This isn’t the first time Drexel sophomore Amari Williams and junior Mate Okros have shared a uniform. They attended Myerscough Basketball Academy in Preston, England from the time they were 16 years old before reuniting in Philadelphia to fulfill their goal of playing basketball in the states.
“I would never have thought this,” Okros said. “If you would’ve told me my first year I would be able to play with my teammate back from England I probably wouldn’t believe you, but it’s a really cool moment and I’m glad.”
They met at Myerscough when Okros was trying out for the under-18 national team and Williams was trying out for the under-16 national team.
“Everyone in the country knew that Mate was the best player at the time,” Williams said. “So I didn’t really know what to expect when speaking to him at Myerscough.”
It’s no surprise that a top player in the country would attend Myerscough Basketball Academy. The school is one of the more prominent academies in the United Kingdom. It’s an elite player development program designed to mimic a professional environment of academic study with a combination of top-level basketball training, specifically for players between 16 and 19 years old.
“Mate and Amari are Myerscough legends,” said Myerscough head coach and program leader Neal Hopkins. “Our relationship was not without conflict, led by my belief that both of them could make it to the next level. I had to push them hard at times, but they responded with amazing commitment and have forged life-changing moments for themselves.”
Okros led Myerscough to four national titles and was part of their first team to play in Europe. Williams followed and was able to lead the program to a European title — a first for a British team at that point.
One of the main goals of the school is to help establish a balance between basketball and academic expectations. Some of the high school academic courses included sports management, prevention of injury and how to increase your performance.
“The professional environment that was already created over there helped in the transition to Drexel,” Okros said. “Having access to the facilities all the time. Having access to the coaches there 24/7 — we could ask them to work out whenever we wanted to. And they tried to replicate what it would be like in the professional world so that really helped me to come over here.”
Students live on campus and compete in divisions such as the European Youth Basketball League (EYBL).
“It was really fun playing in the EYBL, especially traveling to all these different countries,” Williams said. “That was a good tournament we went into and we did well both my years there. My favorite place we traveled to had to be Poland.”
The 6-foot-6 Okros committed to Drexel in 2018. Told by coach Zach Spiker to “hunt for the three,” Okros leads Drexel with 23 three-pointers and is shooting 39.7% from beyond the arc. He has started all 12 games, averaging 7.2 points and 3.4 rebounds per game.
Williams reunited with Okros at Drexel in 2020, and he played a major role in Williams’ decision to make the move to Philadelphia.
“He made me feel more comfortable going to a place knowing that I had someone there,” Williams said. “He came from a similar place that I did and seeing how it turned out for him led me to believe it would be a nice fit.”
Okros wanted to support Williams.
“I told him if he comes here and gets homesick or school or basketball is not going well for him at the moment he will always have people around here that he can talk to,” Okros said. “And obviously I told him personally that I’m always gonna be here for him as a big brother. If he needs anything I’m always gonna be here.”
The 6-foot-10 Williams has taken on a bigger role as a sophomore, already doubling his minutes from last season. He made his first start against Delaware on Tuesday and scored a career-best 15 points along with seven rebounds in the Dragons’ 81-77 loss.
“He’s stepped up a lot,” Okros said. “He’s really stepping up in practice, getting to the gym after practice as well to work with coaches. His ability to use his height has improved a lot since Myerscough.”
Drexel (6-6) is back in action at 4 p.m. Saturday at Northeastern. Okros has high hopes for another NCAA Tournament berth.
“We know the talent we have and we know how far we can go — we showed it last year,” Okros said. “So I don’t think we have any pressure. We just go to practice and work out. Our hard work will show in the games when it comes.
“I want to do anything to benefit the team and get us to the NCAA Tournament.”