Occeus to the rescue
Shawn Occeus was the perfect player for the Niagara River Lions to call on when E.J. Onu left the Canadian Elite Basketball League squad late in the season to pursue a pro contract in Germany.
“If you follow me, you know that pretty much every single year that I’ve played except for one I’ve gotten called, sometime in the middle of the season, to help a team whether a guy got injured or someone had left,” the 25-year-old native of Boyton Beach. Fla., said. “I am kind of used to it at this point but it is challenging because you want to be able to experience training camp and playing time. But at the same time, I am grateful that a team would want to pick me up.”
This past year, the former Northeastern University scholarship player was picked up in the middle of the season by the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA G League, an affiliate of the Houston Rockets, and helped the team make it to the finals at the end of March. Last year, he played four games for the River Lions when Onu went to play in the NBA Summer League.
The 6-foot-4 player has no idea where his pro career will take him once the River Lions’ season concludes.
“That is life. Once I left college, I have been pretty much living out of suitcases and getting ready for whatever team wants you. You have to make sure your phone is on ring and your bags are ready to go.”
He has always had an interest in rejoining the River Lions.
“Things didn’t pan out that way but I always knew in the back of my head that this could be a possibility so when the season ended, I just tried to stay in shape. It was five or six days a week of 6 a.m. workouts with my brother at LA Fitness. I would then lift in the afternoon or go play pickup,” he said. “Every day it was a grind but literally I was trying to keep the same regimen that I came from in G League. It didn’t stop. Knowing that this happened to me last year, I just tried to stay ready. Besides that, I wanted to stay in shape and work on my game.”
Occeus was in Las Vegas watching NBA Summer League games when River Lions head coach/GM Victor Raso contacted him to see if he was interested in rejoining the River Lions.
“He texted me that morning and then called me that night and told me to get on a flight. I was at the arena in the middle of a game.”
It was an easy choice to say yes to Raso.
“Obviously I wish it would have been sooner but things happen. I told him I was ready to do whatever just like I told him last year.”
He enjoyed his experience with the team last year and this season it is more of the same.
“They cater towards the players and you want to go somewhere like that. A lot of coaches have a tough time relating to our generation of basketball but here they relate to us whether it is how we play on the court or how we are off the court.”
He also made friends with several players on the team during his stint with Niagara last season.
“I had a good time playing with them and it was fun off the court.”
Having experienced joining a team late on multiple occasions, the former Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year knows what is expected of him.
“It’s tough but the mindset always has to be winning, unless they tell you otherwise and tell you they are bringing you in to score or whatever,” he said. “The mindset has to be winning and playing your brand of basketball. You have to play the right way and earn the guys’ respect throughout all the games and practices.”
His brand of basketball is doing a little bit of everything.
“I would say my calling card is defence but for me offensively I think I can play one through four. I have been in positions where I have been one through four and even one through five defensively,” he said. “I am athletic, someone who can get out on the fast break and guard the best player from one to the four or five position. And I can shoot a little bit.”
He feels the biggest improvement in his game has come through experience.
“Experience is the best teacher in life. Just being on the court and playing as much as you can is the only way you’re going to know if you are getting better or not.”
Heading into Friday’s home game against the Montreal Alliance, Occeus had started two of the three games he had played and had been averaging 15.9 minutes of playing time, 3.3 points and 2.7 rebounds per game.
Raso appreciates what Occeus has brought to the team.
“Shawn fits right in to this group. He is selfless, is an excellent defender and very capable offensively. He’s been dealt a difficult hand joining a winning team for the final stretch and has handled it extremely well. He has done an excellent job of buying in and finding his role within the group. He’s only going to continue to get better for us down the final stretch.”
In a 98-91 win by Niagara over the visiting Montreal Alliance Friday night, Occeus had three points, two assists and two steals in 17:42 of playing time.
Niagara clinched first place and a spot in the championship weekend with the victory.
River Lions 98 Alliance 91
BPSN Player of the Game: Niagara’s Khalil Ahmad with 33 points.
For the Niagara River Lions: Ahmad 33; Jahvon Henry-Blair 18; Edward Ekiyor 14; Antonio Davis Jr. 11.
For the Montreal Alliance: Ahmed Hill 26; Nathan Cayo 20.
Game stats: Field goal percentage: Niagara 47, Montreal 49. Free throws: Niagara 12-17, Montreal 7-11. Rebounds: Niagara 37, Montreal 42. Turnovers: Niagara 9, Montreal 13.
Up next: The River Lions conclude the regular season with a Saturday road game against the Brampton Honey Badgers.