By Corey Donetz
“Starting at guard, a junior from Nottingham, England, Tommy Pereira,” boomed thunderously over the speakers as a roaring cheer carried throughout Alumni Gym when Pereira jumped off his seat and burst through a high-fiving human tunnel formed by his teammates. He saluted the camera, making his first career home start.
After nearly three years of playing basketball for Rider, Pereira earned the opportunity to make his first career start on the road against MAAC foe St. Peter’s, stepping in for junior guard Nurideen Lindsey, who suffered a concussion during practice.
“I was feeling it and I was enjoying it,” Pereira said. “I knew once I got my feet set and my first few shots off, they were going in. I knew it was going to be a good game and I just wanted to keep shooting.”
Pereira exceeded expectations by setting a career high with 17 points, leading Rider to a 66-54 victory. His success continued in his second start, his first at home, against one of the MAAC’s toughest teams, Iona, as he added 14 points in the Broncs’ win.
In his third major apperance, Pereira scored 11 points for the Broncs, even though the team fell short to Canisius.
Pereira’s role had increased this season even before the opportunity to start, and he quickly built a reputation for extreme hustle and grit that has been recognized by fans, his teammates and Rider’s coaching staff.
“Tommy has always been the consummate teammate, doing whatever is asked of him whether in a small role or a larger role,” Head Coach Kevin Baggett said. “He’s an even-keeled kid who never gets too excited one way or the other. His teammates get excited for him because they know how hard he roots for them.”
Pereira started in place of Lindsey over a span of four games, averaging 11.3 ppg while shooting an impressive 16-35 (45.7%) from the field in the four starts.
“I was nervous,” Pereira admitted. “I used to play in England and back home I used to start a lot, but coming off of the bench [at Rider] I had accepted my role.”
The transition from playing in Europe to playing in the U.S. is difficult, and Pereira has put in the extra work in order to evolve successfully at Rider.
“The American game is tougher,” he said. “It’s more one-on-one oriented. My freshman and sophomore years I was still kind of adapting. Being an overseas player, it was kind of hard to adjust to, but now I’m getting more of a feel for it and I’m starting to enjoy it a lot more.”
Growing up in England, Pereira was a skilled athlete in both basketball and soccer. He enjoyed playing them both, but around the age of 15, a decision needed to be made.
“When I was 15 my father said I had to make a choice,” said Pereira. “It was a crucial time I was peaking at soccer and I was peaking at basketball. He said, ‘You could either be good at both or you could be great at one.’”
He chose basketball, but still has an undeniable love for the game of soccer
“I always tell everyone, my passion is basketball but my true heart is soccer. I love soccer,” he said.
At age 18, Pereira moved to Spain to pursue greater basketball opportunities. He never had any aspirations to come to the U.S. until college coaches saw him play in a tournament held in Rhode Island. Pereira attracted interest from Wyoming, Oral Roberts, a few NCAA Division II schools and of course, Rider.
“[Former Rider Head Coach] Tommy Dempsey came all the way to Spain to see me and he offered me a full scholarship there and then, and that’s how I’ve ended up here today,” he said.
Pereira committed and signed to play at Rider before physically coming to campus. It wasn’t until the summer before he began his freshman year that he set foot on campus.
“When Dempsey came out to see me play, he sat me down and he showed me videos of the campus, the school and the team,” said Pereira. “He said I’d be a great fit. He made me feel welcomed. I had never been on the campus before and he made me feel like I belonged here.”
Pereira had never gone by “Tommy” before coming to Rider and he credits Dempsey with coining his own nickname. It has become everyday name.
“It was one of the first things that Coach [Dempsey] called me and I didn’t respond to it at first because I wasn’t used to it,” he said. “I like it though; it’s grown on me.”
Along with transitioning on the court, Pereira had to adjust to life away from home, a struggle that living and playing in Spain helped prepare him for.
“I’m a long way from home and my family,” he said. “It’d be nice to have them over here, but I’m just working toward a successful life for me and them.”
Pereira’s parents have been able to travel to the U.S. though many international players go through four years without having their parents see them play.
“My parents came around my 21st birthday last year and it was great to see them,” he said. “They enjoyed it a lot. They stayed for 10 days and came down to see me play Loyola (MD) and then we had two home games against Niagara and Canisius, so they got to see me play three times last year. The next trips they’ll be over here for are Senior Day and graduation.”
Pereira has steadily grown into a versatile figure of the team in many ways.
“Tommy is a leader on this team who represents us on and off the court in a manner we would want every player who plays for our program to strive toward,” Baggett said. “He will say things to his teammates when he thinks they need to be said.”
Pereira’s adjustments and improvments have become very noticeable.
“On the court he has gotten a lot better at moving without the ball,” said teammate junior foward Danny Stewart. “During the game when he’s playing he is able to knock down shots when we need them and when he is on the bench he is the one you always hear cheering and bringing some energy to the bench.”
It’s no secret that Pereira is a shooter, and to be a great shooter you must exhibit great confidence, which he certainly doesn’t lack.
“I’m confident enough that when the ball leaves my hands that I know it’s going in, so I have to create that space and let it fly,” he said.