Ojeleye's Departure Highlights Duke's Needs

The Duke Basketball Program announced on Sunday that sophomore forward Semi Ojeleye will depart the program over the holiday break. We examine the decision and look ahead.

A former five star recruit and 40 plus point per game scorer as as high school senior in Kansas, Semi Ojeleye was never quite able to find a niche in the Duke basketball program. And so, in a wholly unsurprising decision, the second year forward has decided to transfer.

“We want to thank Semi and his family for their commitment to the Duke program for the last year and a half,” said head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “He has been an excellent student and a great representative of our school and basketball program. He has been granted a full release and we definitely wish him the best.”

Ojeleye came into Duke with all the tools to be successful, but despite his numerous physical gifts and abilities, the 6-foot-8, 235 pound power forward never moved past ninth in the Blue Devil rotation this season after playing only 17 games a season ago.

As a senior at Ottawa (Kan.) High, Ojeleye chose the Blue Devils over offers from Indiana, Kansas State, Missouri, Stanford, UCLA, and Wisconsin. At the time he was poised to enter the program with the chance to play a number of roles for Duke.

“I think it's a really good thing that I'll be able to play all over and do different things,” he told TDD shortly after committing. “It'll be good because if I can guard guards and forwards, and that's a good position to be in. I'll also be able to play on both ends and help the team in a variety of ways.”


The loss of Ojeleye doesn’t change much for the current season as he didn’t factor into either of Duke’s two biggest games this season - having registered “DNP’s” against Michigan State and Wisconsin.

When Ojeleye did play, he was content to sit on the perimeter as a three point shooting forward, but didn’t factor in on the glass or defending the front court opposition. In his absence Duke will continue to rely on the quartet of Jahlil Okafor, Amile Jefferson, Marshall Plumlee, and Justise Winslow.

Beyond this season, however, the Duke roster begins to feel some of the turnover. Currently there are nine scholarship players on the roster, with two more (five star prospects Luke Kennard and Chase Jeter) signed for next season. Additionally, Sean Obi - the transfer from Rice - will be eligible as well.

But those 12 players aren’t all going to be available.

Several draft projections have the Blue Devils losing both Winslow and Okafor after the season along with senior Quinn Cook. Freshman point guard Tyus Jones is also a first round favorite, and will have a chance to be another one and done player. Assuming that Jones does stick, Duke is left with nine scholarship players breaking down as follows:

Center (3): Marshall Plumlee (Sr.); Sean Obi (So.); Chase Jeter (Fr.)

Power Forward (1): Amile Jefferson (Sr.)

Wings (5): Rasheed Sulaimon (Sr.); Matt Jones (Jr.); Grayson Allen (So.); Luke Kennard (Fr.)

Point Guard (1): Tyus Jones (So.)

While there are a number of bodies in the front court, Duke could certainly use help at the power forward position with only one, Jefferson, projected to be on the roster. And none of the wings have the size or rebounding prowess to slide over to the position as Winslow does. Similarly, none of the projected centers seem overly capable or friendly moving to the power forward position.

That’s why Duke is looking hard at players such as five star wing Brandon Ingram and five star center Caleb Swanigan. Swanigan would provide immediate high major production on the interior, while Ingram would potentially fill Ojeleye’s projected combo forward role. Currently, neither Swanigan nor Ingram is expected to make a decision before the end of the college basketball season.

Fast forward to the 2016 season and the roster thins out even further with the Blue Devils likely losing Plumlee, Jefferson, and Sulaimon to graduation, and possibly (likely) Jones to the NBA. Such departures would leave the Blue Devils with just five scholarship players to begin the 2016-2017 season.

Center (2): Sean Obi (Jr.), Chase Jeter (So.)

Power Forward (0): None

Wings (3): Matt Jones (Sr.), Grayson Allen (Jr.), Luke Kennard (So.)

Point Guard (0): None

Depending on what happens with Duke and the remaining targets in the class of 2015, the Blue Devils would have as many as eight scholarships available for the class of 2016. And, Coach Krzyzewksi’s roster would have a number of glaring needs beginning at power forward and point guard.

Accordingly, Duke is all in for the nation’s top stretch four prospect, Harry Giles and the Blue Devils have offers out to a pair of top 10 point guards in Derryck Thornton and Dennis Smith. Wing guard Tyus Battle is also high on the list with the ability to play all three backcourt positions.

Losing Ojleye may not be surprising with the amount of playing time he earned over a year and a half in Durham. But, the former five star recruit seems to have walked away from a situation that was becoming far more accommodating in terms of utilizing his skills. His departure doesn’t necessarily change the Blue Devils’ approach to the class of 2015 and 2016, but it does highlight the numerous needs in both of those groups.

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