Michael Ojo, a recent star at Florida State Univ., may have been too anxious to get back on the court; he died after testing positive for COVID-19 and was working out against medical advice

By Joel Alderman

Former Florida State University center Michael Ojo, who had tested positive for coronavirus and seemingly recovered, died on August 21st after collapsing while training in the country of Serbia, where he had played professionally since college. He was 27, the youngest of any on our list of former college players who died after contracting the disease.

The media in Serbia reported that he died of a heart attack, but it is reasonable to suspect, as many do, that COVID-19 was the underlying cause of his heart failure. He had no history of cardiac problems.

Ojo, who was born in Nigeria, died in a hospital after doctors failed to resuscitate him.

Red Star Belgrade, his former pro team, had released him after the season came to a halt because of the pandemic. He was working out in anticipation of hooking on with another team. Red Star issued a statement that his “sudden and shocking death has deeply shaken everyone in the club.”

“Farewell good giant,” was written in a post on a Red Star Belgrade fan page.

Treated for pneumonia

On July 6th, Ojo was diagnosed with pneumonia in the right lung, while a week later, its start in the left lung was noticed. The president of the team, Nebojssa Covic, said that Ojo trained prematurely against advice of his doctors after his bout with pneumonia.

Sat out a season for the Seminoles

In college, as a rising senior he had to sit out the Seminoles’ 34 games because of a torn meniscus.

One of the highlights of his career there was when, as a fifth-year redshirt in 2007, he came away with nine points and was a defensive presence against then no. 7 Duke in an 88-72 FSU win.


“In all of my years of coaching, I’ve never been around a person who captivated the emotions of everybody he came into contact with like Michael,” his former coach Leonard Hamilton said. “He had to be the most popular person in Tallahassee, and, certainly at Florida State University.

“Michael Ojo was a wonderful, wonderful human being. He was a great teammate and really represented what the Seminole spirit is all about. He was one of the purest Seminoles that I have ever been around; he will be missed tremendously by the whole Seminole nation.”

Another tribute came from former teammate Terance Mann, now with the Los Angeles Clippers of the NBA. He said:

“Not only did Michael Ojo teach me to be a leader, he taught me how to love others. He taught me that there’s more to life than basketball. He would always tell me he has more friends than just our teammates. He encouraged me to get out of my shell and meet new people.”

Big shoes to fill

The 7-ft-1-inch center wore shoe size 21 and tipped the scales at 300 pounds. Nike reportedly had to spend $15,000 on a machine to create a size to fit his feet while he played college basketball. He selected Florida State over Vanderbilt and Tennessee-Chattanooga.

After coming to this country, he attended Tennessee Temple High School in Chattanooga in 2012. His senior year he earned All-American Honors from the National Association of Christian Athletes.

He received a bachelor’s degree in international affairs in 2016 and a Masters Degree, also in international affairs, the following year, both from Florida State.

In 2017 Ojo went to Europe to start a professional career. The following year he signed with the regional Adriatic League champions, Red Star Belgrade, where he was hugely popular among the club’s fans.

Cause of death still being investigated

On July 6th, he was diagnosed with pneumonia in the right lung, and a week later the start of pneumonia in the left lung was noticed.

Pending results of the ongoing investigation, it is still unclear if the coronavirus, as suspected, contributed to Ojo’s heart attack. If it did, at 27, he would be the youngest former Division 1 player to die after having had the virus.

I did not like writing this article, but in a climate where some parents, players, and coaches are pushing for a fast return to getting back to the games, this story may have a message that should be told to as many as possible.

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