When the casual NBA fan talks about the Celtics and their promising future, they would probably bring up Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the 20 and 21-year-old kids that are emerging as two of the league’s top young players. Perhaps a more devoted fan would recognize Terry Rozier and add him into the talk of young talent, but it would take a committed Celtics fan to realize what kind of potential the 6’7″, 235-pound Semi (pronounced Shem-ee) Ojeleye possesses. There’s a reason they call him the Incredible Hulk; the guy is a behemoth of a human being.
Ojeleye began his college career playing at Duke under tenured coach Mike Krzyzewski. His freshman year, Semi only averaged 4.7 minutes per game, turning that into averages of 1.6 points and 0.9 rebounds. He played six games in his sophomore year, playing just 10.5 minutes per game before he transferred to Southern Methodist University. At SMU, Ojeleye received a well deserved 34.1 minutes per game under coach Larry Brown. With his increased minutes, Ojeleye stats skyrocketed. He averaged an impressive 19.0 points shooting 49% from the field, 7.0 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game in the 2016-2017 season, along with earning the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year.
Following his impressive showing at SMU, Ojeleye declared for the NBA Draft. Early mock drafts had Ojeleye being selected anywhere from the 30th pick to as far down as the 46th pick. He ended up being selected 37th (his current number) by the Boston Celtics. Most casual fans typically only care about the lottery picks of a team, but history has shown that there can be talent at any pick of the draft – just look at Isaiah Thomas, the last pick of the draft! To be honest, even I – a self-proclaimed Celtics fanatic – didn’t know much about Ojeleye when I heard his name called on Draft night, but following some research, I quickly realized that the Celtics possibly walked away with a huge steal.
Ojeleye’s summer league stats were nothing to write home about, but they were certainly not disappointing considering he was playing behind the 3rd pick of the 2016 and 2017 Drafts in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. He averaged 8.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.1 assists in 25 minutes of playing time. But it’s not all about the stats with Ojeleye; he has valuable intangibles that stat geeks might never see. First of all, his size and quickness allow him to guard positions 2-4 on the court. He has the foot speed to stay with 2s on the perimeter and contest shots and has the strength to bang with the big boys down low. Ojeleye is also a great leaper in space, especially off two feet. This could allow him to rip down rebounds in a Celtics system where the bigs box out, and the other three players crash the glass and grab the rebounds. He also displays excellent effort on defense which coach Brad Stevens loves. He closes out hard on shooters but stays down, and he works to contests every shot that goes up. Ojeleye could be compared to Draymond Green in a way. Not yet talent-wise or heart-wise (Draymond plays with an amount of heart that rarely matched in the league), but in the sense that he is such a versatile player. He has a decent handle that will only improve, and he is an incredibly adaptable player who can guard different positions and do all sorts of things on offense. These are things that cannot be taught in basketball.
So far in the 2017-2018 season, Ojeleye has not caused an uproar as he is only averaging 2.7 points in 14 minutes per game. But as aforementioned, Ojeleye contributes on the defensive end where the Celtics have been so successful this year, and on the boards, which the Celtics have vastly improved since last season. If you have yet to do so, familiarize yourself with Ojeleye by watching some YouTube clips and doing some of your own research. Ojeleye’s game will continue to develop into a more all-around game rather than the 3-and-D guy that he is now, and hopefully, the Celtics will be able to hold on to this guy for a while.