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Welcome back to the Trentonian's Full-Court Press blog. Yes, we're still alive, and with the 2015-16 season rapidly approaching, it's time to fire up the old blog for another season. Check back here throughout the year for updates on all things Rider and Princeton, including coverage of both the MAAC and Ivy League. Feel free to drop me a line on twitter @kj_franko ( or email

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Lopez, Okereafor solid additions for Broncs

Head coach Kevin Baggett likes his team's depth. (John Blaine Photo)

Lawrenceville >> Now in his third season, Rider head coach Kevin Baggett feels like he's got his team molded just the way he wants.

It helps to have a pair of players who sat out last year due to NCAA transfer rules eligible.

Both Matt Lopez and Teddy Okereafor are expected to be starters for the Broncs, who are coming off a 14-17 season in which they finished eighth in the 11-team MAAC.

Lopez, a 7-foot center from Erial, applied to the NCAA to play immediately after transferring from Utah State so he could be nearer a sick grandparent, but had his appeal denied and had to sit.

Lopez is now in his final year of eligibility. He's only appeared in 32 games in four years, first at La Salle and then Utah State, but Baggett is still counting on him.

"We're going to see how he pans out here," Baggett said. "I think he has a chance to be pretty good. ... We're going to need him. He's got to play for us. There's no hiding."

Lopez got the chance to play with Puerto Rico national team in the summer.

"Having the chance to play all summer, I thought that helped his game and his confidence," Baggett said.

Lopez, who played his high school ball at Washington Township, is considered an offensively-skilled center, but Baggett still expects the 7-footer to have an impact on the defensive end.

"I don't think Matt is a shot blocker, but I think he can be a rim protector," Baggett said. "I think he's smart and able to get over and get his body in position so guys will have a hard time being able to just drive it at the basket."

Okereafor last suited up during the 2012-13 season for Shaka Smart's Virginia Commonwealth. He played in all 32 games, averaging 8.3 minutes per game.

Baggett described the London, England native as a pure point guard — something the Broncs haven't had since a fellow Brit, Justin Robinson, graduated in 2011.

Okereafor's greatest impact may be the way he aides Jimmie Taylor and Zedric Sadler.

"He'll take some of the pressure off those guys," Baggett said.

Added Taylor: "I think they can bring experience to the court. Teddy and Matt, they are both good players. I think them being with other teams, they can bring experience that can help us. Teddy came from VCU where they had a full-court, up-tempo man to man. That can help us get better. With Matt, he's got a lot of good post moves and that can help our big men get better."

"It's a relief to have somebody in the backcourt you can rely on," Taylor said of Okereafor. "You don't have to worry about him when he brings the ball up. It helps me because I can play off the ball more and flow within the offense without the ball in my hands."

Sadler Healthy

Zedric Sadler was never quite right a year ago.

He hobbled through most of his sophomore season with sore knees, but Baggett said he's back to full strength as practice begins.

"He's just got to get in shape," said Baggett, acknowledging Sadler was less than 75 percent most of last year. "He's back to the athletic Zed we saw his freshman year ... A guy that can get after the ball. A guy that can score."

Fitness, Fitness, Fitness

Early practices are as much about getting back into basketball shape.

That equals hell for the players as Baggett and his staff put them through conditioning drills.

The Broncs did a series of full-court sprints at the end of practice, which required the players to get up and back 5 times (10 full-length sprints) in under one minute.

Freshman Anthony Durham won each series.

"That's the toughest part when you're coming back," Taylor said. "You're trying to get in midseason shape in the beginning of the season."

Prepping for Princeton

Rider opens its season Friday, Nov. 14 at Princeton.

Baggett said they won't concentrate on a gameplan for the Tigers until that date draws closer. For now, it's about getting their own stuff down.

"Right now, it's about us," Baggett said. "We have to make sure we hone in on the details and the fundamentals of what we want to get accomplished this year. As we get closer, we'll get ready for Princeton. Maybe as a coaching staff, we start to get ready, but as far as a players, right now it's about us."

The Broncs have an exhibition game on Nov. 8 against Division-II Kutztown (Pa.).


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