Tittrington: Ottawa’s Ojeleye impresses

With 20 years of coaching experience at his disposal entering the 2006-07 season, it’s safe to assume Ottawa High boys basketball coach David Grover knows a thing or two about evaluating talent.

So, after watching the path of progression Victor Ojeleye has enjoyed since first picking up a basketball in seventh grade, Grover didn’t mince words when sharing the high expectations he had for his 6-foot-5 forward as he embarked on his senior season.

“Great offseason,” wrote Grover in the preseason prospectus he offered up to the local media. “Poised for a breakout senior year.”

Eight simple words – or, to put it another way, one utterance for approximately every two times Ojeleye has tossed the ball into the bucket through the first six games of the 2006-07 season.

Put down your calculators, I’ll save you the math. As of Friday night’s victory over Osawatomie, Ojeleye is averaging 30.8 points per game. Throw whatever type of adjective you want before that number, because there are several that do it justice. It’s not only the top individual output in the area by a vast margin, it’s nearly on pace with what some teams are averaging as we near the one-third mark of the season.

Give Grover the opportunity to label it, and one of the first words that comes to mind is “necessary.”

With last season’s All-Area Player of the Year, guard Addison Miller, and three additional senior starters lost to graduation, Grover figured to need a handful of underclassmen to step forward if his beloved high-octane offensive attack was going to lift off this winter.

While Ottawa has enjoyed such strides to some extent – six players are averaging at least nine points per game as the Cyclones carry a 5-1 overall record and 2-0 Frontier League mark into tonight’s I-35 showdown at Wellsville – the next highest number behind Ojeleye’s is a mere 11.5 ppg, or about one-third of his output.

“It’s been huge for us,” Grover said. “We’ve lost virtually everybody else. I think he’s kind of taken it upon his shoulders to smooth the transition. There’s no question he’s really carried us.

“Here is the guy who’s the only senior on the team. There’s no doubt who the leader is. He knows he gets to shoot it as many times as he wants.”

It’s a reward for all the behind-the-scenes improvement Grover witnessed last summer and relied upon when jotting those prescient eight words in his preseason report.

While Ojeleye spent the AAU circuit playing in the shadows of Kansas University recruit Tyrel Reed and another big-name prospect, Travis Releford, as a member of the K.C. Pump ‘n’ Run, he took a back seat to no one in sharpening his skills off the court.

Tackling the weight room with the fervor usually reserved for football players, and sacrificing hours of personal time to commute to Lawrence for acceleration training workouts, Ojeleye has crafted himself into a complete player who now is drawing his own interest from college recruiters.

“I tell you, I don’t think people have any idea what kind of strides he’s made,” Grover said. “I just don’t think people that saw him have an idea of how he can get out and run the floor.

“He’s somebody out there that, say he takes a red-shirt year, five years from now, they’re going to say, ‘Where was this guy hiding?’ I just think he’s that kind of guy.”