It’s no secret that head coach Buzz Williams runs his offense through his guards, typically going with four guards and one big man on the court at any given time.
But don’t expect that to change the way sophomore center Chris Otule approaches this season.
The Richmond, Texas native is looking to rebound from a lackluster and injury-plagued freshman season that saw him appear in just nine games for the Golden Eagles. A broken foot kept Otule out of the first ten games, and he saw limited action during the conference portion of the schedule.
Fast forward a year, and Otule finds himself as a projected starter on this year’s team, in a 5-spot role that the Golden Eagles definitely need to fill.
“[His role] needs to be distinctly more than it was,” Head Coach Buzz Williams said. “Is he ready to do that on a daily basis? I don’t know. But up until this point and the six weeks prior to practice, he’s been 100 percent better than he was the first six weeks of last year as a college freshman.”
Otule attributed his improvement to head strength and conditioning coach Todd Smith, who worked daily with Otule in the off-season, whether it was required or not.
“Probably the biggest thing is how hard I worked,” Otule said. “I understand how hard you have to work in order to make it here. I just want to give all the credit to [Todd Smith] because throughout the summer I had been waking up at 6 o’clock, 7 o’clock in the morning working out for two hours, whether it was running or strength workouts.”
That added strength and stamina should serve Otule well as he prepares for the rigorous, 18-game Big East schedule. Going up against the likes of Georgetown’s Greg Monroe, Louisville’s Samardo Samuels, and Notre Dame’s Luke Harangody will be no easy task, but Otule feels he has the confidence to step on the court and succeed this year.
Part of that confidence came during a trip to Germany over the summer, where Otule spent two weeks on an athletic ministry, working with young children while also getting work on the court playing games every day.
“Playing out there gave me a lot of confidence and playing with those guys. We had a game every day and we won them all. So it gave me a lot of confidence, and I think that will help me out over here.”
While Otule has built his confidence up, he knows exactly what will be asked of him night in and night out for Marquette. The offense runs on fast break opportunities and efficient guard-play, making his job all but clear – be bruiser on the boards.
“My role is to grind it out with the big guys on the opposite team. Get more rebounds than them, and not so much about scoring down there, but having high energy and rebounding a lot and being active.”
In his opening remarks on Media Day, Williams spoke of how much the team will miss the leadership, energy, and preparation that Dwight Burke brought to the team. He even joked that he wished he had redshirted Burke last season so he could have him this year.
With that high-energy low-post presence now playing in Urugay, Williams will rely on Otule to fill that role. It’s a lot to ask of a sophomore who averaged just 1.3 points and 1.1 rebounds per game last season, but he is confident Otule is up to the task, calling him “a completely different human being than he was a year ago at this time.”
The Golden Eagles are young all around this season, and improvement is the name of the game for many players on the team. The 6-11 sophomore took that to heart this off-season and has tried to improve his game every day, something Williams readily acknowledged.
“He's a better player, but who he is as a person, a year ago at this time when we took team pictures and who he is today, he's aged about 14 years. He's a completely different guy.”
And the Golden Eagles will count on this older, wiser Otule to make an impact in the frontcourt this season.
Mark Strotman is a sophomore majoring in journalism.