Going from Division II to high major Division I basketball will be the most challenging experience of Danny Ogele's career.
Ogele, though, already knows about big challenges.
The 6-foot-7, 220-pound graduate transfer committed to the Gophers over the weekend. He's been through intense military training during his two-year stint at Navy and later battled back from a major left knee injury two seasons ago after transferring to Division II Mercyhust College in Erie, Pa.
Every obstacle faced during his first few years of college made Ogele stronger and tougher, the kind of character traits needed to get through the Big Ten basketball grind.
A 23-year-old Chicago native who majored in cybersecurity, Ogele talked to the Star Tribune recently about how he landed with the Gophers, what he brings to new coach Ben Johnson's team and more.
Q: When did you first get in contact with the Gophers and their coaching staff?
A: Coach Johnson and (assistant Marcus) Jenkins got in touch with me a few weeks ago. Really when I got that call, it was what I had been waiting for all summer. We had a really good conversation and a couple days later they offered me a scholarship. Being able to play for the Gophers gives me a huge opportunity to play Big Ten basketball. I look at my [journey] as a blessing. Not everyone gets to play Division I basketball and college basketball. I just knew if I wanted more, I just had to keep working hard and one day I'd get my chance.
Q: Which other schools were you considering after entering the transfer portal?
A: Throughout the process I was talking to a bunch of schools. A lot of mid-major schools showed interest, like Indiana State, Illinois Chicago, North Texas, Eastern Illinois, Southern Illinois, and some Division II schools as well. I just bet on myself. That's why I left Navy because I wanted to give myself a chance to play basketball on a bigger stage. It's just a blessing.
Q: What will be the keys to a smooth transition back to the Division I level?
A:It's all about hard work and spending time in the gym preparing yourself for that big stage. I learned a lot of that throughout my years in college basketball. Just getting in the gym and preparing for each game and spending the time to watch film. Getting to know my teammates and coaching staff and [building chemistry] in practice will be important. You have to do all the little things when you come on board in order to get what we need to get done.
Q: How did your time at Navy impact your life and career?
A: At the [Naval] Academy every day was a challenge from the moment you wake up until the time you put your head on your pillow and go to sleep. We were always thrown challenges are way and had to figure it out. You had to learn to get through adversity. And I learned a lot of leadership and communication skills there to help me moving forward.
Q: What type of role do you expect to have with the Gophers this season?
A: Honestly, I just want to come in and do everything I can to help the team. Being a great teammate in the locker room and helping everyone on the floor as well. Being able to be put in any situation coach puts me in and produce and be efficient. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to do that.
Q: Growing up in Chicago what do you remember about watching the Big Ten?
A: Being from the north side of Chicago I lived about 15 minutes away from Northwestern. So, I saw what they did a few years ago making the [NCAA] tournament. A lot of guys from my high school went to Illinois. And they had a really big year last season. Just knowing what's been going on in the Big Ten it is excited to now be a part of that league.
Q: How much were you familiar with the Gophers before you committed on Saturday?
A: I knew Coach Johnson got the job. He played and coached there, too. They're really excited to win games and to make some noise this year.
Q: How would you describe your game to fans who haven't seen you play?
A: I would just say I'm a guy who can do a lot of things for your team. I can pass the ball. I can attack the basket. I can hit open shots. I'm vocal. I'm going to bring that leadership aspect. I'm just a guy who is going to come in, be efficient and do everything I can to help the team win.
Q: Where is your knee right now compared to last season coming off the injury in 2019-20?
A: I came in to Mercyhurst with high expectations, but unfortunately I was playing through injuries my first couple years there. It really humbled me. I had to take the time to get back [healthy]. Once I could play again, I came out and produced. I always play with a chip on my shoulder coming from Chicago where basketball was big growing up. I played against a lot of guys who are now in the NBA or overseas. It just motivates me to play hard and get to where they are as well. My left kneecap popped out of place, so I was out for about a month and a half. I got back to practicing with the team, but my mentor told me I should try to get back 100% before I returned to the court.