A quick adjustment

German exchange student Wilm Neubauer has helped lead the Mitchell Loggers to a 15-1 start

by: TIM STUMM/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Wilm Neubauer says he feels right at home in Mitchell.

Wilm Neubauer considers himself a diehard football fan. Big deal, you might say, considering that the 17-year old Mitchell High School exchange student is from Hennersdorf, Germany.
   Football is, after all, his country's national pastime. They may play it a little differently, but children in Europe seem to be born with a ball already at their foot. One would, in fact, be hard pressed to find someone on the continent with an alternate view.
   Neubauer's affection, however, does not lie with the international form of the sport. He instead prefers the American version. The kind where athletes dress up in pads and stop play after each down.
   "I love it," he states, adding that his first encounter with the sport almost didn't happen.
   "I had never played football before. I had never even seen a football," he explains. "I wasn't sure if I was going to go out but I had an American in my dorm who said that I was built for the sport and so should. So I went to the first practice and watched and then came to the second one suited up."
   Neubauer ended up serving as a running back for Mitchell's team this season. It marked his initial brush with organized football, but not his first with an American sport. In Germany, Neubauer attends a high school specifically designed for students wanting to focus on athletics. While American football has yet to grasp the country's attention as strongly as it has Neubauer's, he does play on the institution's basketball team. Following the lead of his uncle, Neubauer picked up the game about four years ago and instantly fell in love with it. When he found out Mitchell High School had a basketball team, there was little question whether or not he would go out.
   "I started playing because my uncle used to play," he said. "I have tried just about every sport and like basketball best."
   Neubauer, an honorary senior at Mitchell, has become a welcome addition to a squad already loaded with upperclassmen. With only two regular season games remaining on their schedule, the Loggers boast an impressive 15-1 league record and are all but assured of their third TRICO title in the last four years.
   Neubauer has been good for 15 to 25 points a game and often shares the spotlight with four-year star Dustin Cloud for top scoring honors.
   "We had a pretty solid group to begin with," said coach John Misener, "and he's made it even better. He's just a steady player. He doesn't have an attitude and gets along well with others on the team."
   While the influx of international stars in the NBA has begun to boost the popularity of the sport on a global scale, Neubauer says that the level of interest it holds in Germany is still nowhere close to what it is in the States.
   "During basketball season everyone here talks about basketball and basketball gets a lot of attention," he said. "The gyms are always full and loud and noisy. I don't know that from Germany."
   Neubauer and the Loggers have certainly given fans enough to cheer about this season. Their only league loss thus far has come on the road against rival Spray, a team they beat handily in their own gym.
   Neubauer partly attributes a cohesive team atmosphere to the squad's success.
   "We play really well together," he said. "Coach Misener makes for good team basketball. He makes sure everyone plays for the team."
   When asked who his favorite NBA star is, Neubauer is quick to rattle off Dirk Nowitzki (a Wurzburg, Germany native) and Kobe Bryant, but seems hard pressed to go much more in depth. His knowledge, however, is increasing as he is able to watch NBA games in his dorm room.
   "I could never watch basketball in Germany. I could but it's like once a week and I always had practice. Here it's like every night," he said.
   Neubauer claims he has adjusted well to life in the United States. He believes sports has helped ease this transition, as they have provided him with an instant friendship network. He is strongly considering going out for track this spring and is excited to eventually bring his new skills back to Germany, where he still has two years left of school.
   Proof of how much he has adapted, he has even already picked a side in the state's bitter college civil war.
   "I like the Beavers," he states, before quickly clarifying, "but that's only because I have a lot of their stuff."