Checking in with Semi Ojeleye

Despite averaging 40 points per game and being rated among the top 25 prospects in the country by, Duke commitment Semi Ojeleye was passed over for the McDonald's All-American game. The snub, however, isn't something the 6-foot-6 forward is focusing on as he leads his team in search of a state championship. Ojeleye spoke about that and more with TDD this week.

TDD: It appears as though your season has gone well, how are things looking for the playoffs?

Semi Ojeleye: We have been pretty successful. I think we have the first seed in the sub-state so that will help us out, and I also think we get to host our games to start. That will help as well. We get to host the first three games back to back.

Who will be your toughest matchup?

I'm not really sure. However, I'm sure teams will try to pull out all the stops to beat us, kind of like what they were doing during the regular season.

What has been the biggest challenge an opponent has thrown at you this season?

Well the team we played on Friday pulled out a triangle-and-two, so that was different. I just tried to hit the boards as hard as possible since my teammates had to play four on three. I had two guys on me at the same time all over the court, it was a little crazy. Usually teams will try a box and one, but this was different. Usually with the box and one I'll screen a lot, but it was a shocked at first because we hadn't seen a triangle-and-two.

How do you think this season is preparing you for Duke with you being such a focal point of opposing team's defenses?

I think it's helping me with my confidence a lot. I'm just going in to try and find my role there because there's guys there already who have adjusted to the college game. This season gives me confidence on the offensive end to know whatever my role is, I'll be able to step into it.

Duke fans are really curious what kind of role you might have at Duke--can you share what Coach K has talked with you about that?

Nothing too specific as of yet. He just wants me to focus on winning with my high school team, we'll figure it out when I get there. I really trust him and that he knows what he's doing, he's going to put me in the best spot.

What do you think of the team roster going in?

Obviously Jabari Parker is one of the best players in the country in our group. Him and Andrew Wiggins, he can do everything. That'll help us out, because he'll draw quite a bit of attention, so that'll help other guys be able to come into their own on both ends. With Matt, he's one of the best shooters in the country and with his ability to consistently knock down open jumpers, kind of like what Seth is doing now, that'll help us a lot.

We have the versatile guy and the shooter. How do your skills tie in with those?

I think it'll work really well together. I don't have as much hype around me, so I think it'll be good that I can just kinda be a nobody on the court from an attention perspective. Whenever they get attention, I can be more open.

What do you think about joining the other guys who will be returning to the Duke team next season?

Yeah, there will be a good amount of guys, like with Tyler, Marshall, who will hopefully be stepping into Mason's role, and then Alex and Amile, they'll be growing more and more. Then, with Rodney, it'll be his first time in a Duke uniform, so we'll have a lot of guys who haven't played a ton of minutes kinda like the three freshman are. We'll have things to figure out when we get there.

As a player going in--how do you work through all that roster transition?

You pretty much just do what Coach K wants or asks you to do. Then in workouts, and with conditioning, you try to become the best player you can be so that when you get into practice you can help out as much as you can. Maybe you will be on the court or maybe you won't be, it's just part of being a team.

The frontcourt will be really different with Mason and Ryan Kelly graduating--what's your thoughts on how different the team will be playing style wise?

Yeah I really think it will be different. Coach K's been saying it will be more like the teams of the 90s. Now, I'm not trying to compare us in any way to say we're better than those teams, they had a bunch of athletes, but they didn't have a ton of low post guys. They just had a bunch of athletes who could run and that's where Coach K is heading with this team. Depending on a team's size, we'll try to matchup with them as best we can, we'll just have to go from there.

How do you play into that role wise-is it a strong possibility you will be playing some frontcourt minutes?

Yeah, I think that's something that's possible, and I just want to be ready to contribute however I can. What Coach needs from me, if there's more things I can do, then that's more opportunity for me to be on the court.

Sounds like you've had some in depth conversations with Coach K….

Yeah, it's still building a relationship every time, but he tells me a lot to just focus on what's happening this year with my team. We're something like 18-0 right now, so he just wants me to concentrate on this year and then when I get to Duke, that's when things will really start there.

Is that hard to wait?

No, because he always tells me that I'll only have this one opportunity to make these memories, once they are gone, they are gone. I just need to put that aside and continue focusing in on this season.

That seems like a level headed approach. Is it the same with the post season all-star game situations?

Obviously those are a high honor, and once I heard [I didn't make the McDonald's game], it wasn't something that got me down at all. Whether I'm deserving or not, I can't control that because I don't make the selections. The way I look at it, we're having a great season right now, I'm just going to keep working hard. I just gotta keep working hard and getting better every day.

Does that serve as extra motivation, or are you just moving on?

Yeah, it's not the end all be all, and it's not a motivating factor for me as a player. When you come into high school, your motivation really is to earn a college scholarship and I've done that to a great school and program. We've achieved that goal. High School is one goal and we're about to hit another mountain of a goal in going to college, so for the 24 guys who made it to the McDonald's game, they obviously deserved it and for the rest of us, it's time to move on.

That's a pretty mature take…

My thing is nothing should be given to you in life. No one truly deserves anything, and you just have to keep working hard and if you earn it, it's a blessing, but if not, it's not meant to be. It wasn't meant to be for me, and looking back on it, I never thought I'd be going to Duke. You look back a year ago, two years ago, even 10 months ago, and nobody thought I'd be going to Duke. I'm very blessed to be where I'm at, and I just have to keep working hard to make sure I can be the best I can be.

Is it a different feeling to have signed your letter of intent as opposed to when you just had a verbal commitment?

It feels really great, it's like you almost made it a bit. All the time you put in to make it, but at the same time, it's a whole new challenge and you don't want to think you have arrived or truly made it just yet. I have to work twice as hard to prove myself on campus to truly help the team out.

From your perspective, what are you excited the most about the off the court opportunities at Duke?

It's a whole new environment, obviously. I'm moving to a new state, I'm going to be meeting new people, and it's a fresh start. High school is all good and fun and now it's time for us to move on and start something new.

How's your family feeling about the coming changes?

It's not like I'm moving overseas or something. I'll be back on breaks and they'll be able to see me on TV, and we'll stay in contact. Hopefully they'll be able to come see me play, but only if it's convenient for them. If not, I'm blessed to play for a team that plays on TV a lot.  

Every player goes to Duke with goals they want to accomplish--what are yours going in?

You play basketball hopefully to play at the highest level in the NBA. It's not the end all be all though, and if I don't make it, that's also why you go to a place like Duke, because you have that education behind you. You just take it one day at a time and get better, if that puts me in the NBA, that's great, if not, maybe I'll play overseas.

Are you going in with the mindset of you are playing all four years?

I think it just depends, so not necessarily. If I end up growing as a player faster than expected, then I might take advantage of that opportunity but if it doesn't, four years at Duke isn't a bad thing.

What are your impressions of this year's team?

I've watched quite a few games this year. Obviously the Miami game, it didn't seem like a Duke team at all. Losing Ryan was a big blow but we are still quite solid and we pulled out some close wins and pulled together as a team. Hopefully Ryan will come back soon, I know it will help us.

It's interesting to hear you say "we" and "us" in your answers--sounds like you feel like a part of the team already…

Obviously you aren't going through what they are going through right now, but I will be in a few months, so I have a strong support for them as future teammates. Soon I'll be on campus with them and will be one of them, so whatever I can do to support them now, whether it be wearing a t-shirt or watching the games, I just do what I can to support them.

How much of a relationship do you have with the guys you are coming in with?

The only guy really is Matt Jones. The class behind us, nothing is set in stone yet, so I don't know them as much. And the guys that are already there, they don't need any more distractions right now since they are in the season.

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