Ohlbrecht Cashes In On His American Dream

Once one of the most highly regarded young players in Europe, Germany's Tim Ohlbrecht decided to come to America to give his basketball career a fresh start. The gamble appears to have paid off.

For Tim Ohlbrecht, coming to play basketball in America was an opportunity for a fresh start.

Free of the scrutiny that tailed him in his native Germany, the former Next Big Thing and once-heralded heir apparent to Dirk Nowitzki got the chance to prove himself as a basketball player -- with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA Development League.

A chance to prove he was anything but “soft”, a label branded onto many European big men, and that he – at 6-foot-11, 255 pounds -- could play physical in the post.

To prove that, despite their similarities in measurable and citizenship, that he isn't Dirk. And never was.

And lastly, to prove that he could play at the world’s highest level.

After signing a multi-year contract with the Houston Rockets, the single affiliate of the Vipers, on Monday, he's earned that chance.

“It’s good to be not in Germany,” Ohlbrecht prophetically said at NBA D-League Showcase in January. “It’s good to be somewhere else, to be free, to start over, and I think I made a good decision.”

Playing for the Vipers, Ohlbrecht has carved out his own identity. A consistent double-double threat, Ohlbrecht averaged 13.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game while leading the league in field goal percentage (61 percent) during his time in the NBA D-League.

Despite not playing in America before his NBA D-League stint this year, he quickly took a liking to the style of the American game.

“The help side (defense) is not common, that’s why I just like it,” Ohlbrecht said. “In Europe, you can just dig in there (in the paint) and stay there as long as you want to, and here you got the space, you can do your move one-on-one and that’s what I really like.”

Another interesting proposition for Ohlbrecht is that in Houston he’ll be playing with another international sensation, point guard Jeremy Lin. Lin has excelled running the pick-and-roll, a staple in the NBA, and Ohlbrecht and Lin have the potential to be a formidable duo in that regard.

“I love the pick-and-roll,” Ohlbrecht said. “The pick-and-roll is my stuff, and when I got a point guard that can read me really well, then that’s the best option in what I can get.”

Ohlbrecht finds himself in good hands in the Rockets organization, a club that has not only made a heavy investment in its NBA D-League affiliate, but that has placed an emphasis on developing big men. In the last two years, the Rockets have used the NBA D-League to help Greg Smith, Marcus Morris, Donatas Motiejunas, Terrence Jones and now Ohlbrecht become contributors to their big league club, while other bigs, like Jeff Adrien, have gotten NBA contracts from other teams after playing with the Vipers.

Ohlbrecht now finds himself with the opportunity to join the growing list of NBA players who stuck in The Show after spending time with RGV. And, since he'll be playing on the world's biggest basketball stage, he should have a prime opportunity to, for the first time in while, earn a reputation.

His mission is simple: To continue to show that he isn’t the player that was oft so criticized in Europe and characterized as “soft” before he even arrived in the States.

“Nobody saw me here, maybe they forget about me, but I changed too,” Ohlbrecht said of the label. “I’m 24 now, I’m not 18 anymore. So I’m getting stronger, I know how to fight on the court and I think I’m going to show it.”

And then, of course, to shed the Dirk comparisons for good.

“I think (Dirk) is a guy who’s going away from the contact,” Ohlbrecht said, downplaying any similarities in their games. “He’s shooting more and I just want to go in there more. I’m searching for the offensive rebounds. I want to go in there. I want to go to the glass. I think I am little more aggressive.”

Without being aggressive -- both on the court and in his decision to come play in the NBA D-League -- it's safe to say Ohlbrecht wouldn't have achieved what he did today.

Now it's time to write the second chapter of Tim Ohlbrecht's basketball career. And this time, he holds the pen.