Sophomore center Jeff Otchere looks to shoot the ball during the game against UAlbany on Thursday, Feb. 22. Otchere ranks seventh among Division I players in the nation in total blocks. EMMA HARRIS/THE STATESMAN

Stony Brook Men’s Basketball sophomore center Jeff Otchere had no experience playing organized basketball before entering high school. Today, he ranks seventh amongst all Division I players in the nation in total blocks with 69 and ninth in the nation with over two and a half  blocks per game. Otchere has made a huge impact in his first season wearing the Seawolves uniform. Entering the year, he was expected to play a large role in defense and has since exceeded all expectations.

“He’s an anchor in the middle,” head coach Jeff Boals said. “It’s not only his ability to block shots, but to change and alter shots, which can even change the mindset of [opposing players] thinking about driving in there. His offense has gotten better throughout the course of the year. He’s gotten stronger from summertime to now, and we’re really pleased with where he’s at.”

Otchere’s defensive skills gained his America East rivals’ attention after he set a new career-high seven blocks on Jan. 9 against Binghamton. Since then, commentators have often referred to that statistic when citing his prowess. While not a large scoring threat, Otchere dropped a career-high 12 points in a game against Norfolk State on Nov. 27 and has also recorded 10 rebounds twice, against Quinnipiac and Delaware in December.

Otchere, who towers over others at 6-foot-11-inch with a mesmerizing 7-foot-6-inch wingspan, was born and raised in the Bronx. He attended Christopher Columbus High School, where he first picked up the sport of basketball his freshman year.

“It started in high school in gym class, and people would recommend that I played basketball,” Otchere said. “I got a little better in gym class, and one of my close friends took me to the varsity tryouts.”

While learning the game at an older age came with its challenges, Otchere refused to let the difficulties stop him.

“I didn’t have basketball IQ back then,” Otchere said. “Remembering plays [was a challenge]. I didn’t realize how many plays basketball had, and I was just an effort guy from the beginning. The more experience you have in basketball, the more comfortable you get playing it.”

Otchere spent a post-graduate year at Bull City Prep Academy, a program in Durham, North Carolina that focuses on helping prospective student-athletes earn a college scholarship. Out of Bull City Prep, Otchere received recognition from numerous schools and settled on Delaware State. However, after a summer of workouts at Texas’ Ranger College, he transferred to Garden City Community College in Garden City, Kansas for the 2017-18 season.

At Garden City, he led the National Junior College Athletic Association by averaging nearly four blocks per game and broke the school’s all-time record with 124 blocks in the 2017-18 season. Otchere earned the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference and Region VI Defensive Player of the Year for his efforts.

Otchere was heavily recruited coming out of junior college and drew interest from over 20 schools including New Mexico State and Washington State. Stony Brook head coach Jeff Boals saw the potential in his shot-blocking ability and large athletic frame.

“Looking at his raw ability,” Boals said, “We thought he was going to be a lot better than what we saw just based on his lack of playing. Once we got him on campus, he loved everything about it.”

Ultimately, he chose to transfer to Stony Brook because of its proximity to his hometown and Boals’ reputation as a head coach.

“People would tell me that Coach Boals has a different way of coaching,” Otchere said. “He lets his players play through their mistakes, and for a late bloomer like me, that was good.”

The investment has paid off well. Otchere was perceived as a very raw player due to his lack of basketball experience prior to this season. In order to help refine his game, he has taken to watching a lot of films to see different situations and learn more about the sport.

Otchere’s biggest struggle this season has been staying out of foul trouble. He has fouled out of four games and has recorded four fouls in eight others. Foul troubles have kept his minutes limited, in turn taking away the Seawolves’ greatest defensive asset when he is on the bench.

“[I need to] try not to go for every block and limit the dumb fouls as much as I can,” Otchere said.

The coaching staff is working hard with Otchere to improve the glaring weakness in his game and has high expectations for the center.

“I think he’s gonna be a pro someday,” Boals said. “He’s going to continue to get better, he’s going to continue to work hard. He’s just scratching the surface of where he’s going to be. I think he should [win America East Defensive Player of the Year]. He alters as many, if not more, [shots] than he blocks, so he’s been a big reason in why our defense is number-one in the league.”

Otchere’s emergence as one of the best shot-blockers in the nation has helped carry an incredibly young Stony Brook team to success. While the giant center makes swatting away basketballs look easy, his dedication to improvement makes him all the more dangerous.