There may not be many finer athletes in all of college basketball than Duke forward Semi Ojeleye. The Kansas native is an explosive leaper, lightning-fast on the break and boasts a 6'7", 230-pound frame that's already NBA-ready.
Now, if only he could find some game action to prove all of this.
The forgotten man in Duke's Jabari Parker-led 2013 recruiting class, Ojeleye seemingly struggled with the transition from small-town Kansas basketball to the ACC. He played all of 80 minutes as a freshman, a total barely worth burning one's redshirt over.
In those minutes, Ojeleye was nothing if not efficient. Nearly all of his tempo-free numbers, as compiled by Sports-Reference.com, would have ranked near the team lead had he played substantial time.
Before he'd even played a game as a Blue Devil, Ojeleye was giving breathtaking displays of his natural gifts for the benefit of those involved in social media.
Duke's official Instagram account showed off the results of his standing vertical jump test: 13 feet, aka the top of the backboard. Teammate Marshall Plumlee posted a video of Ojeleye defeating him in a 400-pound tire push. And then there's this:
Almost needed to call Durham FD after @semiojeleye knocked down 16 straight 3's in the workout today. Nets were burning.— Duke Basketball (@dukeblueplanet) April 18, 2014
Athletically, Ojeleye has everything going for him. If his skills are the issue, is he any closer to cracking the Blue Devils' rotation in 2014-15?
As a matter of fact, yes. And moreover, where last season's elite recruit was his largest obstacle, this year's top dog may just be his salvation.
(Not So) Great Expectations
Ojeleye's got the strength of a power forward in a small forward's body. Those happen to be the positions that were ably manned last season by eventual first-round picks Parker and Rodney Hood. Therefore, minutes were always going to be hard to come by.
With scorers like Parker, Hood, Rasheed Sulaimon and Andre Dawkins on last year's roster, coach Mike Krzyzewski wasn't hurting for offensive weapons. On the other end, however, Ojeleye could have been an asset.
When Duke's defense was struggling to contain dribble penetration and surrendering a succession of layups—Vermont's 75.6-percent two-point shooting should have been an omen—Ojeleye's outstanding vertical could have made him the closest thing Duke had to a shot-alterer, if not an outright swatter.
This season, Duke will have a classic low-post big man, albeit one who's not a tremendous defensive presence.
Jahlil Okafor is one of the more polished interior scorers to come through Durham since the turn of this century, but he won't be a dangerous shot-blocking force. Ojeleye can earn some minutes by becoming the help-side shot-blocking threat that junior Amile Jefferson isn't.
On offense, Coach K will be in search of an additional shooter following the departures of Parker, Hood and Dawkins. Incoming wing Justise Winslow and point guard Tyus Jones aren't supremely consistent perimeter threats. Filling that role can also earn Ojeleye a longer look from the coaches, especially if Coach K wants to spread the floor with four shooting threats surrounding Okafor.
Overall, Okafor's game dovetails with Ojeleye's much better than Parker's ever did. But what about Winslow's?
The battle on the wing between Winslow and Ojeleye could be just as interesting as the point guard competition between Jones and senior Quinn Cook.
Winslow is renowned as a skilled and willing defender, the kind of player Duke lacked much of last season. Ojeleye was extremely efficient on offense during his brief cameos, leading us to speculate that he may not have grasped the defensive end quickly enough to appease the coaching staff.
Offensively, Winslow offers occasional glimpses of perimeter potency, but he's largely a slasher who'll get his points by attacking the rim and winning run-outs.
Occasional glimpses of anything are all Ojeleye provided last year, but one thing that should translate is his solid work from the foul line—he made 10 of 11 on the season. In the half-court offense, however, he needs to prove himself as more than a catch-and-shoot specialist.
Get In Where You Fit In
So what position works best for Ojeleye? Can he start?
The answer to the latter question is "probably not." At least, not unless he handily outplays Winslow on the offensive end. Coming into college, Ojeleye's handle was considered one of his primary weaknesses. DraftExpress used the phrase "no left hand." That must improve if he's going to beat out Winslow, one of 247 Sports' top 15 prospects in the entire class of 2014.
With his length, strength and verticality, Ojeleye could also see minutes at power forward if Jefferson finds himself in foul trouble. While he's not Jefferson's equal on the glass—pound for pound, few in the ACC can claim to be—he's likely to be a more aggressive scorer and defender.
Ojeleye's freshman year was kind of a throwback, scratching the itch for those purists nostalgic for the days when freshmen showed up and learned from the veterans for at least a year. Despite being No. 26 on the 247 Sports Composite himself, he obviously had a lot to learn.
From being the 11th man on the Duke roster, look for Ojeleye to make a jump to seventh or eighth, depending on how much work Coach K needs from reserve center Marshall Plumlee. It's still not a starting spot, but Ojeleye can play a very useful Swiss Army knife role off the bench.
After all, he should have some time. 247 Duke insider Andrew Slater quoted veteran scout Tom Konchalski: "(Ojeleye) seems like a guy that will be the kind of kid who is looking to stay for four years." The valedictorian of his high school class, Ojeleye isn't a guy who pays lip service to his education, so if he has to wait until next year to win a starting role, don't expect him to sweat over it.
He'll simply go on posterizing teammates in practice and making his big men look like wimps in front of tractor tires. That's all.
And hopefully he stops clocking his face on the backboard.
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