At NBA draft combine, SMU’s Semi Ojeleye seems set on pursuing pro path

By MATT SCHOCH Special to The Star

Semi Ojeleye nailed some of the most important interviews of his life this week in Chicago.

The Ottawa, Kan., native starred for Southern Methodist as a junior, and then shined during the interview process with NBA teams at the Quest Multisport Complex.

“Multiple teams, when I asked them who is a player that really stood out as having just an intelligent and thoughtful interview, his name came up with every team that interviewed him,” draft expert Chad Ford told The Star. “As a human being, as well as his basketball intelligence, teams are trying to assess not only breaking down film, as well as trying to assess who you are as a person. He seems to be coming out on the All-Interview Team. It’s a big thing.

“The truth is that interviews and medicals matter more here than what’s actually happening on the court.”

Along with comments he made this week, it’s all pretty much bad news for SMU fans hoping Ojeleye returns for his senior season.

Ojeleye all but assured reporters that he was NBA-bound, despite having until May 24 to decide to return to SMU for his senior season.

“I am, technically,” Ojeleye said, when asked about being on the fence. “But in my mind, I need to go for it and have faith that’s going to work out. If you’re halfway in and halfway out, it’s going to show mentally. It’s going to show in your play.”

Ojeleye definitely went all out in testing this week, charting as one of the top athletes in Chicago.

Ojeleye’s 40.5-inch vertical leap tied for tied for fifth among the 55 players tested. He tied for eighth in a sprinting drill, and was third in a lane agility sprint.

Ojeleye scored 12 points in 5-on-5 drills on Thursday and then had 10 points and four steals on Friday, as his team won both games.

At 6-foot-6  3/4, he’ll have to guard bigger players in the league, or take on more skilled players on the wing.

He showed in Chicago, at times, that he can do both.

“I don’t know that he’s necessarily been a huge standout performer in the 5-on-5, he’s certainly played well enough, and hasn’t hurt himself,” Ford said. “He’s really unique in this respect because in a lot of way his game is a great fit in the modern NBA. You want very versatile forward that can defend multiple positions, can score inside and out, have some play-making abilities, and he certainly has the body of an NBA player, all the way.”

Ford said his age and questions about his college path could hurt him.

After helping Ottawa to four straight state championship games and becoming the all-time leading scorer in Kansas high school history, Ojeleye went to Duke but floundered for a season-and-a-half before Larry Brown brought him to SMU.

After sitting out one season, Ojeleye excelled at SMU, becoming the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year.

Still, at 22, he’s at a disadvantage against younger prospects.

“There’s a lot of players that thrive at Duke their freshman year. Why didn’t he thrive? What was going on? What didn’t he learn?” Ford said. “Then you have to try to figure out that because it is a little bit like apples and oranges, comparing 18 year-olds to 22 year-olds.”

Ford said he would advise Ojeleye to stay in the draft.

“A number of teams are looking at him in the 20s. If he doesn’t go in the 20s, he’s probably one of the five or six guys off the board when the second round hits,” Ford said. “As far as draft stock goes, he’s at the top of the mountain right now. If that’s what’s important to him, then he should probably come out.”

Mykhailiuk leaves combine as Mason stars

Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas withdrew from the combine for the second day after spraining his ankle during a scrimmage on Thursday.

Mykhailiuk said he would probably stay in the draft if he thinks he will get selected on June 22.

He has until May 24 to make a final decision.

Meanwhile, former Kansas star Frank Mason had a strong second day of the combine, scoring a team-high 21 points off the bench in his team’s 5-on-5 scrimmage loss. He added three rebounds and two assists in 21 minutes and turned the ball over three times.

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