Teddy Okereafor has already graduated from Rider and in his two seasons as a Bronc, it’s hard not to see him with the ball in his hands in the game’s most important spot.
“At the end, when it hits crunch time and the ball needs to be in my hands, I love that role,” Okereafor said.
The 6’4″ point guard from London has had a knack for proving his doubters wrong. In his final season as a Bronc he leads the team with 14.2 ppg, 4.4 assists per game and has a knack of reaching the free throw line. Okereafor creates on average 4.9 fouls per game on his opponents, according to KenPom, and he has made 80% of his free throws in conference play.
On Thursday in the Broncs double overtime win over Marist, he reached the free throw line 30 times and converted a MAAC-record 25 shots from the charity stripe.
“That’s amazing to have the 38 [points] on 13 shots and go to the line 30 times,” Okereafor said. “I was just being aggressive and I don’t know what to say, 30 free throws is crazy to me.”
His 38 point performance, last matched in 2010 by Ryan Thompson, along with a 23 point, six rebound, five assist performance against Iona helped him earn the MAAC Player of the Week award.
Okereafor’s 30 free throws attempted is the most any player has attempted in five seasons, but his style has come thanks to adjusting and learning through the past seven months. The 6’4″ guard earned a spot on the Great Britain Men’s National Team and played plenty of minutes over the summer alongside professionals. In the three games they played, he averaged 7.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg and 2.3 assists per game.
“I just got a whole bunch of experience,” Okereafor said. “I played the most minutes there and in the three games we played, just being able to lead that team and then come back here, take the leadership role and try to do my best to lead our guys and set the tone for the season and have everybody follow my lead. I know that the more aggressive I am, the more that the team is and that’s something I learned over there.”
Okereafor, who led Rider in minutes played last season, is easily on his way to topping that feat this season. He currently ranks third amongst all players in the MAAC in minutes played, behind Manhattan’s Shane Richards and Marist’s Khallid Hart, and he’s just as indispensable as those two guards for his team.
“We’re asking a lot of him and he’s done a really good job at it, but I do get worried about him,” head coach Kevin Baggett said of his point guard, who he admits he tries to get short periods of rest for around media timeouts.
Since watching college basketball on TV from England, Okereafor has been in the business of proving he can make it in the American game. That led him first to VCU, where he admitted he wanted to go to a high major school, but through two seasons did not see a major role.
“I think the biggest thing that he wanted to prove that he was talented,” Baggett said. “He definitely has a chip on his shoulder and when we were recruiting him here I said, ‘hey, I’m going to give you every opportunity to prove to people that didn’t believe in you or stopped believing in you that you are a really good player.'”
“Shaka [Smart] never wavered, he thought he was a good player. He always said to me Teddy was a good player, I just think it was a role there that he didn’t want to take. It benefitted us, he’s really done a good job for us, I’m sorry to see his senior year already here.”
Rider has had a history with players from overseas before, Tommy Pereira was their most recent English import who averaged 4.6 ppg as a senior in 2014. Justin Robinson graduated in 2011 and earned a First Team All-MAAC selection as a senior to go with earning a spot on the All-Met third team.
In his first season with the Broncs, Okereafor averaged 11.2 ppg and ranked third in the MAAC with 4.0 assists per game. His contributions earned him an All-MAAC Second Team selection alongside First Team All-MAAC senior Matt Lopez as they helped the Broncs earn a second place finish. After having returned to his native country over the summer, Baggett said he noticed that his confidence had soared when he returned to campus in the fall.
“I think his focus coming in here helping us win, obviously we’ve struggled at this point, but it’s not because of him,” Baggett said. “I just think he’s focused on what he wants to do going forward. He understands, having played with his international team, just how good he really is.”
Learning amongst professionals can be intimidating but Okereafor managed to handle the shorter shot clock and open spacing of the floor. He hopes that a strong final season at Rider will help convince teams in Europe that he can join the ranks of his fellow pro players on the national team, but until March it is focusing on helping the Broncs as much as he can.
Yet he will always carry that motivation to prove he can play.
“I just think any kid anywhere can play if they really put their mind to it and put the work in,” Okereafor said. “I think I proved that and hopefully the kids back home take advice from me or follow in my footsteps and know that they can do exactly what I have done, if not more.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.