Mailbag: Lots of love for Victor Ojeleye

Shortly after writing this feature about Victor Ojeleye last week, my inbox was flooded with e-mails from people who have met the Kansas State junior walk-on. They all wanted to let me know he was deserving of recognition, and reiterate just how caring both he and his family have been over the years.

Here’s one from a reader named Wendy: “I thoroughly enjoyed your article on Victor Ojeleye! I remember watching him play high school basketball and seeing what a great athlete he was. Not only that, he was an awesome student and had great character. It’s nice to see him recognized for those qualities at his current college level. He deserves it!

Here’s another from a reader named Clint: “I don’t know what triggered your article on Victor Ojeleye, but I want to say, ‘Thank you.’ I’ve known him since he got to the U.S. I knew his dad for the four years he worked to get the family here from Nigeria (an incredible story if you’ve never heard it). I can tell you firsthand that their family is the real deal. You will not find more genuine people anywhere.”

The second e-mailer was right. The Ojeleye family does have a pretty neat story. Victor’s father, Ernest, currently runs a medical practice in Ottawa. Victor’s mother, Joy, regularly volunteers in the community. And Victor’s brother, Semi, is one of the top high school basketball players in the area. K-State is already showing interest in him.

But before they built their lives in America, they had to move here from Nigeria. Not an easy process. Victor Ojeleye filled me in on that back story earlier this week.

“My father immigrated here when I was about 3 years old, and he came to study in medical school,” he said. “He didn’t have the power to bring us over, me and my mom, with him. So they used to have a Visa Program, so he came here and started to study medicine. He had the opportunity to continue and to build something for himself, and then after a while we were also given an opportunity to move here to the states. We came from small beginnings. That teaches you about family and what is possible. I think it’s really special.

“I got here when I was 4 years old. We came to the United States, it was 1991 in early December, and we all met at the Kansas City airport. We have pictures of it back in our living room.”

But that’s not why he remembers that day.

“Whenever our family reunites,” he said with his voice cracking, “it creates strength. I’ve grown up knowing that. Watching what my parents have gone through, how hard they worked to get me here, and what they taught me, it really builds who you are.”

From them, he learned to help others, lead and set an example for his brother, who was born in Kansas. His K-State teammates look up to him for those skills, despite his limited playing time.

A reader named Susan isn’t the least bit surprised:

“I must tell you that the Ojeleye’s have raised their children right! Victor has a younger brother, Semi, who is a sophomore at Ottawa High School. He is an absolutely amazing basketball player, and my 12-year old son has looked up to him and idolized him and Victor since he was in the third grade and just beginning to play basketball.

“Keep in mind that Semi does not know my son very well, but he does know that my son looks up to him and has the same work ethic when it comes to basketball as he does. My sister is a teacher at the middle school, and Semi would ALWAYS include my son in scrimmages after school or would even just come up to the school while he would be there with my sister to shoot around with my son. Keep in mind that my son is only in 7th grade, so there is quite an age difference between them. But Semi has never treated him as if he were three years younger and WAY smaller than him.

“When Semi was in 8th grade (my son was only a fifth grader at the time), I got a phone call and was asked if I could bring my son to the middle school. For Semi’s 8th grade graduation, he gave my son a gift. His team had been undefeated, I believe, the entire time Semi played in both 7th and 8th grade. He had a basketball made with the team’s 8th grade varsity picture on it and he gave it to my son. Not only did the basketball have Semi’s autograph, but Semi had also written scripture on it and included a very inspirational card with a message and scripture from Semi. I was so impressed that it brought me to tears. Here is this cool, gigantic 8th grade boy who cares about my little 5th grader. You just don’t find kids like that every day!

“I made sure we sent a letter to Semi’s family and to Semi telling them how great we thought Semi’s acts of kindness were. Kids like that are true role models and the kinds of people you want your kids to look up to. The Ojeleye’s are obviously a one of a kind family.

“I’d like for everyone to know that Victor is a great human being, but it took his mother and father to help get him there. It’s just the way they raise their children, and we should all learn something from them. And basketball fans everywhere should remember the name Ojeleye, because they will continue to hear it when Semi moves on to the college level. He is just as great as his older brother.”