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Full Ojeleye: patience and persistence pay off for Semi

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The four-year forward has finally hit his stride.

Orlando Magic v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

“I work hard, I’ll say that first and foremost, and Semi, I’ll always say, Semi works harder than me,” Jaylen Brown said.

After Semi Ojeleye had one of his best games of his career scoring 20 points and shooting 3-for-6 from behind the arc in a 124-97 blowout of the Orlando Magic, the praise was well deserved. It’s been a long road for the second rounder from Southern Methodist University. Every offseason, Ojeleye’s contract was non-guaranteed and every summer since getting drafted in 2017, Danny Ainge and the Celtics have picked up their team option. Their faith in him has started to pay off.

After registering only six minutes in the first of a two-game set in Detroit, Ojeleye has come alive. During Boston’s current five-game winning streak, Semi has hit a whopping 46.2% of his threes (12-of-26). He finished last season shooting 37.8% from behind the arc on 1.8 attempts per game; in this year’s small sample size, his percentage has gone up to 42.4% with a higher volume (3.3 3FGA’s per game). He’s also rebounding at the 4 with five rebounds in 22.5 minutes per game.

“I’ve seen it for the last four seasons and I’ve seen him continue to get better,” Brown said. “I’ve seen things not go his way, I’ve seen him not play minutes, and I’ve seen him get frustrated at times, but Semi can play basketball, man.”

For three seasons, Ojeleye’s calling card has been his defense and he’s still delivering there, too. In the over nine minutes guarding Rui Hachimura, Aaron Gordon, Blake Griffin, and Pascal Siakam, he’s held those marquee players to a combined two points in his matchups against them. Semi looks to be part of the rotation going forward as he’s started to fulfill his promise as a reliable 3&D role player.

“We’re really excited for those guys, especially Semi,” Marcus Smart said of Ojeleye (and Payton Pritchard). “He doesn’t get much playing time. He doesn’t get much talked about. He doesn’t get much exposure, but that guy works his tail off every day, day in and day out. He never complains. He comes in, he’s professional and he waits his turn and when his number is called, he comes out and he applies what he’s been working on and he comes in and rises to the occasion.”

Ojeleye is in the final year of his rookie contract after being picked 37th in 2017. To put his path into context, only ten players from that draft’s second round are still playing in the NBA. His longevity is a testament to his work ethic and mindset.

“To be honest, my comfort comes from believing in Christ and him loving me. That’s freed my mind so much,” Ojeleye said about his faith and how it factors into his play. “It sounds crazy, but whether I’m in the game or out of the game, I just focus on that love and trying to show that to others whether I’m in the game or talking to guys on the bench. That’s freed my mind up so much and allowed me to play well.”