Friday, January 11, 2013

A Devil, you say: Ottawa standout Semi Ojeleye says Duke best fit

Ottawa High School senior Semi Ojeleye has the possibility to break the Kansas high school state record for scoring in a career. The small forward has committed to play basketball for Duke University.

Ottawa High School senior Semi Ojeleye has the possibility to break the Kansas high school state record for scoring in a career. The small forward has committed to play basketball for Duke University.



Ottawa High School senior Semi Ojeleye has the possibility to break the Kansas high school state record for scoring in a career. The small forward has committed to play basketball for Duke University.

— When he walks into a gymnasium, heads turn, eyes inevitably gravitating in his direction.

Quiet by nature and serious in his demeanor, it is nothing more than Semi Ojeleye’s physical presence that draws the gazes of onlookers when Ottawa High’s boys basketball team takes the court.

At 6-foot-7, 225 pounds, the mammoth senior forward is Thor with a hi-top fade. A teenage superhero in Nike Hyperdunks. And that’s before he even gets his colossal mitts on a basketball. When he does, good luck stopping him.

Ranked the class of 2013’s No. 33 recruit in the nation by, the Duke University signee has helped the Cyclones (9-0) destroy most of their competition this season, averaging 40.6 points and 7.3 rebounds in the process. Accustomed to elevating and shooting over defenders on the perimeter (43-for-97 from three-point range this year) and going into beast mode to overpower them in the paint (77-for-126 inside the arc), Ojeleye scored a career-high 58 points in December against Wray, Colo. His career scoring total at OHS stands at 2,176 points, and he’s on pace to break the Sunflower State’s record — 2,554, set by Brewster’s Josh Reid, class of 1996.

Ojeleye’s talent and the exposure that comes with signing to play at Duke have drawn national attention to Ottawa’s living legend. Staff from USA Today and Sports Illustrated, not to mention Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski, have flown halfway across the country to attend Cyclones practices this season. Amid all of this, somehow, the hoopla hasn’t gone to Ojeleye’s head.

“It’s humbling,” the soft-spoken superstar said. “I just want to help my teammates out and have a good year.”

Modest monster

Actually, humble is the word people around Ojeleye use most to describe him. Senior classmate Dallas Natt, Ottawa’s starting point guard, remembers when Ojeleye first began receiving letters of interest from the top basketball programs in the nation.

“He’d try to hide ’em,” Natt said. “He’s not the kind of guy who would be like, ‘Oh, look what I got!’ He’s the quiet guy, and that’s why we like him so much. He doesn’t showboat.”

The state’s best player doesn’t gloat on the court, either. Natt said Ojeleye simply plays the game. And dominates.

“Whenever he gets the ball on the block, it’s a hassle,” Natt said, adding that Ojeleye has an un-blockable three-point shot, too. “He’s too explosive, too fast. He has the guard talent, but the post body. It’s just insane.”

Ojeleye’s modest disposition impacts everything he does, according to Ottawa coach Jon McKowen. Sure, he has the skill set and physical ability to attract interest from national college powers such as Duke, Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, UCLA and others. McKowen sees much more in his elite senior.

“You top it all off with his work ethic,” the OHS coach said. “It’s unmatched. He works like he has absolutely no skill at all.”

One can usually find Ojeleye getting in an hour of aerobic work before school. He lifts weights after school at least three days a week. When Ottawa practice ends, he’ll goof around with other stragglers in the gym, then end his day with another full-blown, drenched-in-sweat individual basketball workout.

“It’s every day with him,” McKowen said of Ojeleye’s dedication. “You can see it when he plays and when he practices.”

It all has been a means to an end for Ojeleye. He said those long hours secured him a spot at Duke, currently undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the nation.

“That’s what you work for,” he said.

A Blue Devil in Kansas

Of course, as a Kansas resident, when Ojeleye gets approached by people who want to discuss his college choice, it’s rarely to ask him about playing with fellow incoming Duke freshman Jabari Parker, of Chicago, Rivals’ No. 2 recruit in the country. It’s more like: Why didn’t you pick Kansas or Kansas State?

“You have to live with your own decision at the end of the day,” Ojeleye said, adding he did what was best for him.

His older brother, Victor, walked on at K-State, and KU is the national powerhouse over which basketball fans in this part of the country fawn and fret. The state’s two Big 12 programs were on Ojeleye’s radar before last summer, when he pared down his list to Duke, Indiana, Stanford and UCLA.

Former KU assistant coach Danny Manning had been Ojeleye’s contact at KU. When Manning left to become Tulsa’s head coach this past spring, Ojeleye said his communication with Kansas tapered off. He said KU showed renewed interest in him later, in the summer, and wanted him to take an unofficial visit to Lawrence. But by then he already had an idea of the programs best suited for him, and Ojeleye let Kansas know it wasn’t on the short list.

Eventually, Krzyzewski and Duke beat out the rest of his suitors.

“I was thinking, ‘What team’s the best, and what coaching staff has my best interest in mind?’” Ojeleye said. “And I thought Coach K and his coaching staff really meshed with me. That’s what it came down to.”

It certainly didn’t hurt that Krzyzewski came to Ottawa for an in-home visit in September, to meet with the Ojeleye family.

“That sent me a message that I was important to them,” said Ojeleye, who committed to Duke during that meeting. “From there, just whenever we talked, we talked about me off the court as well as on the court.”

McKowen considers Duke the perfect fit for Ojeleye, a 4.0 student who wants a great college education.

“Duke might have been the only place he could’ve chose to go that nobody could complain about,” McKowen said. “If he would’ve went to KU or K-State, he would’ve made half the people mad and half the people happy.”

Returning to ‘game 26’

The four seasons Ojeleye has worn Ottawa red and white have been bliss for Cyclones fans. OHS has gone 77-10 since his arrival and advanced to the Class 4A state title game three straight years. Ottawa lost to Kansas City, Kan., Sumner Academy in 2010 (66-45) and 2011 (66-60) before Ojeleye’s junior season ended in 2012 with a 56-52 loss to Basehor-Linwood.

The program’s only state championship came in 1971, as a 3A school. On slow practice days, McKowen might dangle a 2013 title in front of the players as motivation. They need to prepare with speed and tempo then “for game 26,” he’ll remind them. But, in general, the top-ranked 4A team doesn’t have to talk about its chase for a title. As McKowen pointed out, Ojeleye isn’t the only OHS senior. Natt, Austin Blaue, Dillon Boeh, Taylor Graf, Alex Hasty, Jordan Markley, Wyatt Peters and Kaden Shaffer are experienced, too.

“All of them have been through it,” their coach said of the previous three seasons. “If they weren’t on the (varsity) team, they were in the program, so they’ve been through the emotional roller coaster, and every one of them was on the team last year.”

The group’s collective mettle even surprises McKowen at times. He wasn’t at all satisfied with how the Cyclones, who hadn’t played a game in more than two weeks, practiced the day before their January opener. But Ottawa beat Paola, 77-30, the following night behind Ojeleye’s 56 points.

So far this season, Ottawa has averaged 71.7 points a game, winning by an average margin of 32.1.

“I have to be everywhere,” he said of his approach. “That’s inside, outside. As the game starts to flow, if the guys are going, I just need to step up defensively. If they’re not, then I need to carry the scoring load that much more. I just kind of have to read the game and react to it.”

The Cyclones, who play host to Eudora tonight and will travel next week to the Basehor-Linwood Invitational, will spend January and February building toward a fourth straight state-tournament berth. If along the way Ojeleye seems detached or businesslike after throwing down an alley-oop as easily as most people tie their shoes, don’t think for a second he isn’t reveling in his team’s success.

“We want to enjoy the moment,” he said, “have some fun, and whatever happens, happens.”


JhawkalumJB 1 year, 3 months ago

I don't blame any kid for going to Duke or Stanford over KU, especially Stanford. He is a 4.0 student and both Duke and Stanford are superior to KU academically. Superior academics AND quality athletics. This kid has a good head on his shoulders, and is hopefully thinking of life beyond b-ball selecting Duke over KU.

As a KU alum and fan I don't blame him at all for going to Duke. Sounds like they did a better job recruiting him anyways. It's only relevant to us because he' s from Kansas. We'll be fine.


Jayhawk470 1 year, 3 months ago

How did Self not get this kid? He was literally right under our nose, just a drive down US-59, and Self loses him to Coach K? Inexcusable.

It's not often the state of Kansas produces big-time talent like this. So it is a big recruiting blunder on Self's part when he can't get talent in his own backyard to come to the state's biggest basketball program.


Michael Pannacciulli 1 year, 3 months ago

Yuk. As if I needed more reasons to hate on Dook.


Jayhacker 1 year, 3 months ago

I've seen Semi play at least 2-3 games per year since he was in the 5th grade, including last night's 40 point outing against Eudora (BTW, he was selected by the student body to be "Winter Homecoming King"). I have no knock on him personally; he's a really well-rounded kid from a solid family. He has tremendous offensive skills, a lot of room to grow on the defensive side, and seems to have a good "life plan." Would I like to have seen him play for KU? You bet, but I have a lot more trust in Bill Self's assessment of "fit" than do some others here.

My knock on Semi has nothing to do with him personally, but more with his coach, Jon McKeown, and his use of Semi at the high school level. It became apparent early on in Semi's playing career that he saw himself as a 3 or even a 2 at the college level. In large part, this is because of the AAU "game", which emphasizes individual performance far above team play. IMHO, McKeown bought into this at the expense of the development of the rest of his players, and even the success of the OHS team in the last 3 championship games. Ottawa has a really good team besides Semi, but allowing him to roam the perimeter on bothe offense and defense, instead of using him at the 4 or 5 spot where his size could allow more balanced scoring has held back the play of the other kids.

In part because of this "scheme", Ottawa has 9 seniors, NO juniors, and only 2 sophomores on its varsity roster. I've heard that the low representation from the lower classes is a result in how McKeown has allowed Semi to be his sole focus for the past 3 years. Regardless, I'll be watching with interest to see how OHS does the next few years, and to see if Jon can have any success without a "stud".


Ferd Magellan 1 year, 3 months ago

He's an undersized PF who plays under the rim and plays against some of worst teams Kansas has to offer. Great fit for Duke, understandably not someone Self would recruit beyond inviting him to a couple games.


Janet Scott 1 year, 3 months ago

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Robert Brown 1 year, 3 months ago

I thought this was a good story and have no problem that it is posted. I guess I am not surprised by all of the negative remarks. KU will be young next year and there will be a lot of competitiion for playing time. Given the unknown nature of the returnees next year- only Ellis, Tharpe and Traylor will get sigificant playing time this year, it will be nice to have a large selection of talented players to choose from. I can assure you that some several players currently in the Rivals Top 50 will not live up to their potential.


BucknellJayhawk3 1 year, 3 months ago

Starting lineup for next year?

1 Tharpe 2 Connor Frankamp? 3- Andrew White? 4/5- Traylor 4/5- Perry

So we'll probably have 1 freshman start next year? Unless Rio gets the start of Frankamp?


rcjgku94 1 year, 3 months ago

I've seen him play the past three seasons against where I went to High School and figured I'd give my 2 cents. I think he has really matured from the last two seasons to this one. Before, he relied A LOT on his deep jumper, and it obviously worked for him because he was so much bigger than anyone guarding him, nobody could contest. But this year he attacks the paint much more. The kid is chiseled. He has the body for big time D1 ball strength wise (I'm not sure about the quickness, haven't seen enough there). And all my buddies that played against him said he was a cool dude that has it between the ears. Defense and rebounding aren't there but can you blame a kid like that? I don't. I'm sure that will come around when he has to do it. Definitely don't think he is even close to being a OAD.

And for the record I like seeing stuff like this on here! The kid is from the area and it's clear in the title that it isn't KU related so just don't click on it if you don't want to.


TaCityHawkFan 1 year, 3 months ago

Where do you get good reliable statistics about High School Basketball? It is hard to find. I had been wondering if Frankamp was going to break the State Scoring record, or the 5A/6A class record, I know he is on pace to break the city league scoring record (probably more impressive than state scoring record from all classes) but not even sure where he is at on that.

Jesse or any other posters? Any help on finding the stats?



75Jayhawk 1 year, 3 months ago

Darnell Valentine from Wichita was the best all around player from Kansas to play at KU. Lucious Allen from Wyandotte High School played for John Wooden at UCLA in the 1960's and might be the best player ever from Kansas. Ralph Miller from Chanute might be the best all around athlete from Kansas.


iamakufan 1 year, 3 months ago

Sounds like the kind of young man we like to have at KU. I wish him the best at Duke but sure wish he'd chosen Kansas. Duke's gain, our loss.


KEITHMILES05 1 year, 3 months ago

As has been stated above Self got the best fits for the program. No program can get everybody regardless of what state they live in.


Machawk 1 year, 3 months ago


To this day, I still lean towards Nino as the most dominant high school player I've observed playing in Kansas. He was not the most skilled, for sure, but did he ever dominate the ball game just with his jumping ability and strength.

Semi Ojeleye reminds me of Nino in the domination area although he roams all over the court unlike Nino and is much more skilled in ball handling and outside shooting. I am a little disappointed that Coach Self didn't go after him more just because I like to see Kansas talent stay in state. We don't have that many highly ranked players to choose from so I feel like we should get them whenever possible. Like others have pointed out, we are well stocked at that position and Bill knows best.

I know the Ojeleye family and they are the nicest, classiest family you will ever meet. Their kids are smart, humble, respectful, and studious just like their parents. Semi would have been a perfect fit for KU just on his character alone, but I do think for him Duke is a great fit. It will be interesting to see how he develops in a good system and how soon he may have to make a decision in his career. If he chose to get his education over the lure of money, it would not surprise me. So KU fans, don't be too hard on anyone on this outcome, instead let's just lick our chops for the great class coming in next year!


wildjayhawk 1 year, 3 months ago

Self missed a good one there and it's going to hurt down the line.


PSM 1 year, 3 months ago

In regards to Duke's 2013 recruiting class, their fans are getting a Semi.


jaycard 1 year, 3 months ago

Nino Samuel, wow, what a blast from the past. I grew up in Salina idolizing the future KU signee. What a physique..wide shoulders, bulging biceps, and arms longer than most 7 footers. I remember him dropping 44 on Emporia and the Terry twins in 1970. He lived with a local doctor, and we would play him 5 on 1 in the driveway and always lose.(we were 13). And above all, he was humble, gracious and always nice to us kids. He was 6' 4'', and lacked the requisite ball handling skills for the big time, as he always played down low in high school with his crazy jumping ability. He later transferred to NAIA Marymount and was a home town hero for a good Spartan team. Nino is now a successful businessman on the Wesrt Coast. Ah...the memories.


Kevin Huffman 1 year, 3 months ago

Here's a good question. OTHER THAN Danny Manning, who's the best high school player to come out of Kansas over the last say 25 - 30 years? Would you say Wayne Simien, maybe? Hopefully, Perry Ellis 2 years from now?

I don't know about other programs but for KU, themselves, the best I can remember since Manning would probably be: 1) Simien, 2) Woodberry, 3)???? - Tyrel Reid, maybe?

Others I can remember = C.B. McGrath, Greg Gurley, B.J. Williams, and Brady Morningstar...that were good enough to get some major enough minutes. Were Patrick Richey or Mark Turgeon from KS?

Heck, we've done better out of K.C., MO w/ Br. Rush, Travis Releford, Jeff Graves & Jeff Hawkins all coming from there.


Robert Brock 1 year, 3 months ago

I watched the kid play some AAU ball and I didn't think that he was anything special. Mature body; undefined skills. Reminded me of Nino Samuel.


Joe Joseph 1 year, 3 months ago

“If he would’ve went to KU or K-State, he would’ve made half the people mad and half the people happy.”

So, lets split the difference and make no one happy and everyone disappointed?


Clarence Haynes 1 year, 3 months ago

We all have to make those type of decisions. I wish him the best.


Waylon Cook 1 year, 3 months ago

Can someone tell me why my comment was removed????????????

It wasn't bad!

Like I said having lived in North Carolina. He being from Kansas he is already one of the smartest people in the state. And he hasn't even arrived!

Btw according to Rivals KU didn't even offer.


B0B 1 year, 3 months ago

We already had Brannen Greene committed at his position. Obviously we'd take him if he wanted to come, but a big is a bigger priority in this class. He was smart enough to realize that.


jhawkrulz 1 year, 3 months ago

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phog1004 1 year, 3 months ago

"The state’s best player doesn’t gloat on the court, either. Natt said Ojeleye simply plays the game. And dominates."

sorry, but a certain Conner Frankamp (you know, a KU commit) may take offense to this comment Kick....especially since you quoted Semi's Rivals ranking at #33, and Conner is ranked #31. Just sayin...


Waylon Cook 1 year, 3 months ago

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JHawk06 1 year, 3 months ago

.. Wow, that was a lot of information about someone who isn't going to KU. So you are telling me he never took a visit to Lawrence and made a decision?


Phil Leister 1 year, 3 months ago

Man I'm glad I got to start my day off reading about Duke.


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