Craig Moller’s (s.Oliver Wurzburg) Australian Rules Fooball Backround Has Helped Spice Up The Paint Area This Season

Craig Moller (206-F-94, agency: BIG) is a 27 year old 203cm forward that is playing his first season overseas with s.Oliver Wurzburg currently averaging 6,0ppg, 4,9rpg and 1,6apg. He hails from Australia and played basketball and Australian Rules football when he was a kid. He then decided to try Australian Rules football professionally, but his love for basketball got the best of him and then he chose to play that professionally. In the 6 years he has played in three leagues in Australia with the WARATAH, SEABL and NBL. He suited up for teams like the Sutherland Sharks, Ballarat Miners (SEABL), Sydney Kings (NBL), Melbourne United (NBL), Hobart Chargers (SEABL), Southern Huskies (New Zealand-NBL) and Inner West Bulls (Australia-WARATAH). Last season he played with the Sydney Kings (Australia-NBL) playing 36 games averaging 6.4ppg, 5.6rpg, 2.0apg, FGP: 48.8%, 3PT: 37.9%, FT: 72.2%. He spoke to before the 2021-2022 basketball season about his basketball career.

Craig thanks for talking to Where are you at the moment and how is basketball life treating you?

I’m currently at home in Sydney after just finishing the nbl21 season here. Unfortunately my team missed the playoffs on percentage however it was great just to be back playing again, especially with fans! It was a long and tough extended season due to covid so I was fortunate enough to have a week away but I’m now back to training and preparing to leave for Germany in about 6 weeks time or so.

You have a German passport. What do you know in general about the country Germany and it’s basketball?

My grandfather was born in Luneburg and spent much of his early life in Germany before meeting my grandmother (who was born in Grenoble, France) on the boat that they both immigrated to Australia on in the early 1950s. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel through Europe and Germany twice already, once with my family and once with some friends. I absolutely love it over there; if I had time pre covid I would’ve gone back again. It’s a beautiful country with deep history, great food and very kind people. Fortunately I’ve been given this opportunity and can’t wait to get arrive.Basketball wise I know the BBL is a tough and competitive league. Players play hard and physical but with discipline so not too unlike basketball in Australia. And of course I have to mention the great Dirk Nowitzki when referencing German basketball. One of my favourite players growing up and a former Wurzburg local!

Congrats on signing with s.Oliver Wurzburg. How key was your ex teammate Xavier Cooks in helping you make the decision?

I certainly asked Xav a lot of questions. He enjoyed his time here and played some good basketball under coach Denis, so it certainly made it a little easier. Another friend of mine James Duncan was a former assistant coach at Bamberg. He helped to give me a lot of advice and knowledge about the league in general and playing in Wurzburg as well. At the end of the day they didn’t impact my decision too much, playing overseas is something I’ve always wanted to do and Wurzburg seems like a great fit for me to do that this season.

What kind of impression did you get of head coach Denis Wucherer in your talks? Did you feel something special between the two of you?

From talking with both Denis and Kreso Lonar as well, my first impression was that Wurzburg is a very professional club with a great culture. Denis and I talked about my biggest strengths on the court and how he plans to use me next season to help the team best. We seemed to be on the same page which is always good, being mainly at that 4 spot and spreading the floor or short rolling and making decisions with the ball in my hands, which is when I’m at my best. I’m excited to get to work and for our relationship to grow over the season. I think I can learn and improve a lot whilst playing some good basketball along the way.

Let’s talk about your game. If you had to compare your game to a NBA player who would best fit the description?

Lebron James. Can I say that? Haha no I’m obviously joking, I’m not sure there is a player that I would say has a direct comparison. I like to play both ends of the court so guys like Kawai Leonard are always impressive to me. The NBA is a very offensively orientated league with plenty of 1v1 matchups, especially with the rules put in place to limit the defence. I enjoy watching European and international basketball just as much.

You play with a lot of energy and are a physical player. Talk a little about your other strengths on the court?

I’d describe myself as more of a slashing type of player. I like to get on the rim and make plays putting the ball on the floor however I think my biggest strength is simply versatility, both offensively and defensively. I’m just over 6’9 but I played point guard as a junior and only later developed into a wing/forward as I continued to grow tall. So being able to use speed, agility and to put the ball on the floor like I said against guys bigger than me to create opportunities, or to utilise my size and length against smaller guards. Whether that’s against a switch and playing out of the low post or just spacing the floor.

Defensively I think is where my versatility really helps me. I had a game against Melbourne United this season where I guarded every player on the opposition team for a least a couple possessions each. I think that is a huge strength for me. Depending on the opponent I think I can defend positions 1-5 at times. Some of those quicker guards and 125kg centres can cause some problems for me, but I always want to have a crack at guarding them anyway.

You also play the game with a lot of passion and have that team first mentality. How vital was having played Australian Rules Football for shaping how you play basketball?

I loved my time playing in the AFL, it’s Australia’s number one sport by far, however I don’t think that had too much of an impact. It certainly helped to have great conditioning and fitness but I’d say some of my junior coaches had the biggest influence over that part of my game. A guy called Steve Delaney was my first junior rep coach and also ended up coaching at the school I was attending at the time. He along with a few others were just really passionate and loved the game, volunteering so much of his time. I know he still tries to play in the old man leagues down the local gym and is still coaching juniors today. He really taught us to play the game selflessly. He just exuded energy and passion and that was infectious. He even got a tattoo of our school mascot!Secondary to that when I first came back to basketball my skills were certainly a little rusty. It took a fair amount of time to get them up to scratch so I had to find ways to impact trainings and games otherwise I was going nowhere.
I still keep that mentality these days as well. I try to not to worry too much about scoring and getting my own shots, even though that can be a huge measure of if you’ve played a good game or not. I think the best coaches and players see and appreciate the other aspects of the game. I just try to go out and play hard, impact the game positively and things will happen naturally.

Your also a good rebounder and defender, but have shown that you can be a lethal scorer. How confident are you that you can be a good scorer at different levels?

I think that’s a good point you raise. I’ve been a big scorer in the second level here in Australia (SEABL) and started to have some bigger games last nbl season. I will always base my game off defence, rebounding and effort plays however getting more aggressive at times and being relied upon more offensively is something I’m hopeful to do this season. I think being able to shoot the ball as well as I did last NBL season was a huge improvement for me. If I can carry that momentum into this BBL season it should help to open up other aspects of my game and help the team.

You haven’t been a professional basketball player long. On what area’s of your game are you tweaking most as you continue to develop as a player?

Saying everything is a vague answer but it’s defiantly true. I feel I still have so much room to grow and improve in so many areas. I think I have a very all-round game, so I certainly don’t want to neglect anything. Continuing to work on my outside shot, different types of finishes around the basket, finishes from the low post, continuing to improve my footwork and my ball handling are all top of the list at the moment.

Why did you change sports? You were a successful Australian Rules player. What was so inviting about wanting to become a basketball player?

I played both sports as a kid growing up and loved them both. It was always going to be a difficult choice. I signed my first AFL contract at the age of 14 with the team that drafted me, the Fremantle Dockers. I think from that point onwards I put a lot more focus into my football. I stopped playing basketball, except for my high school. A lot of people used to tell me that I couldn’t play for my country or go to an Olympic games playing AFL. These were dreams I had growing up like many do. One of which I’ve been fortunate to achieve since but would love to again.
Even when I was playing AFL I still followed basketball closely. Occasionally some of my teammates and I would go and have a casual shoot-around down the local rec centre. I think when I was delisted by Fremantle I had just turned 21. You naturally start re-assessing your life and what you want to do. It was at this time I travelled through Europe with some friends. I bought a basketball the day we arrived in Barcelona and carried it with me all across the continent. It’s a little worn out but I still have the ball sitting in my garage. When I returned to Australia I had some good offers to continue playing football but I still loved the game of basketball and rediscovered my passion for it. I thought its now or never if I want to make the jump and I’m glad I did.

How do you feel did your game develop the last years in Australia due to having played in different leagues like the WARATAH, SEABL and NBL leagues?

The SEABL was a really good league where I got to go down and play a different role. I touched on it a little in a previous answer, but being the main go to guy on your team always gave me great confidence when I returned to my NBL team. You get the opportunity to put in some major skill development during the week, more than you usually would during an NBL season. It’s less team training and scrimmaging and more individual workouts. You get to break down your game and really improve on a certain area or aspect in a more 1 on 1 environment with your coach. Then on the weekend go out and play 30+ minutes each game and put up between 15-20 shots. Those seasons were really vital for me to improve my game as quickly as possible, especially after not playing any basketball for so long while I was in the AFL. Being able to win a SEABL championship is still one of the highlights of my career so far. At the NBL level I think I’ve just had a steady improvement each year. Increasing my minutes and contribution each season.

How has your football past helped your basketball game most? What have been the positives to having been a football player?

The two sports have a lot of similarities. Many of the AFLs best players also played basketball as juniors. I think I was the first to go the other way from the AFL to the NBL. There’s a long running joke in the AFL that one of the best players in the competition, Scott Pendlebury, has a ‘basketball background’ because they mention it about 20 times each game. He’s played about 300+ games by now so you can understand the repetition. A football game can be very tight and congested. You have to make quick and decisive decisions with the ball, not too dissimilar to a basketball game. The physicality was definitely one of the bigger positives, in terms of strength and conditioning, but also just being used to contact and embracing the physical battles in a game of basketball is something I enjoy.It wasn’t all on field things though. I think some of the biggest positives I got were off the field. I moved from Sydney to Perth, from one side of the country to the other, as soon as I finished high school. I had to learn a lot about living away from home and the AFL system does a great job of helping its younger players. Simple things such as what foods to eat; how to recover and look after your body properly, things like this really helped me learn how to be a professional athlete early in my career. I’ve also been able to make a few lifelong friends from my time in the AFL who I’m in regular contact with, so that’s definitely a positive.

You were teammates with Xavier Cooks on many occasions. How much have you appreciated him being a teammate and how do you feel has his game and constant battles in practice helped your game most?

Its funny because we compete so hard against each other that we forget when we’re on the same team we actually play pretty well together. Whether it’s as a 3,4 or as a 4,5 combo. He’s a tough competitor and a tough matchup. We compete hard and then we share knowledge about how to do things better, or what works in certain situations. Unfortunately last season when he arrived at the kings I got injured and required ankle surgery. We had a great off-season competing against each other and then he went down with an injury for most of this season. I’ve been fortunate to have some very high quality teammates to go against over the years. Jae’sean Tate, Brad Newely and Casey Prather just to name a few. I think competing day in and day out against quality players like that can only help you improve because if you don’t bring your A game you’re going to get shown consistently. It’s certainly made me a better player and I think I’ve helped them as well.

In 2018 you won the NBL title with the Melbourne United. You guys had some great talent on the team with ex NBA players David Anderson, Josh Boone and Caspar Ware. What made this team so special?

I have so many great memories from that season. It was my first fulltime contract not being a development or training player. We were title favourites from the get go so it was fantastic to live up to the hype and win the championship. Winning game 5 on our home floor in a win or go home circumstance was just the cherry on top. I still remember Chris Goulding hitting a flurry of threes early and it felt like we were never going to lose from that moment on. The atmosphere was crazy that day. I think what made that team so special was everybody’s willingness to sacrifice and buy into their role. We were so talented as a team; every player 1 through 10 could’ve had a bigger role on a different team. We had a great mix of the experienced guys like you mentioned combined with a few younger guys just starting out in the league like myself. We were all hungry for success and our training sessions were often just as intense and competitive as our games were. I think that’s the sign of a really good team.

What memories do you have of Josh Boone? That guy must have had some great stories of his UConn and NBA days.

He’s got a story for everything big Booney. A guy with that much experience and exposure around the world, he and David Anderson were just great to be around for that exact reason. I believe he’s still playing in South America somewhere. He just loved the game and was a huge part of that championship.

What was it like being teammates with the eccentric Andrew Bogut? Is he a lot different than how the media perceive him?

I really enjoyed it. I had no idea what to expect upon arriving in Sydney given he’s such a huge persona in Australian basketball. He and I got into a bit the season before whilst I was playing for United. I cracked him on a box out and he didn’t like it too much and tried to take my head off in retaliation. Lucky he missed otherwise I probably would’ve woken up about a week later. He ended up being one of the best teammates I’ve ever played with. His on court stuff speaks for itself. The basketball knowledge, the rim protection, passing ability etc. He was a great leader for us and propelled us to the finals that year, even though you could see his body was starting to let him down a little bit. Guys would just pick his brain; JT (Jae’sean Tate) asked him about a 1000 questions a day about everything and anything. Our young centre Jordi Hunter had a great season this year after a year of his tutelage.
I wouldn’t say he’s a lot different than how the media portrays him because that’s who Bogues is. He likes to stir the pot, he’ll put his opinions out there and he likes to challenge you whether it’s in person, on the court or on Twitter. He certainly gives as good as he gets and won’t take a backwards step. When you have a conversation with him he’s a pretty genuine and down to earth guy; I’d say that part might get lost in the media sometimes.

You played many years with Caspar Ware. What did you learn to appreciate most about his game? It seems like Australia has become his second home?

We’re good friends. I’ve played the last 4 seasons with Cas, 2 in Melbourne and 2 in Sydney. He congratulated me when I signed in Wurzburg and I sent him a tongue in cheek message back saying I expected him to follow me. I think you just appreciate his toughness and competitive spirit. We had some great battles at training day in day out. I’d be telling him he’s too little and he can’t guard me and he’d come straight back at me down the other end. Many imports come and go in the NBL, so for him to hang around so long is a credit to not only his playing ability but his character as a person too.

Who wins a one on one in practice you or Xavier Cooks?

That’s light work.

Who was the toughest player that you ever battled on the court that reached the NBA?

Pre covid the nbl would play pre season games against some nba teams. I was lucky enough to match up against some great players. Paul George, Westbrook, and Embid probably top that list.

Please name your five best teammates of all-time?

Casper Ware
Kevin Lisch
Chris Goulding
David Anderson
Andrew Bogut

6th man (special mention): Brad Newely

Please name your NBA Mount Rushmore?

Steve Nash
Lebron James
Scottie Pippen
Kevin Garnett

What was the last movie that you saw?

I don’t watch too many movies. I’ve just finished watching a French TV series on Netflix called Lupin, the gentlemen burglar.

Thanks Craig for the chat.

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