Scarlet Raider Profile: Junior Tyler Ofray of Men's Basketball
Like thousands of other youngsters growing up in the tough inner-city of Newark eight years ago, Tyler Ofray was a skinny 11-year-old with aspirations of becoming a basketball star.
So to improve his skills, Ofray decided to attend the summer camp held at Rutgers-Newark, under the guidance of Scarlet Raiders head coach Joe Loughran.
Turn the clock ahead a few years and Loughran is now scouring the area, looking for talented players who would fit his system.
The head coach at Church Farm School in Exton, Pennsylvania calls Loughran out of the blue.
"He said that he had a kid from Newark that was pretty good," Loughran recalled. "He said that the kid was from Newark and wanted to come back home."
That kid was Tyler Ofray.
"I then asked [graduated R-N standout guard] John Snow if he knew Tyler," Loughran said. "He said, 'Coach, the kid can play.' So we drove out to Hershey to see him."
"John Snow is like my big brother," Ofray said.
Ofray was torn between Ramapo and Rutgers-Newark, but the familiarity with the Golden Dome won out.
"I think it was coming to camp here and his friendship with Snow that helped us," Loughran said.
"John Snow is a big reason why I came," Ofray said. "I knew it was like having a big brother with me in college. It was a chance to make things easier on my Mom financially. I was able to come home, go to Rutgers and get a degree."
But things weren't exactly peaches and cream when he came back to the Brick City.
As a freshman, Ofray found himself on the sidelines, eventually redshirting the season for a host of reasons.
"He needed to grow up a little," Loughran said. "He needed to mature some. He had a chance to be a really good player, but he had to turn himself around and take the academic side more seriously."
Sitting out as a college freshman could be devastating to some athletes, but it was a blessing in disguise for Ofray.
"It was eye-opening for me," Ofray said. "It was also very humbling. I was in college now and it was real. I had to turn it up a notch. I had to grow up in a hurry. Coach Loughran was right. My life was basketball and it was taken away from me. I learned that I needed hard work to go with the basketball."
Sitting out the season was catamount to Ofray's maturity as a student/athlete.
"It was definitely the hardest thing I ever had to do, watching my guys, my teammates from the sidelines, watching them play without me," Ofray said. "But I had to deal with it. It was just another part of growing up. I had to learn."
Once Ofray returned, Loughran knew that he had a special talent, a player blessed with incredible speed and the ability to shoot well with either hand.
In fact, watching Ofray, it's hard to tell that he's naturally right-handed until you see him play a few times. But he goes to the basket with reckless abandon and the gift to finish around the rim with either his right or his left.
"I remember when I was younger," Ofray said. "My left hand was weak, so I worked on it. I kept using it over and over until a lot of my game was finishing with my left. My goal is to be versatile and I pride myself on being able to drive with both hands, to score and to pass."
Loughran loves that versatility.
"He knows that it's the strength of his game," Loughran said. "When he's going to the basket, he's going with either hand. He's completely comfortable with the left and being able to make the play."
There are other sides to Ofray's approach that impress Loughran.
"He has a great basketball IQ," Loughran said. "He has this competitive fire that I love. He's also a guy who wants to get better."
As the 2016-17 college basketball get underway, Ofray has a gigantic challenge ahead of him. He's one of only three returning players who saw considerable minutes last season. Gone are All-NJAC players Jordan McDaniel and his buddy Snow.
"I'm counting on him a ton," Loughran said. "The answer is short and sweet. A ton. We don't have a lot of players back, so we need Tyler to take that step up. I think he's ready to become a really good player for us. He's in a good situation where he can be a good player. He has a lot on his plate. He has to be able to score for us, play defense, get steals. Others might not like that challenge, but I think he's ready."
Loughran and Ofray have developed a good relationship.
"We've had those conversations where I've told Tyler he has to lead by example," Loughran said of the 6-foot-1 junior who averaged nearly eight points, five rebounds and four assists per game last year. "He understands his importance. We have 13 new guys on the roster, the most we've ever had by far. I might get on him a little bit more than the most, but he can handle it. He's a great kid with a good personality."
"It's hard with a bunch of new guys, but I'm ready," Ofray said. "I understand now that it's all part of the process. I look around and I see that I'm the one. I have to lead. It's definitely part of my role now. We don't have the other guys around who can score. I have to change my role a little and do more, get more points, more assists."
Ofray likes the make-up of the team.
"I think we're showing a lot of promise," Ofray said. "We have some transfers who can play. The freshmen are being freshmen, but that's expected. I think it's going to be a really good team."
Ofray has been through a lot already as a Scarlet Raider.
"I just think it's all part of growing up," Ofray said. "Coach Loughran told me that this would happen, that I would have to be the leader. I understand that it's all part of the process. I'm taking on that burden and then we should be able to accomplish our goals as a team."
As long as the former skinny Scarlet Raider camper can lead the Scarlet Raiders to a solid season, then everything should be just fine.