EDINBURG — The UTRGV men’s basketball program announced the addition of center Jeff Otchere, a 6-foot-11, 240-pound graduate transfer from the Bronx, New York.
Otchere, who will be able to play immediately and will have one year eligibility remaining once he joins the Vaqueros, has earned a reputation as a dominant defensive playmaker in the junior college ranks and at Division I Stony Brook, where he earned an America East Conference All-Defensive Team selection this past season after averaging 5.4 rebounds, 2.8 points and 1.48 blocks per game.
“He’s one of those players that can change the game from a defensive standpoint. He can control the paint, he can intimidate people, he’s a really, really great shot blocker and a former defensive player of the year,” UTRGV men’s basketball head coach Lew Hill said. “Just like how Javon (Levi) picks up and pressures the ball sometimes controlling it on the defensive end from the top, he can do the same thing from the back with his ruggedness and athleticism. Offensively, he can get out in transition and run with us. He can switch one through five, he has great footwork and he’s just a really, really good defender and a proven offensive player.”
Despite the recruiting limitations presented by the novel coronavirus pandemic, Hill and Otchere had developed a recruiting relationship dating back to Otchere’s time in junior college.
After graduating from high school in New York and playing a year of prep in North Carolina, he enrolled at DI Delaware State and redshirted his freshman year. The following season, Otchere played at Garden City Community College in Kansas.
Otchere dominated in junior college, leading the nation with 3.8 blocks per game and winning the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference and Region VI Defensive Player of the Year awards.
Hill recruited him to UTRGV for the 2018-19 season after his breakout year before he landed at Stony Brook in New York, where he won the America East’s Defensive Player of the Year award as a sophomore, averaging 2.4 blocks per contest.
“He first recruited me in junior college. UTRGV was one of my finalists, but it didn’t end up going that way and I ended up going to Stony Brook,” Otchere said. “It was closer to home and at the time that was one of my priorities and it was just a good basketball situation. Now that being close to home is not really a requirement for me, UTRGV is a great choice for me.”
Otchere’s path to UTRGV was similar to several other Vaqueros in recent years who were initially targeted in high school or junior college and joined the program after their second time going through the recruiting cycle
“There are a lot of kids that we didn’t get the first time around that we get the second time around because when we didn’t get them, we weren’t bitter or anything,” Hill said. “Then when it didn’t go right with those schools, we got that call. It’s a testament once again to our guys and the Valley and the administration.”
Otchere credits his unorthodox college hoops journey through junior college and three different DI programs for building his mental toughness, work ethic and physical style of play.
“It’s not a smooth ride. You really have to be mentally tough to go to judo and make it out. That mental toughness is how I turned myself into one of the top juco players and went to Stony Brook. Even though it was a way different situation than junior college, it was still a mid-major so it wasn’t a huge program, so we also had to adopt that toughness when we played high-major teams,” Otchere said. “I think those experiences helped shape me as a basketball player and it plays a part in how I play as well and why I play so aggressive and tough.”
Otchere becomes the second incoming transfer to be a part of the Vaqueros’ 2020 recruiting class, joining 6-foot-6, 215-pound forward Malik Lawrence-Anderson, who announced his commitment to UTRGV in November.
A Kingston, Jamaica product, Lawrence-Anderson averaged 4.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game on 42.4% shooting from 3-point land as a sophomore at Tyler Junior College this past season. He will have two years of eligibility remaining and, like Otchere, is an athletic defensive playmaker who will be able to play immediately.
“I think we need to become more physical down in the paint. I think we really needed a rim protector and a rebounder,” Hill said. “We always want to be attacking you on both ends of the floor and our versatility has gotten better and we’ll be a more physical team next year.”
“It definitely was a good fit sliding into that vacant five-spot with the graduation of (Isaiah Fontaine),” Otchere said. “I was trying to go somewhere that shares the ball and even without me being there, they’re already a great passing team so with me adding to that and being somebody that’s a lob option, I think it gives us really good potential.”
Otchere and Lawrence-Anderson will be joined in the Vaqueros rotation by forward Marek Nelson and guard Doc Nelson, a pair of juniors who redshirted this past season after transfer-ring to UTRGV from Western Kentucky and Weber State, respectively.
That will help transform the Vaqueros lineup from one of the youngest in the Western Athletic Conference to one of the most experienced in the NCAA. All 15 players on UTRGV’s roster entering the 2020-21 season will have at least one full season of college basketball under their belts and, with the exception of Lawrence-Anderson, every player will have some on-court DI experience.