STORRS -- Enosch Wolf remembers the tail end of his father's basketball career, his dad, Horst, in his mid-30s by the time Enosch picked up the sport.
He recalls Horst playing in the German lower leagues, but must rely on photo evidence to validate his father as a legitimate star in the sport: There's one picture, black and white, of a muscular 6-foot-10 Horst posting up this lanky, floppy-haired blond kid named Dirk Nowitzki. Despite the 14-year age gap, they faced one another in the "second German league," Horst's career fading and Dirk's just about to explode.
Prior to that, Horst had played with future NBA star Detlef Schrempf on the 1982 German junior national team. He could hang on the perimeter and shoot 3s (a common trait among Eurpoean big men) and score with finesse in the paint.
"I was famous in Germany for the skyhook," Horst says in an email.
Well, as famous as a German basketball player can be. Hoops are still second-fiddle today, and even more so in Horst's prime.
"Over there, it's soccer, soccer, soccer," says Enosch Wolf, UConn's 7-foot-1 junior center. "And I love soccer. But I always wanted to play basketball, and from what I knew about America, I wanted to experience it."
So Wolf, along with fellow German Niels Giffey, became part of UConn's seven-man 2010 haul, a group that would win the national championship as freshmen. This summer, Leon Tolksdorf, who played on Giffey's club team in Germany, joined them. And tonight, they return home as UConn faces Michigan State (5:30, ESPN) on the Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.
For UConn's German trio -- and their families -- the game clearly has extra meaning. Ever since Wolf enrolled at UConn, he's seen Horst just a few weeks per year, most recently during a surprise visit to his hometown of Gottingen this past summer. It's been two years since Horst saw his son play in person, and Giffey's family hasn't watched him since the 2011 National Championship in Houston.
"Obviously, it's going to be a special experience," Giffey says.
It's special, though, for more than one reason: This trio represents a small, yet gradually expanding percentage of German basketball players opting for college in the United States. Schrempf, who attended Washington from 1981-85 before starring for the Seattle SuperSonics, was one of the first to make the leap. Then Giffey's former club coach, Henrik Rodl, won a national championship at North Carolina in the early '90s, becoming an "idol" back home, at least in basketball circles.
"I kind of wanted to follow his footsteps," Giffey says. "Then I had to decide, `Are you going to go pro or not?'"
In Germany, there's no such thing as college basketball. Athletes learn a job (as Horst Wolf did) and play club basketball on the side or attend college. Playing hoops and getting a degree simultaneously is nearly impossible.
"If you go to college (in Germany), there's no way you can keep playing basketball like that," Giffey says. "College over there is way harder. It's literally like going straight to grad school. You don't have general education."
America offers the best of both worlds: a college education (a free one, at that) coupled with elite competition and visibility.
Giffey was in 11th grade when he began contemplating his options. He was familiar with Rodl's story, and he had one other friend -- former West Virginia small forward Johannes Herber -- who made the trip across the Atlantic.
Still, like most everyone in Germany, Giffey lacked thorough knowledge of NCAA hoops. He only recognized schools like UCLA, North Carolina and Duke. Same goes for Wolf, who became attracted to the idea of playing U.S. college basketball because of what he'd seen in movies, not what he'd seen on ESPN.
"I really don't know what it was," Wolf says. "It was the American way of life."
Fully accustomed to that lifestyle, they've noticed subtle differences: Giffey, who grew up in Berlin, marvels at the amount of air conditioners used in America, at the pace of life, the mass preference for fast-food over home-cooked meals. Then there's the nationwide obsession with basketball, so evident in tiny Storrs.
Wolf used to play in front of "two or three hundred" people. Giffey, sitting in a home arena that holds over 10,000, describes the gymnasiums in Germany as "just having benches, not even stands."
Today, Giffey and Wolf both field inquiries from young players back home, questions such as "How can I come to America for basketball? What do I have to do?"
"I think a lot of (German players) have realized they can make it over here," Giffey says. "I'm not talking about being a star, but just taking an opportunity, getting a free education, living the lifestyle. It was probably the best decision of my life coming here."
It's an experience that Horst, who sells advertisements for a German magazine, never got to try. Although it was rare in his day for NCAA teams to poach talent overseas, Horst says he had offers from UCLA, Ohio State, Texas El-Paso and Alaska-Anchorage. But he couldn't go, citing the pure uncertainty of the situation.
"I would have been the second or third player from Germany to go," Horst says. "So my club that I was playing for and my parents said it was too (risky) ... plus my club team needed me."
A generation later, with the trend growing and the risk non-existent, Horst gave Enosch full support in pursuing "his dream."
"I always wanted to come here," Enosch says. "I'm just happy it worked out."