Former Florida State basketball player Michael Ojo has died at the age of 27, the school and his former club Red Star Belgrade confirmed Friday.
Ojo, a 7-foot-1 center from Nigeria, was conducting an individual practice in Belgrade when he collapsed, was taken to a local hospital and could not be resuscitated, according to Serbian news outlets. A Red Star official could not confirm the cause of his death as the club awaited results of an autopsy.
"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," Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said in a statement. "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."
RIP Michael pic.twitter.com/jFwObMU7DZ— FSU Hoops (@FSUHoops) August 7, 2020
Ojo had played professionally in Serbia for the past three seasons since graduating from FSU, where he was named to the ACC academic honor roll after completing a master's degree in international studies. He started his professional career with FMP Belgrade and then moved to Red Star Belgrade, which played in the EuroLeague last season.
"Not only did Michael Ojo teach me to be a leader, he taught me how to love others," said former FSU player Terance Mann, who was a second-round pick of the LA Clippers in 2019. "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 and taught me how to love FSU for what it all has to offer."
Visa issues had prevented Ojo from returning to the United States during the coronavirus pandemic, so he elected to continue living in Belgrade while fielding offers from international teams. He was conducting an individual training session at Partizan Belgrade's facility when he collapsed.
Ojo's big break came in 2010 at the Giants of Africa camp, founded by Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri. After playing soccer for much of his life, Ojo had a late growth spurt that saw him shoot from 6-foot-6 to 7-foot-1 -- opening up opportunities to come to the U.S. to further his education and try to obtain a college scholarship.
Unpolished as a freshman, Ojo steadily improved to the point that he was invited to work out privately for NBA teams following his senior year, when he played an important role defensively for a Florida State team that went 26-9.
A member of FSU's coaching staff confirmed to ESPN that Ojo had undergone a battery of physical testing during his time in Tallahassee and that he did not show any signs of heart problems during his time in college.