By Jamie Thomas
His signing for the Cheshire Phoenix certainly turned some heads as the first major acquisition of the 2021/22 season in the BBL, and now Teddy Okereafor is hoping he can lead an eye-catching and high-energy squad to new heights in the coming year.
The 28-year-old GB Men’s guard is back in the BBL for a second consecutive season after his debut outing with the Bristol Flyers last term and he detailed his courtship by the Phoenix, how impressive he finds Coach Ben Thomas and how the growth of the BBL was a key factor in his signing.
“I really enjoyed being home last year, and Coach Ben (Thomas) and the GM, James (Brice) got onto me early when the season ended talking about next season, and that really excited me. Their vision for the season and beyond is very ambitious and I’m really looking forward to being a part of that.
“What’s very impressive about Coach is his understanding. Speaking to a few guys around the league before I came here, they all tell me he gets how players want to play and giving us some freedom, whilst also coaching us to a system or style of play that he wants Phoenix basketball to be about.
“The BBL is moving in the right direction, there is so much excitement around the league with the fans back this year and games on TV again, London are competing in Europe once more and if we continue in this direction then there could be something very special here in a few years.”
“This squad has potential to be something really special.”
Joining the 28-year-old at Cheshire are a contingent of fellow London-based players that Okereafor is well acquainted with – Mike Ochereobia and Teddy O go back 10 years, whereas he and Jules Dang Akodo played together for their country at Eurobasket 2017, whilst Kyle Carey and the new Phoenix floor general have gotten to know each other over the last few years.
Okereafor takes pride in the British contingent assembled at the club and is excited about what their pre-existing chemistry can deliver, as well as what the other exciting signings bring to the table.
“The club has done a great job of highlighting young British talent, with Jules, Kyle and Mike being great signings and our history together meaning we’ll have great chemistry from growing up playing with and against each other in London, alongside the really strong imports we’re bringing in as well.
“It is going to be a fun year, very exciting, we’ve got a group of players that are all capable of putting in a game-winning performance on any given night, and already there is a really good feeling between us, so I can’t wait to get started.
“Jules is one of the best shooters in the league and a great energy guy, as is Kyle, and Mike is a dominant force inside and a great screener. I think when we bring those components together with the rest of the squad where we all excel in our roles, it has potential to be something really special.”
“I’ve learnt so much and I’m ready for this year.”
Teddy O put in some super performances last year for the Flyers, as he battled to help lead a side ravaged by injuries and setbacks throughout the early stages of the season to reach May Madness.
The GB veteran has spoken candidly in the past about his desire to improve on the showings of his first season, particularly in terms of being more assertive in taking control of games, and he elaborated in our conversation on his debut experience in the BBL.
“I know myself, I know I’m the type of player that has to get experience in the league and grow into it to truly understand when the best moments are for me to be assertive in terms of scoring and when to facilitate or help the team in some other way.
“Last year was the first taste of the BBL for me, and it is a very guard-dominated league, so I’m looking forward to having that responsibility and opportunity to be more assertive in my game this year.
“The league is surprisingly fast, and Cheshire are a very fast team. Clubs get up and down the floor so quickly compared to where I’ve played in Europe before where it is much more of a half-court game. I didn’t expect that, to be honest, but I’ve learnt so much and I’m ready for this year.”
“I want to bring a trophy home to Cheshire.”
Okereafor has already played in front of a smattering of Cheshire’s fanbase – in the form of their matchday volunteers – as he led the Flyers to an overtime victory at Ellesmere Port Sports Village last year, but playing in front of a full arena of Phoenix fans is another thing the GB guard is very excited about, as he discussed what he wants to deliver for them this year.
“I’ve heard so much about Cheshire fans and how electrifying their arena is when its packed out. It gives you so much energy when you have a fanbase like that, so I’m very excited to play for them and hopefully playing a type of basketball that excites them and brings even more fans to the club.
“There was some 20 volunteers there when we played Cheshire last season and they were loud enough on their own, so I’m really looking forward to feeling a full arena! They’re so passionate, they love their club and that’s what we want and we’re hoping we can grow together.
“My goals and the team’s this year go hand-in-hand, so if we lose then I didn’t have a great season but if we win I’ll be happy, regardless of statistics. I want to improve on last year, to become one of the better leaders in the league, help us get to the next level and bring a trophy home to Cheshire.”