Outside Shots with Mike Ojo: Sophomore Spikes and Doses of Reality

Last week on “Outside Shots,” Mike Ojo experienced the good and bad of his first summer as a professional basketball player. This week, in his own words, he shares his personal growth in the face of professional realities during his second season in England.

Year Two, in 2012-13, was a lot—so much so that we’ve got to break this up.

I returned to Plymouth with the chip of all chips on my shoulder and the promise of a starting spot, with a major increase in minutes. That promise brought expectations, and I had no intention of disappointing.  

There’s something to be said about the benefits of being comfortable. I was familiar with the city. The coach and I had family with me. This year was going to be different. I was going to leave my mark.

Training camp was a breeze. I came ready to work.

As for our team, we had a better group of characters—a solid mix of youth and experience.

Jeremy Bell, a former MVP of the British Basketball League. Anthony Rowe, a workhorse and hometown hero who was recovering from knee surgery. Colin O'Reilly, a stat-stuffing, silver-haired Irishman. Drew Lasker, an athletic, poised leader. Matt Schneck, a walking double-double. And Javaris Barnett, a rookie.

We went 3-0 in the preseason. Over those three games, I averaged 22 points—an eight-point increase from the previous year and a sign of things to come.

That summer work was paying off. I fit in excellently beside Jeremy who dropped 38 points in our final preseason game.

We gelled quickly as a team. We were an extremely unselfish group that prioritized putting the team first. Outside of the occasional spat in practice, we all got along. Whatever disagreements we had drew us closer together.

Mike Ojo Plymouth Raiders dunk

Mike Ojo flies in for a dunk during his second pro season. (Courtesy of Mike Ojo)

We started the regular season at 3-0, with a different leading scorer in each game. Over our first nine games, I averaged 20 points, four rebounds and two assists. We were 6-3, with zero actual complaints on my end. We were playing well. Most importantly, we were winning.

Management, however, felt differently.

Anthony had yet to recover fully from his knee injury. Logic would say that everyone doesn’t recover at the same speed. But the decision makers had a different mentality.

When you’re hot, everyone loves you. But once adversity hit, you become that ugly stepchild.

Unfortunately, that was Anthony’s fate. He was the emotional leader of our team, and a more than capable player. He just needed a little longer to recover. He was back to playing, but wasn’t quite at his peak yet.

Instead of giving Anthony time, management forced him out. Who would want to play for less than they deserve when back at full health?

I remember thinking, I hope I don’t get hurt because if this is how they did him what would they do to me?

Cold world, right?

(Anthony would go on to sign with rival Leicester and make an immediate impact, averaging over 18 points in his first five appearances.)

We dropped two out of our first three games in December—a month cherished by all overseas players. You could already smell the home-cooked meals and pine needles, and imagine the gifts under the Christmas tree back home.

I was torn with how our month started as a team, but I was still frying. That month, I was averaging 22 points and four rebounds while shooting almost 50 percent, both from the field and from three. You couldn’t tell me anything.

Mike Ojo Plymouth Raiders

Mike prepares for a game. (Courtesy of Mike Ojo)

I was on a roll, and Anthony and Leicester were in our crosshairs. We sat behind them in the BBL standings (they were 12-2, we were 9-5).

Anthony’s addition completed their team. Leicester was a well-coached defensive juggernaut and gave us all we could handle. I played horribly, in my opinion (12 points on 4-of-11 shooting with four rebounds and three assists).

But Jeremy and Drew, my backcourt mates, saved the day. We stole a win at home, despite Anthony killing us for 15 points and eight rebounds off the bench. The crowd, which was disappointed in management’s decision to let him go, gave him a standing ovation. How stupid could the front office be?

Little did I know, more change was coming.
  
Jeremy had to head home early for Christmas break due to a family emergency. We still had a game to play: at the Mersey Tigers in Liverpool.

This was the definition of a trap game. They were the worst team in the league, and we were starting to relax and start think about Christmas break, as any human would.

Jeremy’s absence meant more shots for the rest of us. I took the challenge.

As I laced up my red Jordan 11’s, I thought, Let’s really have some fun tonight. I was loose but locked in. As I went through my pre-game routine—The Weeknd’s “The Zone” blasting in my headphones—I felt like I couldn’t miss.

I won't see a damn thing, I can't feel a damn thing!

Matt won the opening tip and passed it to Javaris, who skipped through the lane, sucked in the defense and kicked it to me on the wing. Splash.

I blinked, and it was halftime. We were up big, 58-29. I practically blacked out.

I checked the stat sheet and saw I had 27 points on 9-of-12 shooting.

Damn, I thought, I want 40.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the night for that. I got pulled before I scored 40. Still, we won by 38, and I finished with 34 points on 12-of-17 shooting, 5-of-8 from three and 5-of-5 from the free-throw line.

All that hard work was paying off. But soon, the elbow of a 6’9” Lithuanian would bring everything to a screeching halt…

 

Follow Mike Ojo on Twitter and Instagram.