You’d think that in the second year of a player’s career, an arena’s public address announcer would learn player pronunciations, especially when they are recognizable.
That was not the case on the first day of NBA Summer League at UNLV’s Thomas and Mack Center, as the Boston Celtics overcame the Philadelphia 76ers to open things up with a victory. But that wasn’t the story of the ordeal to fans, nor was Furkan Korkmaz’s 40-point outburst.
For nearly an hour of the game, the PA guy could not figure out how to say Semi Ojeleye’s name. It sounded like a crossover between olay and jelly for the majority of the contest.
Eventually, with some proper guidance, he triumphed and uttered its correct articulation in the second half. The audience let out a collective tongue-in-cheek ovation in response, which, at the moment, puzzled the Celtics forward.
“I heard the crowd cheering for something, but I didn’t know what it was,” Ojeyele said after the game. “But [my teammates] told me. I guess he was butchering my name. It’s a tough name to say if you don’t know it.”
And “Semi Ojeleye” is the easy part. Imagine taking a stab at “Jesusemilore Talodabijesu Ojeleye.” We might not get to the end of a quarter before then if he scores.
But luckily for Boston, year two of summer league went much more swimmingly for the 23-year-old basketball player than the man behind the microphone. Returning to Las Vegas for another stint, Ojeleye admittedly felt much more at ease than the previous go-round.
“I think it’s just slowing down for me,” Ojeleye said. “Coaches do a good job of just helping everybody be comfortable in the right positions and stuff. But you know what to expect now, you know what they expect out of you, so you play more free.
“It’s a place and city you’ve been, gyms you’ve been to. You know your coaches now, so it’s all more familiar and just more comfortable.”
Ojeleye came into the offseason looking to improve on a number of things. For example, he and his “veteran” teammates could learn the qualities of leadership by mentoring the players looking to crack into the NBA.
Along with Guerschon Yabusele, Jabari Bird and Jarell Eddie, he had advice for those seeking it.
“I think it’s just playing the right way,” Ojeleye said. “I think everybody comes into summer league trying to make an NBA roster and press people, but I think realizing that if we win, if we play the right way, then everybody’s gonna get what they need out of this.”
But for him, there was a sole area of focus on the court, one that he felt could’ve been much better in his debut season with the Celtics.
“Definitely knocking down open shots,” Ojeleye said. “Just gotta do a better job being consistent with that. Then offensively, I think making more plays.
“Last year I kinda just focused on defense and offensively just kinda let guys do what they needed to do. But I think when it comes to me, just being assertive and making a quick decision—whether that’s moving it or driving or shooting.”
In the five games he played in, Ojeleye averaged 12.4 points and 4.2 rebounds. He shot only 30 percent from three, but he did go 43 percent from the field overall. Plus, he had a game against the New York Knicks where he went 4-for-9 from deep and dropped 21 points en route to a win.
Developing a skill set is not an overnight deal. It takes time, effort and a lot of reps to make it happen and make it sustainable, at that. With that said, having a reliable team system makes a world of difference.
“That’s a big part of it,” Ojeleye said. “In college, I think you get used to the system after a couple years and it’s the same thing here. You know what we’re running, where shots are gonna come from and who your teammates are.
“It’s a great opportunity. That’s why I’m here to try to expand my game and get more comfortable so that when the season comes, I can add it to my game and try to help offensively as well.”
With summer league come and gone and the NBA season creeping towards us—slowly but surely—Ojeleye still considers himself a rookie despite the meaningful experiences.
However, once training camp begins and the whistle blows, he can officially remove that tag and get to business.
And if he makes the significant jump that he’s hoping to as a sophomore, he won’t have to listen to another mispronunciation of his name.
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