Before he focused all his efforts on cutting a path into elite basketball, CSKA Moscow center Johannes Voigtmann was a high-level youth player in another sport: handball. Not only had his father played handball professionally, but it was the favored sport in Voigtmann's hometown of Eisenach, Germany. Although he has not seriously played the sport since his early teens, Voigtmann believes that some of the skills he developed during his time in handball have also proved useful to his progression in basketball.
"The sense of how to handle a ball, hand-eye coordination, has helped a lot with my basketball," he says. "Lots of different team sports that involve some kind of ball can give you a sense of how to be in a game situation, how to evaluate what's happening around you, That's what I learned from an early age and I still think one of my best skills is that I have pretty good vision and a pretty good idea of what's going on around me. That's what you can transfer from one sport to another.
"It's a lot about reading the room, taking decisions in a split second."
"It's a lot about reading the room, taking decisions in a split second, and that's where it is easy to compare handball to basketball. You have a little smaller ball, but there are a lot of similarities."
Voigtmann also emphasizes the physically demanding nature of handball and believes it put him into a good position to deal with the tough stuff in the paint when it comes to battling for rebounds or dealing with contact from opponents.
"Handball is a little different in physicality," he explains. "Basketball is not the non-physical sport anymore that it once might have been, but handball is harder and more violent, if you can say that!
"I still follow handball a lot, and one of the top players in the last decade has been Nikola Karabatic [who is currently sidelined by a long-term injury]. He always has to suffer a lot in games. He gets beaten up, like really beaten up. From handball's standpoint, when you're a high-level player you have to take a lot of literally punches and not get [taken] out of your way.
"I think that's something else you can take into basketball, not to get [taken] out of your way even if someone is playing very physical with you and trying to get you out of your comfort zone. In general, every top athlete has to be mentally very strong in that way."
There are also tactical aspects of handball that transfer easily to the basketball court, such as the ability to respond immediately to new phases of action.
"In handball, after every goal, you have to go to the midcourt and do a restart," Voigtmann explains. "So after you concede a goal, you have to transition very quickly, forget that you've just received a goal, and go into offense as quick as you can."
And the comparisons don't end there. As a keen watcher of many sports, Voigtmann is struck by the frequency with which certain tactical strategies employed in basketball also have very similar parallels in other sports.
When I have a day off I watch everything, from tennis to American football, soccer, handball, Tour de France, Formula One... I'm very interested in every sport there is!" he says, before pinpointing some of the basketball strategies he has seen in other sports.
"In soccer you see some teams defend set pieces in zone coverage, but others going man to man. And the attacking teams often set screens or picks to create space for a teammate. Being in a certain space with other people, they are trying to prevent you from doing something. In handball they use pick-and-roll – the rules are a little different, it's called a little different – but they use pick-and-roll.
"To capitalize on the mistakes of the opponent – that's across the board for so many sports."
"For many team sports, there are similar things you see in all of them. Basically, you are trying to create very high-percentage shooting actions. That's what you want, whatever sport you are playing. And you are also trying to capitalize on the mistakes of the opponent – that's across the board for so many sports."
As a sports junkie, Voigtmann is happy to have plenty of his CSKA colleagues to discuss the latest action from around the world:
"A lot of the guys here at CSKA follow other sports, too. Mike James and I both cheer for the Green Bay Packers in the NFL. Dani Hackett knows a lot about soccer. One of our physios, Alexander Selyavkin, was physio for the biathlon team of Russia, so I talk winter sports with him. And another trainer is a UFC guy, so I have a lot of guys with different skill sets to talk to!"