By Tom Regan
After playing Division I basketball for four years, senior guard Tommy Pereira will return to his roots in England looking to find the back of the net instead of the bottom.
Pereira has always loved soccer, or football as it is known in England, and now hopes to follow in his grandfather’s and father’s footsteps by playing professionally.
Growing up, Pereira played a multitude of sports, but his skillset translated most fluently to soccer and basketball. He played both until 16, when he had to choose one.
“I knew that if I was going to have a chance of playing basketball, I would have to move away from England,” Pereira said. “That was one of the opportunities I saw to see more of the world and I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to see as much as I have.”
Pereira traveled to Spain, where he pursued a professional basketball career at the Canarias Basketball Academy until colleges like Rider began showing interest in his athletic ability.
“I was going to go play professional basketball in Spain for the academy I went to,” Pereira said. “Once I found out colleges were interested in me and were going to let me come basically for free, I had to re-evaluate my options.”
Ultimately, Pereira chose Rider, where he enjoyed playing in the Broncs’ Zoo, especially during this season’s victory over Monmouth, when he dropped six 3-pointers en route to a career-high 20 points.
“Just having the atmosphere when the Zoo’s packed, there’s no better feeling,” Pereira said. “This year when I was red-hot going six of seven from three, everyone was chanting my name; that was probably one experience I will bring to the grave.”
Despite Pereira’s desire to pursue both basketball and soccer, the inherent injury risk that comes with becoming a multisport athlete prompted the Rider coaching staff to limit him to the basketball court.
“When I was a freshman and sophomore, I asked the coaches if I could play soccer,” Pereira said. “They didn’t like the thought of me getting injured and being out for the basketball season.”
Although Pereira was not permitted to play soccer at Rider, the basketball program allowed Pereira to develop other skills that a typical midfielder does not have. His 6’2” stature, coupled with his basketball leaping ability, will make him tough to beat on the soccer field when the ball is in the air.
“I’m big for a soccer player, especially for my position, so I see myself dominating the midfield,” Pereira said. “I may not be as small as they are, but I will be just as fast, if not faster, with what basketball has taught me.”
Basketball Head Coach Kevin Baggett, who has worked with Pereira during the last four years, believes the senior guard has the potential to become a successful soccer player.
“He’s above and beyond athletic for the sport compared to basketball,” Baggett said. “Tommy’s one of those guys, anything he puts his mind to, he’ll succeed with it.”
After graduation, Pereira will head home to train with his father, Milton Pereira, who played for Maritimo, and his friend, Jamaal Lascelles, a defender for Nottingham Forest. Nottingham Forest, along with Mansfield Town and Notts County, are the three teams Pereira hopes to try out for.
“I will be working out with my dad and Jamaal too,” Tommy Pereira said. “I will call the teams and the scouts to set a date for tryouts.”
A strong force that beckoned Pereira to return to England was the recent loss of his grandfather, who played for Mansfield. Being thousands of miles away from his family and friends is something Pereira has become accustomed to, but no longer wants to continue. Playing soccer will allow him to achieve a life-long dream, while also being in close proximity to his loved ones.
“After losing my granddad, I knew I had to do something different to be with my family,” he said. “From when I was a boy, I always wanted to play professional soccer.”
His parents, Milton and Tracy Pereira, are incredibly proud of their son and believe that his experience at Rider has turned him into a stronger athlete, while creating important memories.
“It has all been a fantastic journey for Tommy, arriving as a young boy and returning to us as a young man with greater athletic prowess and a degree,” they said in an email. “He will bring home precious memories and he has made some very strong friendships while over in America, which we are sure will last a lifetime.”
While appreciating the Rider experience their son has had, Milton and Tracy Pereira are excited to be able to watch their son play sports in person, rather than through a computer screen.
“It will be great to be able to go to matches and watch him play in the flesh, so to speak, and not have to watch games on the Internet as we did when Rider played,” Tracy Pereira said.
In order for his parents to have the opportunity to watch him play, Tommy Pereira will have to start playing soccer every day in hopes of making one of the three teams; however, there is no doubt in his mind that he will be able to do just that.
“I know it’s going to take me a while to adjust,” Pereira said. “Once I get my foot in the door, I always tell my dad I’m going to kick it wide open.”