Sweet Sixteen: #1 Emeka Okafor vs. #4 Doron Sheffer

Emeka Okafor vs. Doron Sheffer

#1 Emeka Okafor – (2001-2004)
by Peter Bard

In Rd 2, Okafor defeated #9 Billy Corley, 139-1

In Rd 1, Okafor defeated #16 Edmund Saunders, 188-3

Don’t get me wrong; I love Doron Sheffer. He was a smart, versatile guard for a few of the great UConn teams of the mid-90s. Emeka Okafor, however, is the best big man UConn has ever produced, and he was Jim Calhoun’s first dominant center.

In a stroke of luck, oafish power forward Isaiah Fox chose to go to Arizona rather than Connecticut after months-long recruiting process, leaving Jim Calhoun with no choice but to offer that scholarship to Texas big man Emeka Okafor, generally ranked in the high-90s among national recruits. I remember this happening. It was a big disappointment for UConn fans. Who was going to replace the immortal Souleymane Wane in the low post for UConn? I hoped that this Okafor clown could be a serviceable backup to Justin Brown.

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Oops. Okafor exploded onto the scene, blocking shots at a record pace while leading an elite 8 team in rebounding as a freshman. He won a share of the NABC National Player of the Year award in 2004 (and should have won the Wooden, AP, and Naismith awards, too, but voters are stupid) and is one of only a handful of two-time recipients of the NABC Defensive Player of the Year award. He’s UConn’s all-time leader in blocked shots, and owns the top rebounding average of any player who came to UConn after 1975, when people wore high shorts and knee socks and missed a LOT of shots.

So, while I’d love to see Sheffer advance further in this tournament, it can’t come at the expense of Okafor, the most dominant defensive player in UConn history. Also, I sat behind him in my calculus final freshman year, and he was super-nice.

Career Points: 1426

Career Rebounds: 1091

Career Assists: 81

Career Steals: 91

Career Blocks: 441

#4 Doron Sheffer – (1993-1996)
by Tyler Wilkinson

In Rd 2, Sheffer defeated #5 Corny Thompson, 120-83

Sheffer defeated #13 Josh Boone, 169-47

Doron Sheffer’s job was to make everyone around him better. And damn, was he good at it. Sheffer played as a combo guard alongside Kevin Ollie his first two years on campus. The duo handed out a remarkable 768 assists in those two seasons – mostly to Donyell Marshall and Ray Allen.

During his freshman year, Sheffer topped Ray Allen for the Big East Rookie of the Year award. Allen later admitted, “I was pissed.” When you’re good enough to piss off Ray Allen, you probably deserve some votes.

Those first two seasons also brought disappointment for the Israeli assassin. UConn was bounced by Florida in the Sweet Sixteen his first year – in heartbreaking fashion – and by eventual-champion UCLA in the Elite Eight the second. Those tough losses preempted a truly amazing final season in Storrs for Sheffer.

During his third season (because of his age, Sheffer’s first season was technically his sophomore year), Doron blossomed into a star sidekick to Allen. Sheffer averaged 16 points and over 6 assists per game – shooting 43% from the floor and 85% from the free throw line in the process. UConn won over 30 games that season, a remarkable feat that truly cemented the Huskies’ place in with the college basketball elite.

Although Sheffer never won a title – losing another heartbreaker to Mississippi St. his senior year – his contributions to the university live on in the hearts and minds of those who watched him, and in the record book.
No player in UConn history who played only three years has as many assists as Sheffer. The three players ahead of him on the all-time list played an average of 26 games more than him. He ranks second all-time with 5.5 assists per game. His 212 assists in 95-96 rank as the third best single-season total.

Despite the statistical accomplishments, Sheffer’s true legacy may be the inspiration he provided for his home nation of Israel. His very presence on the roster, made UConn an Israeli favorite, and his success made him a folk legend. When his time in Storrs was over, Sheffer had an opportunity to become the first Israeli-born player to ever play in the NBA. Instead, he chose to return home – where he played out the rest of his career.

Career Points: 1329

Career Rebounds: 452

Career Assists: 559

Career Steals: 194

Career Blocks: 22

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