It was a day of celebration. The Ottawa High School gym Tuesday was full of students, staff, family and community members to watch Semi Ojeleye sign his letter of intent with Duke.
Ojeleye then posed for pictures with his teammates, family, fellow students and all the little folks in attendance.
For all involved, it was a special time.
“It was a great day,” Cyclone boys basketball coach Jon McKowen said. “Well deserved day for Semi and his family. Everything came together for Semi. Not being recruited by the high majors early motivated him. He gave himself the opportunity to go anywhere in the country.
“He chose Duke because it is what he stands for. High morals, basketball at the highest level, education at the highest level, you could not have asked for a better situation for a better kid.”
Semi’s older brother Victor, who played basketball the past four seasons for Kansas State University, said this was a day the family will not forget.
“One of the things that surprised me was how warm it felt,” the former OHS all-stater said. “It was very special. I am so proud of him. When you see the group of seniors up there wearing Duke shirts, it is like the whole team is going. That is what is special about it. It is a team thing ... a family thing.”
It was a moment to put OHS basketball and Ottawa in the spotlight.
“It is an amazing day for Ottawa basketball,” McKowen said. “One of our own going on to play at Duke University. To play for the guy who got to coach in the Olympics.
“I am glad he shared it with all of us. I am glad everybody got to enjoy it with him.”
Semi is ranked as high as No. 30 in the 2013 class by recruiting services. His stock kept rising through the years as did the interest of the college programs.
The Cyclone kept grounded through the process and did not let it affect him in anyway.
“He's handled it well,” Victor said. “He did it in a old-school way. He had coaches coming to the house. That helped him keep his focus on the main objective.”
Semi said Victor helped him with the recruiting process.
“Be patient,” Semi said was the best advice. “Don’t rush into anything.”
Semi committed to Duke in early September after a home visit from famed Blue Devil coach Mike Krzyzewski.
The Cyclone star said the family atmosphere is what set Duke apart from the rest of the programs.
“It is blessing and honor,” he said to attend Duke and get a top-notch education. “There is a ton of life after basketball.”
Semi made the decision without pressure from his family or close friends.
“They let me make my own decision,” Semi said. “They said they would support me wherever I decided to go. Toward the end of summer, it felt right.”
Semi was happy to get the signing out of the way and celebrate it with his hometown.
“It has been a relief,” he said. “It was great support. It shows how much people care. It was pretty hectic after I committed.”
He takes being a role model for the youngsters seriously. He makes sure all of them are at ease when he poses for pictures and signs autographs after games and during Tuesday’s ceremony.
“It reminds you how blessed you are,” he said. “I take my time [with the kids] and not rush. I stay humble. It comes from God.”
Senior point guard Dallas Natt said how Semi handles the attention is amazing.
“That is what makes him a better basketball player,” Natt said. “Seeing how the kids do look up to him, he takes that to a whole another level. When the kids come up to you and act like you are Superman, he knows how to handle this type of situation.
“I know a lot of kids that will play basketball because of him.”
Natt said the support of the school and town means a lot to all the players.
“Seeing that much support makes you want to play 10 times harder not just for yourself, teammates, but for Ottawa as a community,” Natt said. “It is a privilege to play with such a good basketball player. He plays every game like its his last game. It is great to have such a great teammate.”
Natt said Semi makes his teammates better players and people by his leadership and humbleness.
“None of us go out there and gloat because our of our star player,” Natt said. “Our star player is not gloating. He is a humble guy.”
Semi has a chance to become the state’s all-time career scoring leader. He amassed 1,811 points through his junior season and needs 744 points to eclipse the mark of 2,554 set by Brewster’s Josh Reid (1993-96).
He needs to average 28.6 points a game if Ottawa can advance to the state championship or consolation game or 32.3 points if Ottawa plays in the sub-state championship game to eclipse the record.
“He can score the ball,” Natt said. “I just have to give the man the ball. It is awesome. I love playing with him.”
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