Outside Shots with Mike Ojo: It’s All Greek to Me

Last time on “Outside Shots,” Mike Ojo got his groove back on the court in Sweden. This week, he takes the next step in his professional journey by playing in one of Europe’s most rabid basketball hotbeds.

Within days of getting home from Sweden, I got offered a two-year deal to play with Apollon Patras, a team in Patra, Greece, that was playing in the Greek A1 Basketball League. If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that I’d be playing there, I’d have thought you were out of your mind. Basketball is a religion in Greece, and the Greek first league is one of the most respected on the planet.

How’d my agent finesse this? I didn’t know, nor did I care. I was heading to hoop in Greece.

This brought things full circle. For one, Apollon was interested in me after my second year in England, but I wasn’t able to accept the offer. Moreover, Errick McCollum, the older brother of my college teammate-turned-NBA draft lottery pick C.J. McCollum, had played in Patra and used the team as a springboard to propel his career into the stratosphere.

Historically, I had asked Errick for his input and thoughts on moves and teams, so it was an easy decision to reach out to him. It was a blessing, to say the least. His advice made the transition much easier. The talent level in the Greek first league was substantially higher than that of Sweden, and I was ready for it.

The craziest part of this whole situation was, prior to my joining the team, it had already qualified to compete in the domestic cup championship. I was brought in to bolster the team's roster for a playoff run.

Greece

Mike Ojo found beautiful views and a big basketball opportunity in Greece. (Mike Ojo)

We were slated to play against Panathinaikos. It would take about 30 articles for me to even begin to describe the tradition and history of this club. But to summarize, Panathinaikos has won six EuroLeague championships, 37 Greek League championships and 19 Greek Cup championships.

Yeah, a Dynasty.

We were one million percent the underdog. The game was also slated to be played on their home court. Greeks and Cypriots are basically cousins, so if you happened to have read about my experience in Cyprus, you already know exactly what they were about. Flares would be lit, coins would be thrown and spit would fly.

It was a blur. They had a stacked roster: A.J. Slaughter, James Gist and Dimitris Diamantidis, to name a few.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect. It was my first time in a situation like this. In Sweden, I knew I was going to get plugged in and play. The team was terrible, so set rotations didn’t matter.

But this team was talented, so I went into it with a completely open mind. Regardless of how things turned out for me individually, I was going to support the team and be engaged. After all, I had signed a two-year deal, so in my mind, making a great impression for the following season was more important than anything else.

From a coaching standpoint, if there were throwaway minutes, the last three minutes of a half would be them. They can frequently be used to sneak in some extra rest for guys who were used heavily in the first half. These minutes fell my way and I was happy to take them.

Did I make a huge impact on the game? Absolutely not. Did I make plays to prove to myself I had no worries playing at this level? Absolutely, and that was that. I only played those three minutes. Disappointed? Salty? Absolutely, but who wouldn’t be?

Big picture, though: there was still time, we had a few games left, along with the playoffs, for me to make my mark.

The basketball was great, but the culture was even better. The food, the history, the people. We ended up finishing the year in a disappointing fashion. But I took advantage of my moments. I felt like I had finally landed in a country I really wanted to stay in. The coaches had faith in me and so did management. I mean, they gave me a two-year deal.

That’s something you strive for, right? A small taste of stability…

 

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