Semi Ojeleye is enjoying success these past few weeks after carving out a rotation spot for the Boston Celtics. The injury-depleted team is in the midst of making a somewhat surprising run in the NBA playoffs as the second-year forward has played a healthy amount during the first two series.
But before finding his way into the NBA, Ojeleye had to navigate a difficult start to his college basketball career that included a transfer out of Duke to SMU. In a story from Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald, Ojeleye’s parents detailed some difficult times dealing with Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski and his coaching staff as the family exited the program.
At one point, during a tense meeting involving Ojeleye’s mother, Joy, and brother, Victor, Coach K allegedly yelled and Ojeleye’s mother was brought to tears when she asked about additional playing time. Ernest Ojeleye, Semi’s father, also said that Duke assistant coach Nate James called him after the transfer and had negative things to say about his son.
“First he said the only way Semi was going to play at Duke was if someone else got hurt,” said Ernest. “Then he said Semi didn’t work on his game, or do what they told him to do. He didn’t ask the coaches what he had to do to get better.
“I said no, this person you are talking about is not my child,” said Ernest. “I was really hot about this, but then I told him, ‘Thanks for the privilege.’ But it was really annoying for them to try and destroy my son’s character. Very wicked, actually.”
Ojeleye eventually transferred in the middle of his sophomore season during 2014-15. He ended up at SMU, where he became the AAC Conference Player of the Year before becoming a second round pick of the Celtics in the 2017 NBA Draft.
While the negative aspect of the Duke relationship is the interesting part here, Ojeleye and his family also said being at Duke is part of the reason why Semi is in the NBA today. The Duke team that Ojeleye left in the middle of 2014-15 went on to win a national championship as star freshmen like Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, Jahlil Okafor and Grayson Allen all figured out a way to make a run. Ojeleye was also able to find his own way to the NBA once he received ample playing time to showcase his talent at SMU.
Duke responded to Murphy’s story with a statement wishing Ojeleye and his family the best, while also mentioning the emotional dealings of a transfer scenario.
This doesn’t look great for Coach K and Duke’s coaching staff. There are also parents from programs all over the country saying similar things after bad experiences at certain schools. Plenty of parents have also said positive things about Duke, and they’ve been a recruiting juggernaut over the past decade. So stories like this clearly haven’t hurt the Blue Devils too much and Ojeleye is playing for a team making a postseason run.