Outside Shots with Mike Ojo: From the Operating Table to the Hardwood
Last time on “Outside Shots,” Mike Ojo’s bad day at the Drew League turned worse when he suffered a toe injury on the court. This week, he recounts the harrowing process of coming back from surgery and restarting his basketball career.
It's crazy how life works—the twists and turns, its ups and downs. I’m having a Reverend Run moment as I’m typing up this entry from a warm bath in Italy. While that might seem like a flex, it’s actually the furthest thing from it. I just really didn’t know if I’d get here, personal belief aside.
In the immediate moments after hearing that I was going to need surgery on the plantar plate I’d ruptured in the Drew League, I shut down. Who wouldn’t? As an athlete, you never think it’s going to be you. Missing a few weeks isn’t a big deal, but when you’re told you aren’t going to be able to do what you love for months, reality hits you a little bit differently.
The timing of it all sucked. I was out of contract, my birthday was right around the corner and I thought I was poised to have a huge summer. But plans change, right?
Surgery was scheduled for July 2. I was terrified. Fortunately, I had some amazing connections in place that helped me get through it all. (Major shout-out to Dr. Kenneth Park and Brittany Hoff. No words to describe the amount of appreciation I have for you two.)
I was terrified. As I laid on the gurney, the anesthesiologist began to count me down. Three, two, one. Silence...
A few hours later, I opened my eyes and I felt great. I remember saying, “This is what surgery is like? I feel like I’m ready to get right back to work.”
The doctors and medical staff were laughing and telling me to slow down. Hindsight, of course, I felt great because I was high on the best pain medications.
Mike Ojo recovering after surgery. (Courtesy of Mike Ojo)
As soon as that high wore off, a ton of pain followed. The first two weeks were the hardest. I wasn’t allowed to bear weight at all. Walking is definitely something you take for granted until you can’t do it. Let’s not even start on going up and down stairs. I was hopping everywhere.
The pain was immense. I opted out of taking the painkillers I had been prescribed because they made me feel worse. The room would start spinning, sleep was impossible and my appetite was gone. I really felt like a kid on punishment. Shit had hit the fan, but it was going to do nothing but show me who I really was.
The light at the end of the tunnel was being able to put weight on my foot. At that point, I knew I’d at least be able to go back to the gym. Sounds crazy, I know, but you’d be surprised at how much stuff you can still work on while just standing still. As soon as I was cleared to get back into my boot, I vowed to work on ball-handling and my touch. It definitely worked.
My target date for “structural clearance” was October. I aimed to try and remain as sharp as possible, so I could get right back to it. November seemed like a reasonable month for me to be back at full strength. Somehow, offers were still rolling in—and from some strong European leagues, no less—but naturally, I couldn’t accept them.
After months of picking up marbles and coins with my toes, form shooting, stationary ball-handling and eventually normal ball-handling drills, I was finally cleared to run and jump.
I was laughably terrified to do so. The mental recovery from an injury is always harder than the physical. Regaining that confidence is tough. Having your body fail you leaves you, at least initially, with a tiny bit of doubt as to if it will ever be the same. But the second you do get it back, it’s back. You have to trust the process. Winter was coming and I was right on schedule to be 100 percent.
But offers stopped coming in. What they don’t tell you is that once you get hurt, or sign late in some instances, you have to prove yourself all over again. Just like that, three years of momentum had evaporated.
At the time, I wasn’t mature enough to be patient. I assumed the reason offers weren’t coming in was because of my agent. Come December 2014, I was still out of contract. I got antsy. I let my agent go and essentially threw myself to the wolves. Any agent is easy to find, but a good agent is really hard to find.
After signing with another agent, I was back on the road by January. Sweden, here we come…