You may have seen former SMU guard and current Boston Celtic rookie Semi Ojeleye more than hold his own as a rookie against Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. You may have even seen him thrive as a 3-and-D player in the regular season off the bench, or as a 19-point per game scorer as a junior for the Mustangs of SMU last year.
Before the success at SMU and in the NBA for the Celtics, however, was an ugly breakup with the Duke program and head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Jesusemilore Talodabijesu Ojeleye (my new favorite name, by the way) signed with the Blue Devils in 2013 as a four-star small forward out of Kansas. He also held offers from Indiana, Oregon, and Stanford, but decided the opportunity to play at a legendary school like Duke was too good to pass up.
After two years with the program, Ojeleye decided to transfer, as the Coach K he saw on television and as a smooth recruiter wasn’t the same guy he saw behind the scenes. In fact, one meeting with Ojeleye’s family left his mother on her knees in tears.
When the former Duke forward and his family set up a meeting with Krzyzewski about a potential transfer, the Duke head coach reportedly shouted at the player’s mother and made her cry.
Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald sat down with Joy Ojeleye for the story.
According to Joy, a very different Coach K met them in his office. She said the coach ignited when asked about Semi’s prospects and jumped out of his chair. A terrified Joy knelt in front of the enraged coach.
“He shouted at me. He said, ‘Am I lying, Am I lying?’ Just like that,” she said. “My oldest son said, ‘Coach, she didn’t say you were lying, she was only asking a question.’
“I had tears streaming down my cheeks, and I said, ‘Coach, you’re way up there and I’m down here. That’s why I kneeled down and said forgive me. I didn’t say you were lying. I would never say that.’ Victor (Ojeleye’s brother), for the first time, he felt so humiliated, so bad and ashamed I was treated like that. It’s OK. I just didn’t want him to feel like I was being rude to him. I just wanted to ask the question. Is there anything my son needs to do and achieve the privilege to play? Because if you never play, nobody sees your talent. And he tells me he does everything you tell him to do, so if you’re working hard behind the scenes, please, even if it’s five minutes, let him play.”
The year before, Ojeleye met with Coach K about playing time concerns, and the Duke coach reached out to his mother to tell her he was going to “break out,” promising playing time during his sophomore season.
“He said your son is an amazing person,” said Joy. “On the court and off the court. He’s going to play. Don’t worry. He’ll be fine. He even texted me and said Semi is going to do great, he’s going to break out. That helps me believe what my son told me, because he said I believe him.”
He averaged just three points in ten minutes per contest that season.
Just two weeks after the outburst, Semi Ojeleye withdrew from the program and decided to transfer to Southern Methodist for his junior year. There, he averaged 19 points (42-percent from three), seven rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game en route to AAC Player of the Year honors.
When asked about the final meeting with Coach K, Ojeleye deflected.
“That’s in the past — doesn’t matter, don’t want to get into that,” he said.
For more of Ojeleye’s time at Duke and his tough journey to the NBA, take a look at the Boston Herald article here.