Kansas State's Victor Ojeleye: The perfect example

02/10/2011 12:00 AM

02/10/2011 12:26 AM

MANHATTAN — The game is about start, and the opposing team is waiting for Kansas State at midcourt. In a few moments, an official will toss a ball into the air and players will jump for it.

But before any of this, Victor Ojeleye must speak.

As is customary before every K-State game, the junior walk-on forward addresses the Wildcats' starting five in a huddle near the bench. Some stay for only a moment and others linger for 15 seconds. He tells them to play hard, reminds them of their responsibilities and shares a motivational quote he memorized the night before.

For a seldom-used player who is known more for his work ethic than playing ability, it's a time to cherish.

"The greatest thing you can do as a part of any kind of group is try to make a difference," Ojeleye said. "The influence you can have on other people, you can't realize until you reach out to them. That's what I've done with my teammates, and I'm just continuing to try and help these guys grow. If I can motivate them in any way, whether by words or by actions or by leading by example, that's something I'm going to do. Whatever I can do to help the cause."

It may not be apparent, because he averages 2.2 points and 1.8 rebounds, but Ojeleye has helped K-State immensely this season.

Whenever the team loses a tough game or falls on hard times, everyone on the team — even the coaches — is greeted the next day with a personalized note from Ojeleye reminding them to stay focused. He brings a calming effect to every practice, and coaches cite him as an example of just how dedicated a player can be.

On a team that has suffered through eight losses after starting the year ranked No. 3 and dealt with loads of off-court drama, many of his teammates aren't afraid to label him "one of the most important players on the team."

"Everyone thinks I'm a leader because I'm on the team poster," senior guard Jacob Pullen said, "but it's a team effort and Victor does so much for us behind the scenes. Frank is always talking about needing guys to bring a consistent energy to practice and set an example by working hard every single day. I think I do a good job of that, but Victor does a great job of that. No one works harder or is more respected."

You will hear similar comments about walk-ons everywhere, but what separates Ojeleye — a former valedictorian at Ottawa High and Big 12 All-Academic selection who says he has made one B in his life — is the way his teammates look up to him. When he talks, they listen.

"Words are very powerful," Ojeleye said. "You can create a lot of energy with them and use them to get guys thinking and seeing things in different ways."

His words have made an impact.

"I've never known another person like Victor Ojeleye," freshman guard Shane Southwell said. "He is a blessing to all of our lives on this team spiritually and mentally. He helps all of us one-on-one and has Bible study with us. He is unique and we need him.

"I know he inspired me. I have to thank him for me getting in the starting lineup. To see a guy who works that hard and does the type of things he does knowing he's probably not going to play in the next game, it pushes guys like me."

Not only by what he does with the team, but by what he does off the court.

His normal routine would drain the average person: Heavy load of business classes, basketball practice or game, and help with a campus outreach program that offers leadership and guidance to students in need.

Then, in his free time, he often heads to Bramlage Coliseum late at night to practice his jump shot and falls asleep while researching new motivational quotes for teammates.

Assistant coach Brad Underwood likes to tell a story about an evening when he went into Bramlage when no one else was around, and saw Ojeleye practicing in an empty gym. He smiled and walked into the locker room to find Ojeleye had also left inspirational notes with Vince Lombardi quotes for his teammates to read the next day.

"It's hard to imagine anyone being more dedicated," Underwood said. "He is big-time."

K-State coach Frank Martin couldn't agree more. With the recent departures of two scholarship players, he is attempting to promote Ojeleye to scholarship status for the remainder of the season.

"If I can do that, I will," Martin said. "He's certainly deserving. He's got a work ethic that I hope my kids grow up to have. He's phenomenal. I know how hard and how well prepared he comes to work every day. Before I go to bed each night I think about that, and it motivates me to come in and work just as hard, because if I don't I know I'd be cheating him."

Ojeleye's first B, which came from a semester-ending group project, made him realize that if everyone doesn't give their all, the team will fail.

"I wouldn't call myself the best leader in the world, but I'm trying to be one," Ojeleye said. "My focus right now is mostly on what my team is trying to get done and what I can do to help it build and get better every day."

Anytime a player leads starters from the end of the bench, that much is apparent.

"As our team has been going through difficult moments," Martin said, "and all those guys have been trying to lead and do their part to help the team, Victor's faith has been unwavering. His belief in his teammates has been unwavering. It's so refreshing."

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