Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens describes forward Semi Ojeleye as being very reliable. That’s why he turned to Ojeleye on Thursday night to fill in as a starter, marking only his second start of the season, and 11th of his four-year NBA career.
Ojeleye took full advantage of the opportunity. He led his team in scoring with a career-high 24 points, a result of hitting six 3-pointers. In the 120-106 Boston win over Toronto, Ojeleye played a season-high 30 minutes, and was extremely efficient with that time — 8-of-12 shooting from the field (66.7 percent), 6-of-8 from 3-point range (75 percent), and 2-for-2 from the free-throw line.
Teammate Payton Pritchard also hit six 3-pointers, making Ojeleye and Pritchard the first pair of Celtics teammates to ever make at least six 3-pointers in the same game.
“I really try to focus on the process of shooting and not necessarily the result,” Ojeleye told the media after the game. “When you get caught up in makes and misses, you ride that up and down. But this year I just try to focus on shooting the ball the right way, and God takes care of the rest.”
“Semi, he was great,” teammate Kemba Walker told the media Thursday night. “He was great, man. He made his shots. Defensively he was great. We’re all really confident in Semi. He works so hard. I’m always talking to him and tell him, ‘Shoot those shots.’ Tonight, he shot it with confidence, and we just kept finding him.”
It was a night Ojeleye won’t soon forget, and a performance that could lead to more playing time. He currently sits ninth on the team in minutes played, averaging 18.4 a game for the 13-11 Celtics.
Ojeleye, who played two years of college ball at Duke before transferring to Southern Methodist University, would of course welcome an increase in minutes. Since being drafted in the second round (37th overall) of the 2017 NBA Draft, he’s averaged 14.4 minutes and 3.4 points a game. But Ojeleye says the game of basketball, or how he performs, will never define him.
“Basketball is a roller coaster,” he wrote last month for The Increase. “My own playing time has been up and down, and that’s hard to deal with. But when I look around and see my teammates feeling great when they do well on the court, and then get down on themselves when they don’t, I know that’s when trouble starts. I try to encourage my teammates to get outside of themselves. One game or a stretch of games doesn’t define us. Instead, it may open up conversations of eternal value — conversations about Jesus Christ.”
In his Twitter bio, Ojeleye states, “Lord, give me the grace to be the man of God that You created me to be,” and lists Mark 11:22, which says, “‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered.” His pinned tweet says, “When you ask God for His will to be done, you have to be willing to accept any outcome that He sees fit. So I’m going to give Him thanks.”
On Instagram, Ojeleye’s bio reads, “Whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me.” He then lists 1 Corinthians 15:10, which says, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”
Born and raised in Kansas — where he starred at Ottawa High School (one hour southwest of Kansas City) and was named Parade Magazine’s National Player of the Year in 2013 — Ojeleye’s full name is Jesusemilore Talodabijesu Ojeleye. His parents emigrated from Nigeria to Kansas, as his father, Ernest, came to the U.S. for a residency at the University of Kansas medical center. His mother, Joy, is a registered nurse, and his older brother, Victory, played basketball at Kansas State from 2008-11
Ojeleye joined the Sports Spectrum Podcast in September 2019 and discussed adjusting to the NBA, where his faith in Christ took root, and living out his walk with God as an NBA player.