Teddy Okereafor: From hooping with mum in Newham to breaking 45-year GB Basketball record

Teddy Okereafor: From hooping with mum in Newham to breaking 45-year GB Basketball record

Teammates naturally made a fuss over them, without Okereafor ever really knowing why. He only cared about shooting hoops back then, however does admit a new temptation to go out and cop a matching set.

The symmetry of 14s for under-14s may be difficult to rival upon his newest on-court memory after the 29-year-old recently made his 50th consecutive appearance for Great Britain's men's team to break a record held by Bill McInnes since 1976. It's a landmark that has come too soon for a Jordan 50s collection, so some commemorative 5s might have to suffice for the nation's ever-present No. 5.

His half-century came in some style, too, as Okereafor posted 19 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals to lead GB to their first win over Greece in 37 years in their FIBA World Cup qualifier. He won't forget those shoes in a hurry.

"It's a huge honour, for me representing the country is probably the highest level I've played at in terms of who I've played, and being able to do that for 50 games straight over five or six years is an honour, it's a blessing," Okereafor told Sky Sports.

"It's a huge opportunity to be called up year in year out and play with that group of guys and under that coaching staff and it's something I take seriously and take pride in."

The prospect of achieving the feat landed on his radar around a year-and-a-half ago, since which point he has hurdled the threat of injury. Much to his relief.

"Getting to 42, 43, they told me 'you're close to this'," he said. "Every day I'm like 'get through healthy', any little ankle sprain and I'm rehabbing like crazy but I've been blessed I've been healthy enough to stay for the whole course."

The Cheshire Phoenix guard has asserted himself a staple of a GB setup on the rise, competing at EuroBasket 2017 in Turkey before helping the team qualify for next summer's tournament while currently serving as a key figure in the bid to reach the World Cup.

His highlight within 50 straight appearances hasn't been one game or one particular moment, but instead the trajectory observed over that period, which in itself speaks a lot to the unassuming character in question.

"I think there have been ups and downs in the GB career for me over the past five or six years," he said. "The competition we've been playing have been really tough, we've played the Turkeys, the Israels, the Greeces, we've almost started off losing and not being able to get over that hump and then over the past couple of years we've been able to.

"We qualified for EuroBasket, we got out of pre-qualifying rounds, it's more the turning point of where we've started becoming successful in our last 15 games which is over like two or three years. That's the highlight.

"Going to EuroBasket in Turkey in 2017 was obviously the biggest tournament I've played in so far and then just the experience of travelling with the team, the coaching staff, doing mini-camps and seeing new faces in general, that's been a highlight."

An unwritten reward for his on-court contributions has been the opportunity to reach different corners of the world, be it basking in Greece weather, exploring Israel's culture or taking in the sights of Poland. Competing at EuroBasket meanwhile offered an experience closer to home as he faced his mother Natasha's native Russia - more on her in a second.

His domestic career has also seen him spend time with Pärnu in Estonia, Pistoia 2000 and Fortitudo Bologna in Italy as well as Greek clubs Kymis, Holargos and Iraklis.

As he finishes reeling off his foreign exploits Okereafor notes that his globe-trotting venture is 'not over yet', the aim undoubtedly being to add Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines to the list as host nations of the 2023 World Cup.

His journey to a basketball court has evolved from crossing the road in Newham, to crossing stateside on scholarship at Virginia Commonwealth University and then Rider University, to crossing Europe with both club and country. He may have forgotten the shoes, but he'll never forget where it all began.

"I started playing with my older brother in the park, that's the earliest memory of basketball, my mum taking me over there and just messing around there with him," he said. "Then I did that more and more with my friends who were playing football in the same park and then eventually they started playing with me.

"Then growing up taking it seriously, almost being a good one by default based on the numbers and then reaching out to the wider basketball community and joining the East London Royals, Hackney White Heat, Westminster Warriors and Barking Abbey and then eventually going over to America on a scholarship."

Back to his mother Natasha Hart. Correction, Natasha Hart MBE, who was recognised on the Queen's honours list in 2015 for her services to sport in east London.

Hart is rooted at the foundation of Okereafor's love for the game, one spontaneous coaching session for her sons in the park back in 2005 snowballing into a weekly occurrence to the point where she was eventually overseeing more than 30 local kids aged between eight and 16 keen to learn about the sport. And so came her launch of the Newham All Star Sports Academy (NASSA), Okereafor's first club.

"She always followed me in my career and was pushing me and being behind me in travelling to America, taking me there or making sure I get to go on a trip," he explained.

"Being around that support system and her being around me and pushing me at practice and making sure I'm going to these trips or whatever it is, she's involved. She's still got the club going now and it's really successful. She comes to a lot of games, it's great having her around obviously, but even more so when she's that involved in your basketball career."

Founding NASSA came with not only the ambition of educating children in the game of basketball, but also offering young people a safe environment in which to avoid anti-social behaviour amid gang culture and knife crime in one of London's deprived boroughs.

"Her commitment to helping others in the community is a huge deal, she's managed to bring basketball to thousands of kids in our borough in Newham for the past 10/15 years. That's a huge deal," said Okereafor.

"Her 'Carry A Basketball Not A Blade' campaign has been huge in raising awareness for knife crime and definitely changed lives in Newham. She has many testimonies of kids that have come to practice and that almost gives them a reason to not be outside, hanging around and doing something negative.

"Her being able to set up that campaign and run it successfully over that period of time is huge for who she is and talks to her character about giving and wanting to make change. To be recognised by the Queen in getting an MBE is huge for her, I'm super proud of her, hopefully more stuff is coming in the future."

The same attentiveness is evident in Okereafor, endorsements of whom often insist on hailing both the talent on the court and the grounded communicator and leader away from it.

"What you do doesn't define who you are, I play basketball but when I come off the court I'm just as human as everybody else, I make mistakes, I have fun stuff I do, I just try to be who I am as much as possible," he says.

"Just being that kind of person and understanding I'm as much as anybody else as they are me whether they play basketball or not keeps me humble, down to earth and building a connection or having a fun time and passing on any advice or guidance I've gained.

"I've had teammates and coaches that have helped me, it's only right I pass it on."

For some time there has been a feeling British basketball is on the brink of escalating into something bigger, with Okereafor passionate about helping tip it over the edge and willing to shoulder the responsibility facing current players to inspire the next steps.

It's for that reason there has been such a wave of frustration across the sport's community in response to the British Basketball Federation opting against entering GBs under-20 teams into next summer's FIBA European Championships due to a lack of funds. Okereafor wants change.

"It's terrible for that age group and those kids," he said. "It's almost the bridge between the youth teams and the men's teams because you're right there with all the potential professionals that are going to be part of this men's GB team.

"It's a decision made so early, we have eight months before they would have played in the European Championship that it's almost too early, it's kind of weird the way it worked out like it did.

"We all completely agree it should be changed, it should be focused on that that team is there and competes at the European Championship because there have been members of that team, for example Myles (Hesson), he's tweeted about it, he's part of our team not because of that but the opportunity to experience basketball at that level and aspire to play at this level."

"I look at it from the perspective of, what more do they need to get to be pushed over the edge? We've won games, the youth have been in great competitions, finished in great places and promoted themselves, they've done everything they need to do to get the funding they're asking for."

It's a fight Okereafor is prepared to be a part of, knowing how special a part representing GB has played in his career to date.

As far as his own aspirations are concerned, it's 50 down and 50 more in sight.

"That's the goal," he laughs. "We've got a good opportunity, we've got to qualify for the World Cup, we've already qualified for EuroBasket so without looking too far ahead and praying for health we've got a good kind of lineup for the next couple of years."

Recomended Posts

Leave a Comment

© 2022 - Live Stream Over 9000 Live Sports Online In HD Quality FREE | Livezstream Sports Network | - All Rights Reserved