Q&A with former Apollon Patras and La Briosa guard Michael Ojo

Michael Ojo is everywhere right now – if you look carefully enough.

The American-British shooting-guard and 2011 Lehigh University graduate can be seen in the closing moments of Apple’s new iPhone commercial, congratulating NBA MVP Stephen Curry on the impossible half-court shot he has just effortlessly nailed.

That aside, the Los Angeles native, 26, is out in the cold currently back home in California, if that’s possible, without a club after being released by Italian Serie A2 team La Briosa.

Fifth-year pro Ojo was steadily climbing in class in European basketball, capping two opening pro seasons at Plymouth Raiders in Britain’s BBL (2011-13) with a championship with Apollon in Cyprus’ Division A in 2014.

However, a toe injury restricted Ojo’s playing time to the final months of the 2014/15 campaign with, first, Eco Orebro in Sweden’s Basketligan and then more headily Apollon Patras in Greece’s A1 League.

This October, La Briosa recruited him, but after only four appearances and more injury trouble he was released and is now without a club.

In his pomp with Plymouth in 2012/13, Ojo and backcourt partner in crime Jeremy Bell could comfortably combine for 50 spectacular points on a given night, scoring at will and with awesome authority on the break.

TalkBasket caught up with Ojo to see how he’s handling his latest setback and see him take stock of his career in Europe so far.

Plymouth Raiders guard Michael Ojo
Guard Michael Ojo in his time with Plymouth Raiders and Britain’s BBL

Why did you leave La Briosa, Italy so early this season?

I left the club I was with in Italy early because of a few things.

One, my play wasn’t up to par, in my eyes and the club’s eyes. I’m not the kind of person to make excuses, but what many of the fans, and even coaches didn’t know, was that I was playing hurt.

Two minutes into my first game I suffered a shoulder injury that lingered and just as I started to recover from that I hyper extended three fingers on my shooting hand and ultimately ended up with a bit of soft tissue damage, which I’m recovering from now.

I still was able to show that I could play well on the defensive end but the latter injury was supremely detrimental to my offensive ability. Fortunately neither injury is career-threatening or something I won’t fully recover from.  I was also replacing the injured Lenzelle Smith Jr. He also returned right on time from his own injury.

How hard is it, leaving a club so early in a campaign?

I don’t think it’s too big of a blow. I’m staying positive.

Do you think players’ contracts in Europe are unfairly weighted in clubs’ favour?

I think clubs have a lot of power in Europe but as players we go into these situations knowing that they do because we love the game. Most of us know how fortunate we are to still be playing it.

What’s the best thing Michael about playing professionally in Europe?

The best thing about playing pro ‘ball in Europe is being able to play the game you love at a high level, while being able to experience different cultures and countries at the same time. It’s truly a blessing.

I know for fact that if I didn’t play basketball I wouldn’t have visited a few of the countries I’ve been to.

What’s the worst thing?

The worst thing is being away from your family and friends for long stretches. It’s especially hard during the holiday season.

What’s your career highlight so far?

Honestly, I don’t think I have one specific highlight I can single out, especially now that I look back and I’ve been playing pro for five years. Time has flown.

If I had to point out a few I would go with the 40-point game I had at Cheshire during my second season in Plymouth; or winning the cup in Cyprus in my third year; and, last but not least, playing against Panathinaikos in a cup final (in Greece) last season, primarily because of my climb as a player to scrap and fight to get to that position.

What was a low?

To be blunt and brutally honest, my last two years have been a gift and a curse. I truly feel as if, since my toe injury, I haven’t got a fair shot to produce and prove myself over the course of a full season.

As I’m sure you know, it’s incredibly hard to join a team mid-season, assimilate and produce instantly. But all who are familiar with the game know that.

What’s ironic is I now feel as if I’m better than I’ve ever been before. I will show that within the next opportunity I’m given.

How did you rate the A1 League in your time at Apollon Patras in Greece?

The Greek A1 was great: extremely high level of play with very talented players and coaches. It definitely lived up to its reputation in my eyes. The Greek fans also are incredibly passionate and that leads to more passionate performances on the court from players.

What was Greece like away from basketball?

Off the court, life in Greece was equally amazing: the food, the culture, the history, everything was great.

What’s your craziest story from playing in Europe?

The hands-down craziest moment of my career so far would have to be having our cup semi-final (in Cyprus, 2013/14) stopped due to a riot breaking out.

One of the players from (visitors) Keravnos, decided to jump over the protective shield behind the bench and spit back at one of the fans. All hell proceeded to break loose. The fans stormed the court and chased the opposing (Keravnos) team into the locker room and they wouldn’t come back out.

What’s the biggest lesson you have learnt as a pro?

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from playing in Europe is that a player can’t always be judged by the numbers he puts up. Sometimes situations really dictate what a player can display on the court.

Second, would be that your contract really is just a piece of paper that binds you to the team – not the team to you, especially from a financial standpoint.

How does off-court life differ between Europe and back home in the USA?

For me personally there is a huge difference. In Europe I’m primarily focused and in work mode, always trying to find a way to get extra shots up and extra work in – while at home during the off-season after all my workouts are complete, I tend to try to relax with friends. I’m way more social.

What has been the biggest lifestyle difference you’ve experienced in Europe, compared to the USA?

The biggest lifestyle transition for me came in Italy this year. Things closed much much earlier than I was used to. As a guy who eats a lot it made it very difficult for me to get all of my late night snacks in.

What does the future hold for you, both in basketball and once your playing career is over?

I would love to play in Europe this season and next. Honestly, I’d love to do it for as long as I can.

The tipping point for me would be when I find something back home that is more profitable and more fun for me to do. As of now I have my hands in a few pots.

I fell into commercial acting and landed a roll in an Apple commercial. I also am running a tech start-up. It’s a dating app called HAD, (Hook up, Avoid, Date). It’s quite the fun venture (shameless promotion, check out www.gethad.com).

As for a post-basketball career I really don’t know because fortunately there are a lot of things that I’m passionate about. As I age I will definitely start thinking more about that.

Regrets?

I have no regrets. If I had to make the same decisions again, I would do exactly the same. Ha!