Rookies Digest: Semi Ojeleye Finding His Own Way in the NBA
The path to making a name for yourself in the NBA can look different no matter who you ask.
Some jump right out of the gate and establish themselves as future stars. Others could be late bloomers, and many make a niche for themselves as important role players and vital clogs on winning teams with championship aspirations. For a four-year senior who split time between Duke University and SMU, Semi Ojeleye is the latter – a highly touted prospect, trying to find his role on a very deep Boston Celtics team.
“Just try to keep my faith, that’s what got me here,” comments a confident Ojeleye as he continues to maintain his positive outlook as a rookie on a team filled with depth at his position. “You don’t really judge what’s going on by circumstance. I just believe that god wants me here and he’s going to take care of me.”
For the 23-year old forward, faith is something that he has hung his hat on for years and it is his belief that has played a huge role in his upbringing and eventual journey into the NBA.
“My family started me off on that path,” says the Celtics rookie. “But as you go through life, I think you get to a point where you decide what’s going to guide you, what’s going to hold you strong and that’s what I found.”
In college, Ojeleye excelled as a student-athlete and stood out because of his tenacity on defense, hustle, and ability to do all the dirty things necessary to win basketball games. It’s the kind of attitude that ties in perfectly with what Head Coach Brad Stevens and what the Celtics are truly all about.
“Coach Stevens likes guys who play hard and have a passion for the game,” Says Ojeleye. “That’s something I try to do and that’s helped me find more minutes, whenever I just try to go out there and play hard.”
While Ojeleye’s offence still needs a lot of work, specifically his shot as well as range, it is that same defensive prowess that has upped his draft stock that has allowed the SMU alum to stay on the court. To this date, Ojeleye has averaged 14.1-points per game, while playing in 56-games for the Celtics.
Peaking at Ojeleye’s advanced stats, despite not playing a lot of minutes and having a minuscule usage rate, defensively, the 23-year old holds a positive Defensive Wins Share, he does add value to the Celtics off the bench with his size and length, and as he continues to play, he only will continue to grow as he learns more and more about the game. After all, he has great athletic ability, talent and at each level of basketball has had the necessary coaching to help build a foundation for his basketball career.
“[I’ve] Got to play for two great coaches [in college],” Explains the Celtics swingman. “Coach K, Coach Brown, so they both teach different plays, respect and all the other details of the game. Similar to coach Stevens, I try to take those details from them and apply it now. You know, working hard and try to focus on all the small things and they all add up.”
When it comes to Coach Brad Stevens, for players like Ojeleye, it’s very easy to see why he is highly regarded as one of the game’s best young coaches.
“He knows the game so well,” Says Ojeleye on his Celtics’ head coach. “If you have a question, he always has an answer for it. He’s a student of the game, he’s always trying to learn. I think when you realize that a coach knows the game so well, it makes you respect him.”
As a rookie, having a coach like Brad Stevens is only a plus and being part of such a great organization like the Celtics provides the 23-year with the proper resources and knowledge of how to survive a gruelling first season in the league.
“The season is longer so mentally, you have to be more prepared,” Says Ojeleye. “It’s a different level. Everybody at the top of this level is at the top of their game, so you have to have that respect for everybody when you go out there and realize you have to up your game that much more.”
Respect is an important value that Ojeleye keeps close to his heart and it’s something that he hopes to one day earn in the league. A second round pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Ojeleye has found himself in the system that can help him to succeed and it will now be up to Ojeleye to find his own way in the NBA.