From the D-League Showcase in Reno, we sit down for an interview with Tim Ohlbrecht of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers who has the unique distinctions of being one of the only international draft prospects in our database to ever make the jump from Europe straight to the NBADL.
A regular for the German junior and senior national teams for the past decade, Ohlbrecht was once considered one of the most promising young players in Europe. As a German 7-footer with three-point shooting ability, his strong performances at the U16 and U18 European Championships from 2004 to 2006 resulted in often unfair comparisons to future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki.
Going undrafted when he was automatically eligible for the draft in 2010, Ohlbrecht was scrutinized at times for his inability to meet the lofty expectations set out for him as a teen, where he was a contributor for Telkom Baskets Bonn and Brose Baskets Bamberg in Euroleague and EuroCup competition nonetheless. He played in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 with the German national team, which is a significant accomplishment for a player who just turned 20 years old.
After spending all seven of his seasons as a pro playing in Germany, Ohlbrecht raised some eyebrows when he decided to enter the 2013 NBADL Draft, sending his career on a nearly unprecedented trajectory for a former highly touted international draft prospect. Despite being offered guaranteed six-figure (net) contracts in his home country, he elected to sign a C-Level contract in the D-League for $13,000 (non-guaranteed).
Selected in the first round and acquired by the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Ohlbrecht is averaging 13.6 points and 6.6 rebounds in 26.4 minutes per-game, ranks in the top-10 in PER and leads the D-League in field goal percentage.
In his second outing in D-League Showcase, Ohlbrecht bounced back from a subpar first game in Reno, tallying 22 points on 8-11 shooting and 9 rebounds despite playing only 25 minutes.
A perimeter oriented stretch-four early in his career, Ohlbrecht has embraced a more interior oriented role under Head Coach Nick Nurse, showing a knack for scoring in the paint and significantly improved toughness on the glass. Looking like a different player than he did early in his career, the 24 year old has earned some legitimate buzz as a call-up candidate with his play this season.
It will be interesting to see if Ohlbrecht's success leads to other international players considering the D-League as a means to resurrect their own careers.
We sat down with Ohlbrecht in Reno to talk about the unique path he's taken to the D-League.
Matt Williams: You come from a very unique background compared to many of the other players in the D-League. You have a lot of international experience playing for Germany in FIBA competitions, playing in the Euroleague, Eurocup, and Bundesliga and you were considered one of the best young players and NBA prospects in Europe six or seven years ago. Can you tell us a little bit about your international career?
Time Ohlbrecht: Yeah, it is what you said, I've been all over Europe. When I was 18, we won the [Bundesliga] championship in Bamberg, then we moved to the Euroleague. At 19, that was amazing, playing against those big guys, it's the best league in Europe. To play against Besiktas or Partizan it was just an amazing experience. As I got older and I moved to a different team, I had more responsibility, we were playing in the EuroCup and I was competing. I was competing, I was on the court. We did not get so far in the competition, but still, but playing internationally is always a big thing. Same with the national team. I've played for 5 years now with the A team and every year I'm just getting more experience and that's been amazing for me. I've enjoyed it and I'm happy to be there too.
MK: Early in your career, as a German 7-footer who can shoot, some people compared you to Dirk Nowitzki. Do you feel that those comparisons were fair, do you feel like they hindered you in any way?
TO: I mean, it was an honor for me even to be in the same sentence with Dirk Nowitzki, but we are totally different players. He's a going who can play away from the contact, he's a great shooter, a finesse guy. I think I look more for contact, I'm going to work under the basket more, I'm going to be in the low-post. We both come from Germany, we're both tall, but I think we've got very different games.
MK: Do you feel like coming from Europe, and having all these experiences that you had, playing in Germany for many years and being a highly touted prospect early on, do you feel like the D-League offered you a fresh start?
TO: Yes, of course. I just enjoy it. I played seven years in Germany, I've seen the officials for seven years, they know me by name, they know how I am. To be in a new league, I like it. It was really a perfect decision for me to go here. Not only to go to a country like France, but to go away from Europe and see a different style of basketball because its different here than it is in Europe and I think I like this basketball more than over there. I just feel very comfortable, it was so quick, like I just needed a couple games and I was in there and I liked the atmosphere, I liked that they played music during the games and it's been very exciting for me. Seeing new gyms, meeting new people, new players-- it's been a really exciting season for me.
MK: You played in the Nike Hoop Summit in 2008, how often have you spent time in the United States?
TO: The last four years, after the season I would take a vacation and then go to New Jersey for two months between the vacation and the national team. I have a personal trainer there who keeps me in shape and we work on some stuff
I'm always in New Jersey over the summer, I was always in the USA.
MK: That makes a lot of sense [Note: Ohlbrecht speaks fluent English]. So do you feel like this was the right time for you to leave Germany? You were draft eligible in 2010 in between the two years you played in Bonn. Had you considered the D-League at all at that point or was this really the first year you considered making the jump?
TO: We were thinking about that last year too but we just decided to stay in Germany for one more year. They told me I had a good opportunity, but we had a better one [in Germany]. I'm 24 and we felt 25, 26 may have been too late to take this step and I have enough experience and I know how to take care of myself and be a pro. That's why we did it now.
MK: With all the time you've spent in the United States, was that one of the reasons why the D-League appealed to you or is the opportunity to potentially make the NBA what motivated you to enter the NBADL draft?
TO: The NBA motivates constantly, I want to show everyone that I've grown from when I played in Germany, that I can do it, that I know how to play. I want to show that I can do better than I did when I played there, and I've shown in a couple games that I really can, that I have something in me and I want to prove it every day.
When I'm in New Jersey, I'm going to play with some college guys, I'm going to play that type of basketball and it's going to fit me. I'm athletic, I can run, and I can just go with the pace. I was sitting with my agent and my coach in the USA and we were thinking, why not, why wouldn't we do it?
MK: So in some ways it sounds like you wanted to get away from the system you'd been playing in your whole life. Do you feel like the expectations that people had for you when you were younger motivate you now?
TO: Of course, I'm ready to prove to myself and everyone that I can be a good basketball player. In Germany it was always tough, when you have success everyone hypes you but when you have one bad game everyone hates you and it was always going up and down. I wanted to get away from that. I'm not going to see it every day, I'm not going to check the German newspapers. I'm here now, I'm going to play in the D-League, and it's all that I want to do.
MK: If you don't get called up by a NBA team, would you feel like this experience was a waste?
TO: No. I feel like I've developed, I'm developing every day. I'm happy to take this step and if it's not working out, it's not working out, and that just how it is. I want to try my best while I have a chance and want to until the day I do not have one.
MK: As far as basketball goes, what is the biggest difference that you've seen between playing in Germany, the Euroleague, the EuroCup and playing in the D-League.
TO: It's the scoring. I think American basketball is more offensive than in Europe. In Europe, everything is about tactics, plays. You always have to run the plays all the way through. Here you have so much freedom, it's more open, and that makes it faster. I think it's also more entertaining for the people, its more exciting than a 40-50-game. So, I like that more than the European game, but the European game is great too, it's a high level of competition. It's a new experience for me here and I'm happy to be here. I didn't know it would be this good, and I'm excited to play that type of basketball.
MK: As far as things go off the floor, the culture. What are the differences outside of the style of play between being a pro in Europe versus the United States?
TO: The only difference is you have more games here than in Europe. Sometimes in Europe you only have one game per-week so we maybe have three days of hard work and then the last two days are practices like they are here. I think that is the big difference. In Europe you practice twice a day sometimes. Here you have travel days. You can practice once a day, but then you have to travel to another city and maybe you can practice there the next morning, so it is always about time. Here you're more on trips than in Europe so you don't have time to practice more. The practices themselves are the same. When we have five days between games we practice just as hard as in Europe.
MK: Do you feel as though you've developed in your time here? Are there any specific things you've worked on?
TO: I think the most important thing is I've developed trust in my coach and he's developed trust in me and I've got trust in my teammates. I feel comfortable with the whole package. I feel good on the court even if I make mistakes, I won't be pulled out right away, I'm going to learn from them. I get to play a bigger role. I get to be decisive, have more opportunity. The Coach will draw something up to get me the ball, and I'd never had that before and it is nice. I like the experience of getting the ball in crunch time and that is helping me to improve and develop and be consistent.
Tim Ohlbrecht Career Path
2003 U16 European Championship
2003-2004 Bayer Leverkusen Juniors
2004 U16 European Championship
2004-2005 Bayer Leverkusen II
2005 U18 European Championship
2005-2006 Bayer Leverkusen II and 5 games Bundesliga
2006 U18 European CHampionship
2006-2007 TSV Troester G2
2007 U20 European Championship (Division B)
2007-2008 TSV Troester G3, Nuernberg G2, Bamberg (EL)
Nike Hoop Summit
2008 Beijing Olympics
2008-2009 Bamberg (EuroCup)
2009 EARLY ENTRY FROM THE NBA DRAFT (WITHDREW)
2009 FIBA European Championships (Eurobasket)
2009-2010 Bonn (EuroCup)
2010 AUTOMATICALLY ELIGIBLE FOR THE NBA DRAFT (UNDRAFTED)
2010 FIBA World Championship
2010-2011 Bonn (EuroChallenge)
2011 FIBA European Championships (Eurobasket)
2011-2012 Frankfurt (EuroCup)
2012 Eurobasket Qualification
2012-2013 Rio Grande Valley