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Florida State senior center Michael Ojo off to career-best start

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Florida State center Michael Ojo is making a strong early-season case for the Atlantic Coast Conference’s most improved player.

The 7-foot-1 senior from Nigeria already has a double-double and two games, including a career-high 13 points against Winthrop on Nov. 18. Coming into the season Ojo’s career high in rebounds was nine and he had scored in double figures just once.

Ojo is averaging 6.3 points and 5.3 rebounds for the Seminoles (6-1), who face George Washington on Sunday in the BB&T Classic in Washington, D.C. Ojo’s modest numbers are impressive considering he is only playing 13 minutes per game.

In Ojo’s first three seasons he averaged 1.9 points and 2.2 rebounds.

Now he needs to find a way to get more playing time.

“If he stays out of foul trouble and stay out there longer his numbers would be crazy. The numbers he’s putting up now are crazy enough,” said sophomore guard Dwayne Bacon, who is leading the team in scoring (18.1). “He worked so hard during the offseason because he knew it was going to be his last year.”

Ojo didn’t play last season after tearing the meniscus in his left knee during preseason practice. Because Ojo did not play a lot of competitive basketball before arriving at Florida State (he moved to the United States in 2012 and played one season at Tennessee Temple Academy), coach Leonard Hamilton said the time on the bench allowed Ojo to develop a better understanding of the game.

“After last year I thought I was going to be a coach,” Ojo said laughing. “It was helpful being able to see from the coaches eyes because you can see the floor well from the bench. Every day I was watching films just like they do. Now anytime someone makes a mistake or there is a lapse I am able to help out.”

Ojo’s other big improvement has come at the free throw line. He is making 71.4 percent of his foul shots after converting just 40.2 percent from 2013-15. Ojo has been to the line 28 times already. The most he has been to the line is 47 in 2013-14.

Because Ojo couldn’t practice jump shots as much while rehabbing, the one thing he could do on the court was free throws.

“I shoot a very good percentage in practice but was never able to take it to a game,” he said. “I’ve been focusing more in games. I would do more running and sprints before shooting in practice so that during games when I am tired it is more muscle memory.”

Ojo has been getting to the line more because he has been more aggressive in the paint and drawing fouls. Hamilton said Ojo has done a better job of catching the ball in the post which has resulted in better drives near the basket.

With Hamilton still trying to figure out his best playing combinations before the start of conference play on Dec. 28, Ojo and the post players have made the most of their opportunities when asked to deliver.

As the Seminoles begin a stretch of four games in eight days, those opportunities could increase.

“He’s letting the game come to him and is much more assured of himself. I think you see that in how well he is playing,” said Hamilton of Ojo.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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