Heading into “Ivy Madness,” all eyes on NBA prospect Miye Oni
Since he was two years old, Miye Oni ’20 dreamed about becoming an NBA player, idolizing Kobe Bryant and the L.A. Lakers while playing ball with his sister on a mini hoop his father bought them. But though he was a natural athlete, Oni was a late bloomer. In middle school, other players in his Northridge, California school grew faster, so when he reached high school and his height still hadn’t caught up, Oni started to second-guess his childhood dream. “I got discouraged,” Oni says. “I started looking at business and thought maybe I would do something in that regard.”
During his junior year of high school, Oni bloomed — from 6’3” to 6’5” (he’s now 6’6”) — and he finally made it on his varsity basketball team at Viewpoint High School. The dream came back with a vengeance. But an injury sidelined Oni much of that year and he had no film to show college recruiters. With few options, he committed to Division III Williams College, the only school that recruited him, and kept honing his game, including in the BTI AAU Program, a basketball club in southern California that prepares student-athletes for top schools.
Yale Associate Head Coach Matt Kingsley came out to scout another player and Oni — a commanding presence on the court — caught his eye. Soon after, Robert Icart, founder and director at BTI, sent Yale Head Coach James Jones a video of Oni, now a strong, athletic player with an impressive dunk. Jones says when he saw Oni’s video, he saw something “special” – not just a “posterized dunk” but “the ability to find his teammates.” Oni was a strong student academically and was determined to go to Yale.
“Coach Jones believed I could be a great player,” Oni says. “If the coaching staff believes in me, anything is possible.”
Making up for lost time
With Oni’s video making the rounds, other schools tried to lure him, but he remained committed to Yale, where he’s continued to grow as a player — dominating as a shooting guard with his dunks and assists. He’s also become a team leader off the court. “He’s such an incredibly hard-working kid,” says Assistant Coach Justin Simon ’04, who used to play for Jones and was once the Bulldogs’ top free-throw shooter. “To maintain his grades at the level he has — the guys respect his work ethic. And he’s constantly looking to hone his skills.”
Oni was recently named the Ivy League Player of the Year and was a unanimous pick for the All-Ivy first team along with Yale teammate Alex Copeland ’19.
Video: Miye Oni — Ivy League Player of the Year
NBA scouts are now a regular presence at Yale games, assessing Oni’s potential. “He’s a prototypical pro basketball player,” says Earl “Butch” Graves ’84, CEO of Black Enterprise and one of Yale’s most storied athletes, who had his own Ivy-to-NBA career playing for the 76ers, the Milwaukee Bucks, and Cleveland Cavaliers. Graves holds the Yale record for most points scored in a game by a junior — 39 — which Oni came close to achieving in his own standout performance against Princeton in February when he scored 35 points, leading the team to a 74-60 victory. “He’s got size, athleticism, strength, and he shoots well,” Graves says. “He’ll have every opportunity; It all comes down to how much he wants it.”
Oni is currently ranked among the top 50 in the NBA Draft and is likely to declare next year. If selected, he’d be the first Ivy League player to be drafted in the NBA since 1995.
His childhood dream within reach, Oni is staying focused on the season at hand, where Yale is co-champions with Harvard going into the Ivy League Tournament at Yale’s John J. Lee Amphitheater March 16-17. “I’m focused on the season right now,” he says. “I’m focused on my teammates and winning.” Needless to say, the scouts will be watching.