Nov. 21, 2008
By David Kennison
Adjusting to college is a difficult transition for any student, but it can be particularly arduous when coupled with the rigors of NCAA Division I basketball. Currently making that transition is Marquette freshman Chris Otule, who was expected to be an immediate factor for the Golden Eagles before suffering a foot injury earlier this month.
While being forced to watch from the bench can certainly slow that transition, Otule [pronounced Oh-tool-ay] has shown throughout his basketball career that his development as a player has been a steady progression.
It’s a far cry from just two years ago when Otule was a lightly recruited junior at Ft. Bend Bush High School in Richmond, Texas. He now finds himself in the thick of a low-post rotation for the 17th ranked Golden Eagles.
“The transition from high school to college is tough with both basketball and academics," said Otule. "My high school coach (Ronnie Courtney) talked to me a lot. He let me know what to expect and how to adjust because he used to be a college coach. Plus, Coach Buzz made me feel welcome and now Marquette is home for me."
Marquette will look to Otule to contribute in the low-post with a front line that finds itself shorthanded in the season’s early going. The graduation of Ousmane Barro as well as injuries to 6-foot-7 Joseph Fulce and 7-footer Liam McMorrow will force Otule to shoulder some of the load for an undersized Golden Eagle squad. Otule, however, insists these injuries won’t affect the team’s confidence.
“We’re just playing basketball, trying not worrying about that stuff," he said. "It’s tough that Joe and Liam are out but we still need to work hard in practice and get better.”
Otule appeared up to the task in his debut, a 94-73 exhibition win over Colorado State-Pueblo. Otule scored four points, grabbed two rebounds and showed his defensive prowess by blocking two shots while adding a steal. One of Otule’s buckets came when he caught a pass from Dominic James, made a spin move to his left and hit the layup, a move he has been working on in practice.
“The coaches have helped me develop in the post and I’m really working hard on moves going both to the left and the right,” he said.
Not that it didn’t come with some pre-game jitters.
“I was pretty nervous before the game, but that’s natural for anybody’s first game,” he said. “But as I started to play and got that first basket and got that steal, I settled in and started to feel comfortable. It was a great experience.”
Otule’s ascension to Division I basketball is a testament to his determination to turn himself into a BIG EAST-caliber player. Otule flew under the recruiting radar for most of his high school career until the summer after his junior season when he played for the Houston Lynx AAU program. Otule broke on to the national recruiting stage with a dominant performance at the 2007 George McClellan AAU Invitational in Houston. He began attracting attention from Nebraska, Connecticut, Baylor and SMU before committing to the Golden Eagles.
“I think I’m what you might call a late bloomer,” Otule said. “I never really started to get recruited heavily until summer of my junior year. But playing with the Houston Lynx really helped me develop as a big man in terms of staying big in the post and learning how to use both my right and left hand. They really helped me improve and it gave me confidence going in to my senior season.”
Rumors abounded that Otule underwent a massive growth spurt during his junior year at Ft. Bend Bush. Otule, however, dispels this notion.
“I heard people saying I grew six or seven inches in one year, that wasn’t exactly true. It was probably closer to about two inches each year of high school. I adjusted to my body pretty well because my growth was more gradual,” he noted.
When former Marquette coach Tom Crean left in the off-season, it would have been natural for Otule to reconsider his college choice. Otule, however, credits Williams with his decision to stick with the Golden Eagles. Further, he still sees Williams as the same man he knew as a high school recruit.
“Nothing has changed about Buzz. He told me when he was an assistant that if I wanted to play on this team I would have to work hard everyday. He’s still that same guy and I really like that approach because he brings the best out of us. Everyday is a workday for us,” said Otule.
Roughly one month into his college career, Otule has bought into the blue-collar mentality that Williams espouses. He notes that Williams has instilled toughness in this year’s squad through the off-season ‘Boot Camp’ regimen and the daily grind of intense practices.
“He (Williams) doesn’t care about the flashiness of basketball. He wants you to get down and dirty everyday in practice. The most important thing is playing hard,” said Otule.
Marquette will need every bit of toughness and intensity as they prepare for a daunting BIG EAST schedule. The league, which features six teams in the pre-season ESPN/USA Today Top 25 including four in the top 10, also boasts some of the best big men in the country.
“I’m not going to go in to the BIG EAST nervous. We know what to expect against those guys, and we’ve been working hard in practice to prepare. We go over post defense everyday in practice and we’ll be ready,” he said.
To compensate for an undersized roster, Marquette will employ an up-tempo style designed to utilize quickness and speed. For Otule and the post-players, they will still play a critical role despite the occasional four or five guard lineup.
“I don’t see it affecting my role or any of the big man’s roles because we like an up-tempo pace. We get the ball and just ‘go.’ The post game is still going to play a significant role by staying active on defense and grabbing rebounds."
Otule received disappointing news before last week’s victory over Houston Baptist. He suffered a foot injury in practice and will miss approximately one month. Williams acknowledged the difficulty of playing without Otule in his press conference after the win over Houston Baptist.
"We needed him. He was coming around," Williams said of Otule. "Trust me, 60 to 70 days into his career, he was progressing. And now when he does come back it's going to take him time just to get back to where he was as of yesterday,” said Williams.
Otule will use his time out to continue to absorb information and grow under the leadership of an experienced quartet of seniors.
“I’m trying to just watch the seniors and absorb as much as I can,” said Otule. “I’m feeding off of them because they’ve been here for four years and know what to expect. They are great leaders for this team and it really helps us younger guys.”