BOULDER - Fresh off a second round appearance in the NCAA Tournament, in May of 1997, the Colorado men's basketball team went on a four-game tour of Europe. During this trip the Buffs faced the German Under-22 National Team and their star player, Dirk Nowitzki.
Nowitzki has since become one of the NBA's all-time greatest players and was crowned the 2011 NBA Finals MVP after his Dallas Mavericks defeated the Miami Heat on Sunday night. However, when the Buffs faced the German U-22 team on May 23, 1997, Nowitzki was only 18 years-old and still over a year away from becoming the ninth overall pick of the 1998 NBA Draft.
The Germans defeated CU 83-66, as Nowitzki put up numbers all too familiar to his NBA opponents: 35 points on 12-of-17 field goals, 4-of-7 3-pointers, and 7-of-10 free throws, along with eight rebounds.
Following the 1996-97 season in which the Buffs made their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 28 years (led by their own eventual NBA Finals MVP, Chauncey Billups), Ricardo Patton's squad featuring Fred Edmonds and Ronnie DeGray played four games in England and Germany.
The following is a recap of CU's run-in with an all-time basketball great.
Buffaloes Fall to German Under-22 Team, 83-66
SAARLOUIS, Germany--Dirk Nowitzki scored a game-high 35 points as Germany's Under-22 National Team defeated the University of Colorado, 83-66, here Friday night.
"That was a very talented team from Germany. They did a lot of things well, and we struggled with our field goal shooting. But we'll have to keep playing hard," said CU head coach Ricardo Patton.
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.
This German squad was comprised of the nation's top collegiate-aged players. These teams will meet again Sunday, in Bonn, Germany, and Tuesday, in Heidelberg, Germany (Note: These two teams only played each other once more, in Heidelberg. CU won 67-55 though Nowitzki did not play).
Senior-to-be Ronnie DeGray checked in with a strong performance, scoring nine points on 4-of-8 shooting from the floor. Greg Jensen scored a team-high 15 points, while also sparking a second-half rally.
With the Germans owning a 45-34 halftime lead, Jensen took an alley-oop dunk from Howard Frier off the opening tip to cut the Germans' lead to 45-36. After a defensive stop on the ensuing possession, Jensen buried a three-pointer to bring CU to within six points, 45-39.
Friday's loss dropped the Buffaloes' record on their five-game tour to 1-1. The squad will travel three hours Saturday to Germany's capital, Bonn.
-Tonight's game, which was highly promoted in Saarlouis by the German National Basketball Federation, was a sellout.
-The game was featured across Germany tonight on German Sports TV, the country's version of ESPN.