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Wohler proves to be perfect match for MSU-B
MSU-Billings basketball player Moritz Wohlers is from Germany.

Moritz Wohlers wanted to play one more year of college basketball.

He just didn't want to play at McKendree College, located in Lebanon, Ill., any more.

"The coach and I didn't get along," Wohlers explained.

But Wohlers wasn't going to ask his parents for help.

Basically on his own since the age of 16 — "That's just how it is," he says of his native Germany — Wohlers sat down at his computer and began researching schools that could use a 6-foot-8 center with good skills and an excellent basketball pedigree.

"I looked up schools on the Internet that had winning records, their style of play, many different things," Wohlers said of his search. "I began e-mailing coaches.

"I sent out a lot. I got 10 responses the very first day."

One of the first to answer was Craig Carse, the men's basketball coach at Montana State-Billings.

The Yellowjackets already had the shooters, but needed an inside presence.

"I knew it was quiet," Wohlers said what he knew about Montana. "I came here for a visit on April 15.

"It was my birthday."

Both sides have been celebrating since.

Basketball genetics

Wohlers was born to play basketball.

His father Jurgen, a 6-7 forward, was a member of the 1972 German Olympic team and a long-time captain for the national team. Wohlers mother, Bettina, also stands 6 feet tall. A young sister, 6-3 Viktoria, is currently a foreign exchange student in Orlando, Fla. Wohlers talks to his sister at least once a week.

Wohlers began playing basketball at the age of five. He also played tennis.

"My parents didn't push, they just wanted me to play a sport," said Wohlers.

Wohlers began playing club basketball in his home town of Wolfenbuttel as a teenager. Most times, he would be up against players 30 years old or older.

"You learn a lot quick," said Wohlers. "The older guys were pretty helpful, they would show you a few tricks."

He also learned the nuances of post play from his father, who continues to critique his games.

"I'll call him and tell him about the game," said the son. "He's my best critic. He's my dad, I can trust him.

"He's a fair critic."

Wohlers played on the German U16, U18 and U20 teams. He came to the United States for his senior year of high school — he had enough credits to skip his junior year — and played for Benton High School, a community in southern Illinois.

"Basketball is from here," said Wohlers of the decision to leave home for the U.S. "I thought it would be a good life experience."

Wohlers averaged 19 points and nine rebounds a game for Benton, earning all-state honors.

"They make a big deal out of sports here," he said about the U.S. "Back home, they only care about professional sports."

Wohlers opted to remain in the U.S. and play for Lewis and Clark College, a two-year school in Godfrey, Ill.

"It was play here or go home for eight months of military service. I could wait for that life experience," said Wohlers with a smile.

Wohlers averaged 19 points and nine rebounds a game, earning all-conference and all-region honors. He helped Lewis and Clark advance to the National Junior College Athletic Association tournament and was selected to the NJCAA all-tournament team.

During that time, he added 25 pounds of muscle and re-tooled his game to the more rugged American style of play.

"It's a more physical style of play here," said Wohlers. "Over there (Germany), it's more technique.

"I go home in the summer to play and they're not happy with me. They think I play too rough."

Wohlers settled on McKendree a strong NAIA program relatively close to his host family and friends in Benton. He averaged nine points a game in his one season, but wanted more playing time.

Immediate impact

Wohlers signed with MSU-B after discussing his requirements with Carse.

"I wanted a chance to play and wanted to graduate on time," said Wohlers, who will graduate this May with a degree in business management. "That was important to me.

"I thought we'd be a pretty good fit. But I am surprised how fast I fit in. The whole team gets along pretty well."

Wohlers, the missing piece in the Yellowjackets' high-scoring offensive puzzle, has scored in double figures in 14 of 15 games.

He is averaging 17.9 points a game, second best on the team, and is averaging a team-high 8.3 rebounds.

Using more brain the brawn, Wohlers easily maneuvers around the basket with the ball. And when he's covered, which is happening with more frequency as opposing teams see his play, Wohlers kicks it back outside to an open teammate.

"We have the shooters," he said. "I try to outsmart people. The guys I play are more athletic than me. I just try to do all the little things right.

"I'm just trying to bring my best to the court. To help the team win."

Wohlers has posted a double-double of points and rebounds in four games and scored 20 or more points six times this season. Showing extended range, he's also made at least one 3-pointer in the last four games.

His best game was a huge 33-point, 14-rebound effort in a 118-110 home win over Emporia State on Dec. 19.

"He's easily the best big player we've ever had here," said Carse, putting Wohlers in the same category as Dan Carter and Kyle Stirmlinger, players who had immediate impact at MSU-B.

"He brings skills and much more: passing, catching, shooting, knowledge and maturity. But with Moritz and Buddy Windy Boy, we have two men. Two guys who have been around the world and experienced so much.

"I am totally surprised how Moritz has done here. He's expanded the things we're able to do, inside and outside."

Wohlers hopes to play at the next level after graduation. He's not picky on where.

"I'm not hung up on countries, cities and the surrounding things," Wohlers said. "If someone wants me, I'll be there."

Wohlers parents came to Billings to watch their son play against Rocky Mountain College. "It was my mom's first trip to the States," Wohlers said. "I do miss home sometimes. I miss my mom's home-cooked food.

"This has worked out better than I thought. It's been perfect."

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