When two players meet at the rim, YouTube highlight reels will tell you that it’s going to end in one of two ways: a slam dunk or a block. Either one could be a poster play that leaves the crowd shaking. For junior center Jeff Otchere, it’s going to end with him blocking the ball — like he nearly always does. Yet, he never stops amazing people. So what allowed the 6’11”, 243-pound junior from the Bronx to deny 78 total shots from going into the basket last season?
“I think my timing is what helps with blocks,” Otchere said. “I’m quicker than your average guy my size, so I’m also able to block people on the ball. I can block people off the ball. I can be in help defense, and if somebody gets beat to the lane going for a layup, I can block that. And I can be on the person in the post and I can block that on the ball. I can block on the perimeter. I can just block in almost every area.”
If it isn’t already clear, Otchere is good at getting blocks. Very good. Those 78 blocks he totaled last year, and the 2.4 blocks per game average that came with it, put Otchere ahead of all others in the America East and in the top 20 nationally in NCAA Division I. Even more impressive is that national ranking was good enough to place Otchere ahead of Jaxson Hayes, the 8th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and the first center taken that year.
Not bad for a player going from Garden City Community College in Kansas to play his first Division I season. This type of production was not surprising from the guy who got 3.9 blocks per game at Garden City. In what Otchere called a “smooth transition,” the result was the 2018-19 America East Defensive Player of the Year award. For Otchere, however, winning the most prestigious defensive award in the conference was not just a goal, it was an expectation.
“My confidence in my game isn’t in my offensive side,” Otchere said. “I take pride in defense. I know my strengths. When I came here, not to sound arrogant, but I kinda knew I was gonna get it. I knew I was gonna get it once. I told my coaches I was gonna get it.”
Now, those coaches look a little different. With Geno Ford taking over the head coach position that Jeff Boals occupied last year, Otchere sees his role on the team changing with new offensive and defensive schemes. To prepare, he has worked extensively on “post moves, pivots, catching the ball” and “just basic fundamental stuff.” The coaches want to work through different looks than before, with Otchere citing the big mens’ involvement in the pick-and-roll play as a prime example of this.
His main goal isn’t about blocks, however. Rather, Otchere’s main focus lies in helping his team in new ways and for longer stretches in-game.
“My goals for this season would be able to stay in the game for 25+ minutes,” Otchere said. “Increase my rebounding to eight [per game] and above. Just continue to do what I do defensively and up my points in games. I am dedicating myself to offensive rebounds this season and I’m making it the mission.”
How does Otchere plan to reach these new challenges and continue to improve as a player? His answer is all about the mentality.
“You can’t turn off that dog in you,” Otchere said. “You gotta keep being relentless on the boards. You can’t let anybody box you out. The more relentless I am on the boards, the more I’ll get.”
Otchere is already off to a hot start this season, posting ten blocks and 5.3 rebounds per game through six games this year. But by now, that’s to be expected from Otchere.