Achtung! Martin Breunig Brings It!
Dec. 1, 2011
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE - Martin Breunig can't wait to play in the Huskies' next three games.
But not for the reasons the rest of his teammates have: That two of them are next week at Madison Square Garden, marquee games Tuesday against 16th-ranked Marquette and Dec. 10 against No. 3 Duke.
No, Breunig is pumped the Huskies (4-1) are playing Friday night at Nevada (4-3) and next week in New York City on ESPN's family of media outlets. UW is on ESPNU television Friday, ESPN on Tuesday - and, most important for Breunig, on ESPN3.com with free, live video both nights.
That means his family and friends back home in Leverkusen, Germany, can watch the freshman forward play in the United States for the first time.
So what that Friday's tipoff in Reno is at 5 a.m. in Germany, or that Tuesday night's start time is at 3:30 a.m. Leverkusen time?
"That will be awesome!" the normally reserved Breunig almost gushed in his second language before a practice this week.
"We don't have the cable TV (to watch U.S hoops there). You have to pay in Europe to watch college basketball and the NBA."
His fans back home are going to like what they see.
European players have the reputation in American basketball for being smooth outside shooters and sometimes creative offensive players.
They are not generally thought of as tough.
Yet during his first month for Washington, the 6-foot-8 Breunig (pronounced BROY-nig) has looked more like a German Jon Brockman than former Husky Detlef Schrempf - who incidentally is from Breunig's home town.
He spent November splayed all over the Alaska Airlines Arena floor diving for loose balls and causing opponents' mistakes. He hustled into corners to retrieve errant passes and save UW from turnovers. He relentlessly pounded the offensive glass. In Washington's last game, a blowout win over Houston Baptist last Friday, Breunig had five rebounds in just 12 minutes.
"Martin is very smart. He picks things up quickly," Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said. "He's given us a little bit of toughness; he has a toughness about him. He is certainly not afraid. You know, (Nov. 20) was his first road game in college, and he went into Saint Louis and he was fine."
Breunig's grit has been something of a revelation to the Huskies, at least to the man who recruited him here after Maryland coach Gary Williams retired and the NCAA granted Breunig a release from his scholarship with the Terrapins.
Huskies assistant coach Paul Fortier has known Breunig's individual coach in Germany, Kay (pronounced "Kai") Bluemel, for years.
"No, that was some of the stuff we had questions on," Fortier said of Breunig's toughness. "We had heard he was pretty skilled for a big guy. We saw some tape on him; we didn't see him live. He moved well. He was athletic. But then we heard, `Well, he's got to get a little tougher and this and that.'
"And that's where he has really surprised us. That was the question mark, (yet) he's come in and been one of the tough guys. All the coaches did say of him, whatever you need him to do that's what he will do - or try to do."
Breunig had extra motivation to leave some of himself all over Alaska Airlines Arena last month. His father Michael, a firefighter back home in Leverkusen, was in the stands watching his son play in the U.S. for the first time.
"He was really impressed with how basketball is here in America," Martin said. "It's a lot different than it is in Germany - the fans, the crowd. It's a bigger deal."
And he confirms what Fortier thinks: this rugged, gritty play is new for him.
Turns out, Breunig learned quickly this preseason that the three ways a freshman can get increased playing time from Romar and his staff are through rebounding, hustle and grit.
"No, this is a thing I just did this year," he said. "I really want to hustle in the game. I want to bring great energy for my team, and for myself."
Breunig had two weeks between the time Williams retired at Maryland on May 5 and he signed with Washington, about which he knew next to nothing while playing last year at St. John's Northwest Military Academy in Delafield, Wis., outside Milwaukee.
"I didn't know any of the coaches coming in (to Maryland), so I decided to check out some other schools," he said. "Washington called (another) one of my individual coaches, Martin Esther (a German mentor who played college basketball in the U.S.), and he really talked a lot about it.
"At that time, I found out for the first time that Detlef Schrempf was here, so I was kind of excited. I wanted to come and visit here."
He had also visited South Florida of the Big East Conference. But when he got to UW, he loved it.
"The major reason was coach Romar, he is a great coach. And I played with the team on my visit in the end of May, and it was really, really good," Breunig said.
And Fortier was more than ready to offer him a scholarship.
"We only had a couple of weeks (before the late signing period ended). He wanted to wait," Fortier said. "He didn't want to rush into a second one. He wanted to be sure. The one thing I did tell him was, `Well, Coach Romar isn't going anywhere. He's not going to retire.'
"We were looking for a player like him."
Not bad for a former soccer player who only took up basketball at the age of 12 because his older brother Stefan, now 26, was playing it for their city's junior team of the Bayer Giants Leverkusen club.
"I just joined him," Breunig said. "It was a pretty funny story. He was playing basketball and I just tried it. I don't know why I gave up soccer.
"But I'm pretty glad I did."
He competed for the German Under-18 national team at the FIBA European Championships in Vilnius, Lithuania, during the summer of 2010 and averaged 8.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.
Now, he's the fifth UW player from Germany, after Uli Steidl, Schrempf, Chris Welp and Patrick Femerling. The latest import is providing somewhat unexpected depth to a front court that has only Aziz N'Diaye and Darnell Gant as its top producers.
Even though Breunig goes hard, he may not always be sure of where he is actually going.
"I like it. It is a lot of movement," he said of Romar's system. "Sometimes it is hard to remember all the plays.
"At the beginning of a play, I am thinking, `Do they really get open?' Then in a game, it happens," he said, chuckling. "I'm really impressed about that."
As the Huskies' eventful week coming up, Breunig is one of the few Huskies who has been to New York. It is where he spent his first two days in the U.S., in August 2010, sightseeing around Times Square.
Though he has never been inside Madison Square Garden, he'd heard of it back in Germany.
"Of course," he said, almost scoffing before reciting the oft-heard phrase for the iconic building in Manhattan. "It's the World's Most Famous Arena.'"
QUICK SHOTS: Scott Suggs, who had foot surgery almost seven weeks ago, has been doing shooting and dribbling drills on the side this week under the watch of trainer Pat Jenkins. The senior guard and 3-point shooter says he needs to get about three full practices in before the team would consider his season debut, but latest X-rays show his fracture has fully healed. Romar thinks it is possible Suggs will play in one of the games in New York. ... The team was to leave for Reno Thursday evening after practice. It will fly home Saturday morning then practice at home Sunday morning before taking an early-afternoon flight to New York. GoHuskies.com will be the team all week and will provide daily features on their outings scheduled for next week in and around Manhattan -- including a visit to the 9-11 National Memorial and to watch two Broadway plays. The plays are part of a for-credit drama class the players have been taking in conjunction with the trip.