opening win over France, he didn’t get as many congratulations as his players. “I’m not on social media. I’m too old for this. This is the world for the under-30s. I have no idea how to get on Twitter,” explained Herbert, as usual sober. What counts for Herbert is the next game.
Montenegro is waiting for the DBB selection on Saturday. The Montenegrins are considered a balanced team, with naturalized American Kendrick Perry standing out as the most efficient player at the European Championship. “I had a coaching course there in the summer. That’s all I know so far,” said Herbert, relaxed as usual after the successful group phase. “So far we’ve only ever concentrated on the next opponent and we’ve done well with that,” added the national coach. His previous successes prove him right.