Michael Ojo: Mountain Of A Man With A Huge Heart
Graduation is rapidly approaching for Michael Ojo.
When the day comes, Michael will leave Florida State with undergraduate and master's degrees in International Affairs and numerous accomplishments on the basketball court and in the classroom. Those honors included winning the prestigious Golden Torch Award for men's basketball – recognizing the top academic performer in each of Florida State University's 22 sports -- in both 2013 and 2016.
While this is a story about a basketball player with a 7-foot-8 inch wing span, long enough to almost touch the rim standing flat-footed, it is really a story about a guy with a contagious smile and a heart larger than his size 22 shoes.
In addition to the Golden Torch Academic Award, Ojo has cabinet full of awards earned by a selfless individual:
Unsung Hero Award by the Seminoles' coaching staff in 2013
Mr. Hustle and Tip Of the Spear Awards in 2014
Academic Achievement and Charlie Ward Outstanding Defensive
Player Awards in 2015
Perennial ACC Academic Awards
Michael, or “Ojo” as he's known on campus, didn't pick up a basketball until he was 16.
“Someone told me basketball could do something great for me in the future,” Ojo recalls of a fateful day in Lagos, Nigeria. “It was funny the first time I picked up the basketball all I wanted to do was kick it. We were so used to soccer. Anytime you see anything round back home you want to kick it and play soccer.”
Luckily for Florida State he listened, picked up the ball and shot it towards the basket which led to his athletic transition to basketball.
In 2011 Ojo moved to the United States to play ball at Tennessee Temple High School in Chattanooga, Tenn., in hopes of developing his career.
That is where Ojo and Seminole head basketball Coach Hamilton first met.
“Back in my prep school we didn't get a lot of visits from big collegiate coaches, so when Coach Hamilton showed up I had no idea who he was.” Ojo said. “I was new to America and collegiate sports so I was like what's going on? Why are all the guys so nervous?”
Ojo earned Fellowship of Christian Athletes All American honors, averaging 15 points and 15 rebounds per game in 2012. He earned scholarship offers from Florida State, Vanderbilt and UT Chattanooga.
Making the move to Florida State was an easy decision.
Ojo fell right in step as a student-athlete. He was inserted into the starting line-up during his freshman season and earned his first start against Miami.
Each season he improved his game, became more consistent and most notably became a leader.
“Michael has a great personality and has become one of the true leaders on our team during his career,” said Hamilton.
Having just completed his fifth and final season as a Seminole, the bond he developed with his teammates is something Ojo will cherish long after he is gone from Florida State.
“The guys like to hang out and do things outside of basketball,” the 7-foot-1, 301-pound center said. “It's a good thing. We talk about home, where we are from and our families and what we have planned for the future. I am kind of like the grandpa of the team. My teammates … they're knuckleheads but you know I love them and our team bonding and chemistry has been great this year.”
“We had a great season and played in the NCAA Tournament,” said Ojo. “After I graduate, then we will see what my options are for playing basketball at the next level. That will be the first goal.”
Reflecting back on his time at Florida State, Ojo may not quite be ready to leave the place he has called home for the past five years.
“No doubt basketball and Florida State has changed my life” said Ojo. “I had the chance to come to America, and get not just an undergraduate degree, but a masters degree, too. Plus, all of the people I have met throughout my journey and my career. Yes, it has definitely changed my life.”
Ojo is extremely thankful for his scholarship which allowed him to earn two degrees and play at the highest level of college basketball.
“I would love to ask the person who made my scholarship possible to sit down for a glass of Kool-Aid just to thank them,” said Ojo. “It is hard being a student, for me especially. There's no way that I could have paid for my tuition to Florida State for one year let alone being able to get a masters. I will forever be grateful to them. It's incredible for all of the students but really (special for) the international kids to have a scholarship to play at Florida State. Not only do we get an education, but it teaches us to become a better citizen, a better friend and a better dad in the future.”
Ojo's favorite FSU memory (and there are a lot of them) came this past season when the “old school” players came back for a basketball reunion and watched the current team play.
“Hearing all the different stories from players like Charlie Ward, Dave Cowens, Ron King and Mr. Strom and having them give us advice was awesome.,” said Ojo. “Those are the kind of moments that you live for as a young player. They left their legacy 10 or 20 years ago and they came back to see their FSU family and hang out with us. I am going to try my best to do the same.”
When asked if he could give one piece of advice to the freshman version of himself, he replied with a smile: “Don't wait until your senior year to start making free-throws.”
Ojo led the Seminoles with an 8o percent free throw mark this season – quite an improvement over his first three season when he made just 40 percent (41 of 102) of his attempts from the charity stripe.
“Michael is a very bright, very intelligent student-athlete who is one of the best young people I have had the opportunity to coach during my career,” said Leonard Hamilton, who has a long history for recruiting players with character and who take their education seriously. “One thing that stands out about Michael is that he is a very humble young man. I believe Michael could run for student body president and get most, if not all, of the votes. He cares deeply for everybody and has big goals for himself.”
By the time you read this, the nets will have been cut and a national basketball champion will have been declared.
Michael Ojo's academic and collegiate basketball career will be in the books and he will move on to the next big goal, taking with him the memories of an enormous Seminole family who were drawn to his charismatic smile and embraced by the strength of his character.
Ojo will always be a member of the Seminole family.
By Caroline Conway