MANILA, Philippines — Four years ago, German basketball wasn’t in the best place. Dirk Nowitzki had retired, Germany had missed the Olympics altogether in 2016, and at the last FIBA World Cup, it was a distant and disappointing 18th.
The Germans’ journey from there is what made standing on the stage receiving their first World Cup gold Sunday all the more meaningful after they completed a perfect tournament with an 83-77 victory over Serbia.
Behind Canadian head coach Gordie Herbert, firebrand point guard Dennis Schroder and the next great German NBA star Franz Wagner, the team went 8-0 in Manila. It is the middle of a three-year plan that started last year with an impressive bronze at the highly regarded EuroBasket and will take the team into Paris for next year’s Olympics as a real contender.
“It’s a little bit of a surreal moment,” Herbert said. “It’s like I told the players. It’s a tremendous group of players, but we were a team first. Guys cared about each other, and they challenged each other.”
Schroder had 28 points as he led a high-speed attack that makes the Germans a variation on the typical European power. They have a line of excellent big men, including NBA players Moritz Wagner and Daniel Theis. But Schroder’s speed with the ball and ability to collapse defenses tirelessly are invaluable weapons at this level.
He did it to the Serbians, who took silver for the second time in the past decade, throughout the game. Pushing the tempo, probing and hunting shots repeatedly led to good things for his team.
The one that will be remembered for a while came with 21 seconds left in the game. Schroder got the ball with his team up just two points and maximum pressure. He held up his hand, indicating he had it, and within a split second was a blur going to the hoop.
When he put the ball off the glass and into the hoop a moment later, it was the separation Germany needed. Around the play, he made three clutch free throws to seal off Serbia’s hopes.
“It’s an unbelievable group,” Schroder said. “It’s unbelievable going 8-0.”
Schroder, who signed this summer with the Toronto Raptors, has had all kinds of moments in this run. Before the event, he had a public spat with Dallas Mavericks forward Maxi Kleber about playing for the national team after skipping last summer. (Kleber didn’t, and Schroder later apologized.) He got into a back-and-forth with Herbert on the bench during the World Cup. And by missing 22 shots, he nearly dribbled the Germans out of the tournament in a narrow quarterfinal win over Latvia.
But on balance, Schroder was the driver of the team, which had excellent balance and chemistry that clearly carried over from last year.
Franz Wagner, who missed the bulk of the World Cup with a sprained ankle, played three strong games in the medal round to have an early crowning moment at age 22. The Orlando Magic forward scored 19 points with seven rebounds in the final.
Serbia made an admirable run though the event without several of its top players. Nikola Jokic was resting after leading the Denver Nuggets to the NBA title, and guard and two-time Euroleague Final Four MVP Vasilije Micić didn’t play after signing with the Oklahoma City Thunder earlier this summer.
Once the tournament started, Serbia lost forward Borisa Simanic after an unfortunate blow during a game forced him to have emergency surgery to remove a kidney.
Then in the opening moments Sunday, starting forward Ognjen Dobric suffered an ankle injury that knocked him out for the rest of the game.
After trailing by 12 points in the fourth quarter, Serbia showed off its famous persistence and made a run to cut the lead. With less than a minute left, Marko Guduric missed a 3-pointer that would have tied the game. Schroder then took over.
Center Johannes Voigtmann added 12 points and eight rebounds for Germany.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.