Joe Herber was one of the foundation pieces in the rebuilding of the West Virginia basketball program, which imploded in the final year of the Gale Catlett regime. Coming to WVU as a freshman following the 8-20 2001-02 season, Herber, along with fellow freshmen Kevin Pittsnogle, Patrick Beilein and J.D. Collins (joined later by transfers Mike Gansey and D'or Fischer) helped Mountaineer hoops rebuild into the excellent program it is today.
Herber, a savvy competitor, was the glue that bound the team, starting every game while contributing across the board with 1,069 points, 467 assists, 158 steals and 503 rebounds in his four-year career. He's also remembered for his stellar academic work, and last year published a book about his hoops career, after making the tough decision to retire from competitive basketball in the Germany following a pair of knee injuries.
BGN: Can you give a brief recap on your decision to finish your basketball career? What were the reasons for doing so?
Johannes Herber: The decision to end my career had evolved over a longer period. Ever since I suffered my second ACL tear in 2009 I had toyed with the idea but I wasn't ready to stop yet. Yet, several other injuries followed so that playing ball became increasingly associated with frustration and pain as opposed to the joy that I had always attached to it. Finally, in my last year in 2012 I played on an inflamed achilles heel for basically the entire year. I could barely walk when I got out of bed in the morning and when I returned from practice at night.
In addition, I have to say that I had never intended to play until "the wheels fall off" and I had always been curious of what else was out there - how life without basketball would look like. Also, I had grown a little tired of the nature of professional sports in Europe. The short-term contracts, the ever-changing teammates, the lack of continuity, and the repetitiveness of practices [were some of the reasons].
Nonetheless it was tough to let go. After all I still loved to play and the game was (and still is) such a big part of who I am.
BGN: What are you doing now that you made the decision to move on?
JH: Right now I am working for a European umbrella organization that represents trade unions at EU-level. Basically, I am responsible for coordinating the actions and representing the interests of unionized athletes in Europe. Also, I work as a free-lance writer for different publications. (Editor's Note: Herber has written columns for the German basketball magazine "Five".)
BGN: Do you have any goals for different jobs or work in the future? Any interest in coaching or staying involved in sports?
JH: Through my work - be it writing or representing athletes - I am still involved in sports albeit in a completely different manner. I would love to make a living from writing alone but as you probably know that has become increasingly difficult these days.
BGN: Do you still stay in touch with any of your West Virginia teammates?
JH: Yes. I am still in touch with Mike Gansey and Pat Beilein, most regularly, however, with Coach Beilein too.
BGN: You wrote a book entitled "Almost Heaven: My Life As A Basketball Professional". How did that come about, and what motivated you to write it?
JH: Somehow the book evolved to become a memoir of my basketball career even though it was initially intended to merely reflect on certain themes that I felt were interesting to talk about. Some of the themes include the fascination for the game itself, basketball as way of life with its distinct cultural features (music, lingo, clothing, body language, gestures,habits) and ethos, differences between college basketball and pro ball in Europe, coaching/leadership styles, playing for WVU and the feeling of representing an entire state, injuries, sitting the bench, playing for the German national team, and finally ending my career and what this means: losing a part of my identity.
BGN: What prompted you to write the book?
JH: I always had wanted to write a book and some of the experiences as a player felt relevant enough to share with a bigger audience. Also, I aspired to write a sport memoir that had some actual literary value. In Germany there is very little quality sports writing, especially not on any sport outside of soccer and I felt I could make a small contribution to this genre.
BGN: Is there an English translation available? If not, are there plans for one in the future?
JH: Right now there is no English translation of the book. Admittedly there are some parts that are tailored to German readers that I would probably have to rewrite for an English version, to be accessible for American readers. I am however toying with the idea of writing a condensed version of the sections on WVU and my experiences as a college player in English.
Herber's book, (in German and in print or via Kindle) is available via Amazon.