Victory Indeed: The Triumph of Victor Ojeleye

4 Mar

ImageIn the first start of his four-year career, Victor Ojeleye justified coach Frank Martin’s policy of starting seniors on Senior Day. The walk-on and two-time Academic All-American immediately drew a charge on one end of the floor and scored the Wildcats’ first points on the other.

“It was just an honor,” he said. “I couldn’t think of anything else but just being honored to be able to be out there, be a part of what we’re doing on a different perspective out there. Whatever you can do to put into words, I think it doesn’t do it justice. I’m just very thankful.”

As one of just two seniors on Kansas State’s basketball team, Ojeleye has been more visible than ever this season. In a five-game stretch that began with the Wildcats’ game against Texas on Jan. 18 and ended at Iowa State on Jan. 31, the senior averaged 17.2 minutes per game. During those five games, he got more court time than freshman powerhouse forward Thomas Gipson.

Fans saw Ojeleye score 8 points at Texas Tech and grab 10 rebounds against Iowa State during that stretch – numbers far above his more usual contributions.

On Senior Day, the K-State faithful watched as Ojeleye’s face contorted and tears came to his eyes before his last game ever at Bramlage Coliseum, and he hugged his mother tight before she wiped his tears away, then acknowledged the cheers of the crowd with visible emotion.

For all Ojeleye has done this season and throughout his career, associate head coach Brad Underwood said he thinks his contributions last season – when the names of Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly still graced the Kansas State roster – mattered even more.

“Words don’t do it justice,” Underwood said. “I think last year was probably his most important time. He was our leader. He was our guy. He was the guy that, in that locker room, when things were not always roses, he kept everybody in the right frame of mind, and he kept everybody pushing forward, and he showed up every single day as he has his whole career and done nothing but try to help this basketball team.”

The high school valedictorian secured an accounting and finance job with Koch Industries in Wichita after interning there last summer – tax and international business are his areas of interest, he said – but his focus has remained on his team.

“That shows he’s got a lot of pride,” Underwood said. “Victor’s had a job for a year. To show up every single day and there’s never been one ounce of concern in terms of where his mind is, where his heart is. It’s been with this basketball team. His dedication is what it’s all about. His loyalty – he’s always a K-Stater and he’s always going to be thought of as a young man that took tremendous pride in what he did every single day.”

To hear it from Ojeleye, who posts Bible verses and inspirational statements on his Twitter account under the handle “@v1ctoryinjesus,” none of this seems particularly groundbreaking. He tries to stay consistent and works hard. He encourages his teammates and tries to be a positive influence. For those not in the locker room, those qualities are hard to quantify. For those who have actually been around him, the effect is immeasurable.

“Every single player that has played with Victor over the last four years will remember Victor,” Underwood said. “It may not be for baskets scored, but he’s impacted everybody that’s been a teammate of his. He’s impacted their life.”

When Ojeleye spoke at the postgame press conference on Saturday, he made a statement representative of the optimism so many say characterizes him.

“When you wake up every day, it’s a new opportunity,” Ojeleye said.

He spoke about the coming days before the beginning of the Big 12 tournament, but for a man who refuses to take his foot off the gas and coast until graduation on the strength of what he has already accomplished, the statement applies to much more than sports.

Most Kansas State fans, when recalling what talent the Wildcats lost from this season, will mention Jamar Samuels, the one-time Sixth Man of the Year in the Big 12 who came roaring back from a mediocre junior season to have a solid finish in his senior season.

But by all accounts, for those who spent more time in Bramlage than two hours once or twice a week, the memories of Victor Ojeleye will be just as vivid.


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