Outside Shots with Mike Ojo: Everybody Hurts Sometimes
Last week on "Outside Shots," Mike Ojo found his groove with the Plymouth Raiders, even as his teammates came and went. This week, in his own words, he reflects on his first significant showdowns with the dreaded injury bug as a pro.
Season Two was off to an amazing start. Heading into Christmas break, I was averaging 22 points, four rebounds and two assists per game. These numbers alone were solid, but the efficiency with which I was doing it was remarkable—if I may say so myself. I was shooting 50 percent from two-point range and 47 percent from three. I really was on a roll.
Playing at this level was getting me recognition and a reputation around the league. I got the keys to the offense in Plymouth after our point guard, Jeremy Bell, decided due to a disagreement with ownership that he wasn’t going to return to the team after the break. At this point, what was a solid roster was starting to looking a bit thin. But the show must go on.
Our first game after Christmas was against the Worcester Wolves. It was a British Basketball League Cup game, single elimination. My confidence was through the roof. I was smiling and laughing through warmups, with Kendrick Lamar’s “B*tch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” blasting away on my headphones. I was ready to get back to business.
In our previous game against the Wolves, I dropped 23 points in a win. Today was different, though. This game was chippy from the start. Chippy is good sometimes. It’s always fun to spar (physically and verbally) with your opponents.
On this day, Arnas Kazlauskas—a talented, veteran and slow-footed Lithuanian big—was in my crosshairs. I crashed the offensive glass in pursuit of a long rebound. Arnas jumped for it and, at 6’9", beat me to the ball. As a pesky guard, I attempted to swipe at the ball to steal it from him.
His response was to swing elbows like a mad man. One of those ‘bows connected with my face, a la Metta World Peace vs. James Harden in April 2012.
Craaaack! I fell to the floor and started seeing stars, like Donald Duck getting knocked out and thrown into a trash can. I stumbled to my feet and fell back down. I immediately called for a sub, knowing damn well I had a concussion.
My coach, however, thought otherwise.
“Ah, you’ll be fine,” I remember him saying. “Get back out there.”
No thanks, I’m good.
“But the team needs you,” he said.
I reluctantly stood up and tried to check back in, but I immediately felt dizzy. It was at that point he started to take me seriously. My game was over.
The next thing I knew, I was in the back of a van speeding to the hospital. I wish I could have made it back from every road trip that quickly.
Arnas’ elbow had fractured the orbital floor of my right eye and left me with a concussion. Fortunately, the chipped piece of bone didn’t travel in the direction of my eye. It all could have been over that quickly. This was just a small silver lining to this injury.
The larger one came with me having four weeks to recover. It was my face that was hurt—not my ankle, foot or hand. I could still get work done.
That gave me a month in season to hone my game. Also, Prentice Small, my best friend, was returning from the Netherlands. We were gonna get some work in. Best believe I took full advantage of the situation. I was doing two-a-days. The timing worked out perfectly.
Mike Ojo and Prentice Small,. (Courtesy of Mike Ojo)
Meanwhile, our roster was crumbling to pieces. The absences of Anthony Rowe, Jeremy Bell and myself left some major holes to be filled.
Coach did just that. He was more than willing to experiment with bringing in new players. The easy choice to make would have been for the coach to sign Prentice. He was a capable and talented guard literally waiting for a chance.
Instead, he decided to sign Rod Brown, a veteran of European basketball, including the Spanish ACB League. Clearly, he could play, but the move made no sense. We had a guard who was familiar with the team and the offense, with an equal level of skill.
Poor choice. Great guy, though. A talent.
In addition to Rod, Coach brought in Andreas Schreiber, a hyper-athletic Swedish big man. As it happens, I competed against him in high school, when he was at Brentwood High School—Crossroads School's biggest rival. (Yes, I type that with disgust.)
These guys could play. “Uncle” Drew Lasker stepped up and dropped a season-high 28 points to help carry us to one victory. The following game, rookie Javarris Barnett notched a season-high of his own by dropping 30 points.
After four weeks, I came back better. I went on a tear, averaging 30 points over the next five games, with a season high of 40—an efficient 40 at that. I hit 15-of-22 from the field, along with all three of my triples and all seven of my free throws.
I felt like a walking bucket. I followed that 40-point game with two 30-piece meals, biscuits included.
Mike warms up before a British Basketball League game. (Courtesy of Mike Ojo)
At that point, we were 15-7 and still had more than a shot at competing for the British Basketball League title. But we were having some issues with team chemistry. It's always hard to incorporate new players into an existing team, but we were making it work.
I finally ran into a team that slowed me down: the Newcastle Eagles. They iced every single pick-and-roll and kept the ball out of my hands. I ended up with 16 points. Not bad, but they slowed me down. I made it a point to rep out these situations, so the next time I ran into them, I’d be ready.
I bounced back with 29 points the next game and dropped 29 on 10-of-22 shooting, with Newcastle coming up on the schedule again.
Quick geography lesson: Plymouth is in the southwest of England; Newcastle is in the north—like way north, seven-hour drive north. It was going to be a nice little road trip. And since the owners were cheap, we were gonna make that drive the day of the game. I packed my Bred 11s, instead of my Lebron Xs, into my bag and we were off.
Before the game, I had Drake blasting in my headphones as I was repping out two-dribble stepbacks.
And I know the sun will rise with me (huh!)
And I know the sun will rise with me
All we wanted was an opportunity…
Once the game started, it was business as usual. I came out with a quick nine points in the first quarter. I was primed and in rhythm, already thinking about another 30-piece. Drew gets a deflection and advances the ball to me. I attack the basket, I plant my right foot to elevate towards the rim...
Craaack… Here we go again…