Relearning the game from scratch

On Canada Day in 2016, Michael Otoo’s life changed forever. The former Mount Allison Mounties guard from Ottawa, Ontario, was in a motor vehicle pedestrian accident, causing him to lose teeth, break a rib and suffer from a traumatic brain injury. He doesn’t remember what happened.

“It was probably the first obstacle I ever had to face in my life,” Otoo said.

“It was very tough on me … It still affects me today on a daily basis.”

Otoo, now a student at St. Thomas University, was in a coma for five days. When he woke up, he was shocked to learn what had happened to him. He didn’t have any memory of the accident. Not only would the injury affect his basketball career, but it would affect his schooling as well. Otoo was told he may never play the game he loves again, or even go back to school.

Michael Otoo still faces obstacles to this day after the accident. (Submitted by Michael Otoo)

He is currently a part of the STU men’s basketball team, averaging 10.8 points per game. He embraces his role as the sixth man on the team, saying if it helps the team win, he’ll do it. The psychology major was recently named ACAA Player of the Week after a 16-point performance against Crandall University. He sits in second place in the ACAA three point percentage, making 43 per cent of his three pointer attempts.

Still, it wasn’t too long ago when he was at rock bottom. He’s come a long way after having to relearn how to do everything, including playing the game of basketball.

“It’s crazy for me. It provides me so much joy,” Otoo said on winning the Athlete of the Week award.

He had to sit out the entire 2016-17 season and miss out on the ACAA playoffs his team had hosted that year while he was in physical rehab. His Mounties went on to advance to nationals, while he fell a year behind in his academics.

At one point, he was convinced his doctors were right and he’d never play again. The brain injury caused him to be dizzy, depressed and nervous about nearly every action he made. But he was able to push through the process after his younger sister, Michelle, told him “You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control how you react to it,” a quote he now lives by.

“It’s actually in my Instagram bio … Ever since I got that quote, I’ve just tried to put that in my life,” Otoo said.

“Even though [the accident] actually happened and I had a brain injury that caused me problems day-to-day, I still feel like I can try to react to it in a positive way.”

He said he had plenty of support from the people who care about him, such as friends, family and previous coaches.

During his time recovering in his home city at The Ottawa Hospital Rehabilitation Centre, former coaches of Otoo’s John Johnson and Donnie Ruiz took Otoo back to square one, teaching him how to dribble a basketball again. Otoo said he felt as if he was in the movie Space Jam because his talent was stolen. To this day, Ruiz and Johnson mean a lot to him.

Otoo said he is constantly nervous and feels anxious everyday. He has moods that can rapidly change. When he’s sad, he feels as if he’s more sad than he should be. Despite this, Otoo has made a lot of progress over the past three-and-a-half years.

“Knowing where I was … In 2016 I couldn’t dribble, I couldn’t shoot, I could barely walk. I needed help doing anything.”

Michael Otoo said he was happy to be named ACAA Athlete of the Week. (Billy Cole/AQ)

Otoo transferred from Mount Allison University to STU in 2018 to get a fresh start and meet new people. He regularly talks to his doctors and physicians to keep in touch with his progress.

Now in the last year of his degree, he’s unsure of what he will do when he graduates. He hasn’t worked since his accident because of anxiety. But he is sure of one thing, he wants to help people who have gone through situations like his. He also hopes he can do a TED Talk in the future.

“I want to try and inspire people, I want to help people,” he said.

“I know what it feels like to be at rock bottom. That’s something I can inspire people with and help people go through rough moments in their lives.”

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