Chris Otule may not have been on earth in 1982 when Milwaukee, Wisconsin proclaimed Cold Sunday as the city got as freezing as -40F where even Frosty the Snowman may have waddled over to the local Walgreens to snatch himself a heater, so cold weather and frustrating snow is something that the American has been used to since he has lived six years there. Last weekend he experienced just how brutal winter can be in Germany, as the rookie left in the morning for a game in Hagen 414 kilometers away from Crailsheim, but didn´t make it in time to the game as they arrived a hour late and thus the game was awarded to Phoenix Hagen giving them their first home win despite never playing a second. “We left at 9:45am. And things just happen sometimes for reasons that can’t be explained. We just have to deal with the unfortunate situation and move forward”, stressed Chris Otule. Nothing has come easy to Chris Otule who is a 24 year old 211cm center that was born in Houston, Texas and is playing his rookie season for the Crailsheim Merlins this season. Injuries like breaking his foot twice or tearing his ACL slowed his development as a college player and playing with a prosthetic left eye wasn´t easy either as well as breaking both feet and tearing his ACL, but the American was able to withstand all hurdles. Only one part of his body has been 100% it seems. “My heart has been 100% since I have always been breathing”, stressed Chris Otule. Despite having a prosthetic left eye it hasn´t driven him back and God has kept him marching forward like a warrior. “My prosthetic left eye never gives me issues because I was born with one so it’s all I know. If I was born with two and lost one that’d be different. I’ve kept faith in God and I’m a big believer. It’s helped me stay sane and get through. God gets all the credit”, added Chris Otule. As a senior at Marquette (NCAA) he played 30 games averaging 5.8ppg, 4.2rpg, 1.0bpg, FGP: 60.2%, FT: 54.8%. Head coach Buzz Williams at Marquette was a driving force in helping Otule get by all obstacles to reach the Beko BBL. “He always told me to take advantage of every day, never let a day pass you by where you felt like you didn’t do something to get closer to your goals Other influences are Brad Autry and Jerry Wainwright”, expressed Chris Otule. This season with Crailsheim, the American has been losing a lot while getting a touch for the Beko BBL while averaging 6,8ppg and 4,4rpg in 16,5 minutes per game. He has scored in double figures three times including a 13 point effort against the Artland Dragons. His defense is also a big part of his game and he has registered two blocks against Goettingen, TBB Trier and Artland. As a rookie he is just trying to learn the ropes especially under the basket where German veteran Jannik Freese has won the starting job after being a journey and back up player his whole career. No matter how many more games Crailsheim win this season or how many buckets and rebounds Otule grabs, he will always be an inspiration for what he has achieved with all his hardships. For kids who suffer eye ailments, Otule always has time for and too listen to what they have gone through. “All the stories have a huge impact in my life that’s one of the reasons I play to prove to people that no matter your “limitations” and I put quotes cause that word shouldn’t exist, you can do whatever you want in life”, added Chris Otule.
If one looks back at the last 20 years of the Crailsheim Merlins basketball history, it has been a journey of changing the level of leagues similar to how Afghani-German Achmadschah Zazai has been changing teams the last 10 years. In the late 90s, the club made a rapid surge moving up from lower leagues like the Landes Liga to the Oberliga and to the Regionaliga in 1998. They reached the second Bundesliga in 2001 where they played until 2008 where they went down to the newly established Pro B, but stayed there only two years as they moved back up to the new established Pro A in 2009. After some years in the middle of the standings, they then finished at position six in 2013 and last season moved up to the Beko BBL thanks to a second place finish. In the German Pro A final, the ylost to BG Goettingen, but automatically moved up to the Beko BBL and were able to pass all ramifications to start in the highest German league. However their start into their first beko BBL season has been tough as before Christmas had arrived had already dismissed American head coach Willie Young and Americans Jared Newson and Justin Tubbs. They went into the season with the lowest budget in the league and were able to hold 4 players from the team from last season and mostly added players to the team from lower leagues. The club held Americans Steve Johnson and Joston Crow who were important parts to the club last season as well as German role players Jonathan Moore and Andreas Kronhardt. The club added interesting pieces to this seasons puzzle with scoring point guard Garrett Sim, swing man and explosive scorer Sean Mosley, center project Chris Otule and Germans Jannik Freese and Joshiko Saibu who have been big surprises showing that when given minutes can be solid players at the Beko BBL level. The team recently signed scoring guard Chad Timberlake who has BBL experience. Crailsheim is a team that likes to play fast and aggressive basketball, but so far teams haven´t been impressed by their hungriness as most teams have been able to devour them like helps chicks lost from their mothers. After surprising the Mitteldeutscher BC in their debut 73-71 winning in crunch time, nothing has worked for them since as they have lost 12 of 13 games. They were able to somehow shove the TBB Trier defense away winning 100-84, but also lost 11 games. Defense seems to be their weak point as they have problems not giving up many points as they have given up 80 plus points in 13 of 15 games and 100 plus points twice. If they give up many points, then a loss is usually more programed as they don´t tend to sc0re much either as they have scored 80 plus points only five times this season. On top of that consistency and BBL experience is something that the team lacks and have been holding them back form success.
When looking closer at the Crailsheim roster, it is led by Sean Mosley who is a 25 year old 192cm guard from Baltimore that is playing his third professional season. He is a very good scorer, with great 1-vs-1 skills and shooting range from outside the arch. Can become a star player at European league level. Last season in his second season he made a name for La Fortezza Recanati (Italy-Lega Due Silver) playing 28 games: Score-3(19.9ppg), 6.3rpg, 2.4apg, Steals-3(1.8spg), FGP: 49.7%, 3PT: 34.0%, FT: 80.6%. As a rookie he played for Kotwica Kolobrzeg (Poland-TBL) playing 32 games: Score-5(15.5ppg), 6.3rpg, 2.5apg, Steals-5(1.6spg), FGP: 41.9%, 3PT: 34.1%, FT: 71.7%. He started his basketball career at Maryland (NCAA) where he played a total of 132 NCAA games and as a senior played 32 games: 10.2ppg, 5.0rpg, 2.1apg, 1.0spg, FGP: 40.0%, 3PT: 36.4%, FT: 83.5%. Garrett Sim is a 24 year old 185cm point guard from Portland, Oregon playing his third professional season. Played the point in his last collegiate season, but he can play the SG position too without any problem. Has great scoring skills and a very good outside shooting range, with quick release and a clean shooting mechanic. A smart player, has a great basketball IQ and personality. He had a solid rookie season with Science City Jena, but really had his break out season last season playing 33 games: Score-1(20.8ppg), 2.4rpg, Assists-5(5.7apg), Steals-5(1.7spg), FGP: 52.2%, 3PT: 40.1%, FT: 89.5%. He started his basketball career in 2008 with Oregon and played a total of 133 NCAA games and as a senior played 31 games: 12.2ppg, 2.5rpg, 2.5apg, 1.0spg, FGP: 52.5%, 3PT: 46.2%, FT: 85.9%.
Chad Timberlake is a 31 year old 194cm point guard from Brooklyn, New York playing his ninth professional season. He is a very talented point guard with good physical size (6’4″,208 lbs.) and toughness, he can play the shooting guard position, if that is what is needed for the team. Chad is the floor general with excellent court vision and he is a natural team leader. Last season he played for Falco-Szova KC-Szombathely (Hungary-A Division) playing 30 games: 14.9ppg, 4.8rpg, 2.9apg, 1.5spg, FGP: 62.6%, 3PT: 27.1%, FT: 63.0%. He has gathered experience playing three years in Hungary as well as in the Czech Republic and Israel. He played at Fairleigh Dickinson (NCAA) from 2002-2006 and as a senior played 29 games: 15.2ppg, 5.6rpg, 4.1apg, 1.4spg, FG: 49.3%, 3PT: 40%, FT: 65%. Jannik Freese is a 28 year old 211center that is playing his seventh consecutive season in the Beko BBL. Jannik is a big man, that plays with his back to the basket, but who can also step out and shoot the mid-range jump shot. He is an inside force, who makes it extremely hard for any big man to score inside. He is not the typical shot blocker, that blocks the shot into the third row, but due to his length and timing alters many opponents shots. Although he is 211 cm tall, he runs the floor very well. He started his basketball career in 2005 for SG FT/MTV Braunschweig (2.Bundesliga) and also played 6 Beko BBL games for Braunschweig. He then played for Giessen from 2008-2011 and with the EWE Baskets Oldenburg from 2011-2014. Two seasons ago he played 58 games for Oldenburg. Last season for Oldenburg he played Eurocup: 8 games: 4.0ppg, 1.4rpg; German League: 34 games: 1.7ppg, 1.7rpg. Joshiko Saibu is a 24 year old 188cm point guard playing his third season in the Beko BBL. He started his basketball career in 2008 for ALBA Berlin II (Regionalliga). In the 2010-2011 season he played for Alba Berlin and their Pro B team playing 2 Beko BBL games and 2 Eurocup games. He played for TBB Trier from 2011-2013 and last season for the LTi Giessen 46ers (ProA) playing 38 games: 13.0ppg, 5.2rpg, 3.1apg, 1.6spg, FGP: 48.4%, 3PT: 32.1%, FT: 67.2%. He loves to penetrate and is a hard nosed defender at all times. Josten Crow is a 27 year old 193cm swing man from Spring, Texas playing his third professional season and third for Crailsheim. Last season for Crailsheim he played 39 games: 8.9ppg, 2.4rpg, 1.5apg, FGP: 54.2%, 3PT: 40.9%, FT: 76.8%. He played at Sam Houston St. (NCAA) playing a total of 115 NCAA games and as a senior played 31 games: 12.7ppg, 5.3rpg, 3.5apg, 1.8spg, FGP: 42.3%, 3PT: 32.1%, FT: 70.0%. Crow is a guy that does a little of everything very well, but nothing perfect.
Steve Johnson is a 36 year old 198cm forward American playing his 14th professional season and third with Crailsheim. He is a multi-talented athlete who can play a multitude of positions. Has an NBA body that can defend almost any player on the court. Can overpower opponents 1 on 1 scoring outside or inside. Gives 100% all the time and can carry a team with scoring and defensive abilities. Great at utilizing his strength on offensive and defensive boards. He played at Iowa State from 1996-2000. Since being a professional he has played in Spain for seven years and three years in Iceland and one season in Argentina. Last season for Crailsheim he played 35 games: 13.1ppg, 7.2rpg, 2.0apg, FGP: 65.4%, FT: 61.9%. He won three titles in Spain. Jonathan Moore is a 32 year old 203cm forward playing his 10th professional season and third with Crailsheim. He has Beko BBL experience with TBB Trier and Bremerhaven. He started his basketball career at East Carolina(NCAA) and then played two seasons at NC Central(NCAA2).Since turning professional he has had experience playing in the D-League, in Iceland and Sweden and for German teams Bayreuth and BG Karlsruhe. Last season for Crailsheim he played 38 games: 13.3ppg, 6.7rpg, 1.9apg, 1.2spg, FGP: 52.3%, 3PT: 30.8%, FT: 77.3%.He is a very athletic player that can hit the jump shot or take his man off the dribble. Andreas Kronhardt is a 25 year old 205cm center playing his second season for Crailsheim and last season played 36 games: 5.8ppg, 5.5rpg, FGP: 48.5%, 3PT: 25.0%, FT: 54.9%. He started his basketball career with the Walter Tigers Tuebingen in 2008 and played 6 Beko BBL games and stayed until 2010. Then he played for teams like Vechta, Leitershofen and Schwelm. He is a mobile big man that can dance in the paint. Max Rockmann is a 26 year old 198cm forward that started his basketball career in 2003 with Marzahn Basket Baeren (2. Regionalliga). He then played three seasons for TUS Lichterfelde Berlin. He got experience in the States with UMKC (NCAA) playing 34 NCAA games. He then came back to Germany and played for Phoenix Hagne playing 20 Beko BBL games and played for Cuxhaven and Kirchheim where last season he played 28 games: 11.6ppg, 3.9rpg, 1.9apg, FGP: 53.0%, 3PT: 38.8%, FT: 82.2%. Young Germans Philipp Heilrath, Julian Gais and Alassante Dioubate round out the roster. The Fraport Skyliners host the Crailsheim Merlins on January 4th.