Former Florida State center and 7-foot-1 fan favorite Michael Ojo has died at age 27. Ojo, who was in Belgrade playing for the Serbian basketball team Partizan, reportedly collapsed while running during practice on Friday. Eurohoops.net reports that he had a heart attack and doctors were unable to resuscitate him.
Ojo, who was originally from Nigeria, played for FSU from 2012-2017, making incredible improvements from his freshman year to his senior year. Following his graduation from FSU, he went overseas to Serbia to pursue a professional basketball career and found success. He spent two years with Crvena Zvezda, winning the ABA League Super Cup in 2018 and the overall ABA League and Serbian League in 2019.
Discovered as a soccer player
Ojo didn’t discover basketball until his late teens. He told Ira Schoffel of Rivals.com that he was discovered when he was 16 or 17 while playing soccer in his native Nigeria. While he didn’t love the game at first, he took to it easily. He moved to the U.S. and enrolled at Tennessee Temple Academy in Chattanooga, where FSU coach Leonard Hamilton discovered him and all of his raw talent.
Ojo’s talent was definitely raw. In his true freshman year, he was a 36.4 percent free throw shooter who averaged 0.7 points and 1.0 rebound per game. He put in hours and hours of work to improve, and it was obvious by his senior year. In 2017 he had turned into an 80.6 percent free throw shooter who averaged 4.9 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. That year, he made his first trip to the NCAA tournament with FSU.
Friends, classmates, reporters mourn Ojo
Ojo was a beloved friend and teammate, described as friendly, funny, and gentle. After news of his death spread on Friday, Twitter was full of tributes.
Heartbreaking doesn’t even begin to describe it. Michael Ojo was one of the smartest, funniest people I’ve ever covered. He was beloved by everyone at Florida State. I can’t even begin to explain how devastated people will be by this.
Rest In Peace, good sir. https://t.co/U1rPeC4lOd
— Ira Schoffel (@IraSchoffel) August 7, 2020
RIP Michael Ojo. Few players improved more in such a short amount of time, and he did so with a smile on his face. It was a joy watching him develop over the years. Absolutely tragic news this morning. pic.twitter.com/qFZC3sbm32
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) August 7, 2020
Michael Ojo. Rest in Peace my good friend. You brought joy to all of us in the Seminole family. Thank you for your great work in class and on the court. Thank you for being so good to your fellow classmates. This one has knocked the wind out of me, friends.
— Mark Zeigler (@fsuzeigler) August 7, 2020
Rest In Peace, my friend. You were so much more than a basketball player. You were a great person with the intellect, personality and humility to make this world a better place. We love you and will miss you! pic.twitter.com/vINw4vo0zE
— Ken Cashin (@Cashin1950) August 7, 2020
Been trying to think of a good story that helps illustrate who Michael Ojo was, but nothing seems adequate. I don’t think there’s ever been a kinder, friendlier athlete to come through FSU. He had a sharp wit and a great sense of humor, too. He’ll be missed.
— Tim Linafelt / FSU (@Tim_Linafelt) August 7, 2020
The FSU family is heartbroken by the passing of Michael Ojo. We’ll always remember him as a kind, compassionate person and a committed student-athlete. I’ll never forget the big hug we shared when he walked across the stage at commencement. We will miss him. pic.twitter.com/45P8blWwZD
— President John Thrasher (@FSUPresThrasher) August 7, 2020
Michael Ojo was one of the kindest humans I ever had the opportunity to cover. He knew how to laugh at himself, and he could brighten someone else’s day with his smile and a few words.
It was truly an honor to know him, and watch him grow — on & off the court. He will be missed.
— Natalie Pierre (@NataliePierre_) August 7, 2020
More from Yahoo Sports: