Ivy Leaguers are hard to come by in professional basketball.
Coming into this season, there have only been 45 players in NBA history whose alma mater come from Ivy League schools. The most notable names among them have been Bill Bradley (Princeton), Rudy LaRusso (Dartmouth), Chris Dudley (Yale) and, of course, the most recent one, Jeremy Lin (Harvard).
This makes a fair amount of sense. As impressive as it is to get into a university as prestigious as an Ivy League institution, their basketball programs don’t get much exposure in the NCAA. There are plenty of colleges out there who may not have the same prestige as Harvard or Yale, but still provide great educational opportunities as well as top-notch basketball programs like Duke and UCLA.
In and of itself, it’s actually pretty impressive to be both a top-notch scholar and a top-notch athlete in the college ranks. However, because universities like Cornell or Brown don’t boast well-repped basketball programs, we don’t see a lot of their alumni make it to the NBA. Even when they do, they don’t last too long.
When Jeremy Lin wasn’t re-signed by anyone this summer and headed overseas — which by the way is still ridiculous — the NBA seemingly didn’t have anyone in the league who hailed from an Ivy League education at first glance. Upon further inspection, there actually still is one NBA player who’s an Ivy League guy.
He can be a little hard to miss because it’s his rookie year, but Miye Oni, who was drafted 58th overall by the Utah Jazz back in June, played his college ball at Yale. As the only player currently in the NBA who played basketball in the Ivy League, Oni believes he can do more to influence the younger generation.
“It’s crazy. I was talking about it with my friends yesterday that I feel like should do a little more with that,” Oni told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a good platform to reach out to kids and let them know that education is important.”
Emphasizing the importance of education is obviously a great message to send to our children. For Oni, he believes that what he’s learned from his own story of becoming both a professional athlete and being a student at a top-notch university can send an empowering message about what it takes.
“Control as you can control it if you take care,” Oni told Basketball Insiders. “I wouldn’t have been where I’m at without my education. At times it seems like I wasn’t going to play college basketball, so I always had my education to fall back on. I knew that if I had that, I would be able to have an opportunity to play and that’s what happened.”
In his three years at Yale, Oni majored in Political Science. In this modern-day and age, athletes are speaking out more and more about social issues that go beyond the sport they play in. In Oni’s case, he stresses that athletes should speak their mind because of what their point of view could do for the public.
“It’s important to an extent,” Oni told Basketball Insiders. “Some people maybe try to overdo it a little bit, but… athletes have a large influence over a large amount of people, so it’s good to get a point of view from a different group.”
Again, most Ivy League basketball players don’t make it to the pros, and the ones that do usually don’t have long and prosperous careers. Oni could potentially be an exception to the rule. Even with the odds stacked against him, he was the first Ivy League player to be drafted into the NBA since 1995.
The reason why players who come from such well-respected schools don’t last for long in the pros is that the smarts a college athlete can have in the classroom usually don’t translate as well on the court. Salt Lake City Stars head coach Martin Schiller thinks the 22-year-old rookie on his roster is very much to the contrary.
“Often, smart school guys are not smart basketball players,” Schiller said. “In his case, I think it goes together so I sense a good smartness on the court from (Oni).”
Now, it’s led him to the Jazz. Much like a fair amount of rookies nowadays, Oni’s starting his career out with Utah’s G-League affiliate — in his case, the Stars — but Oni credits the team for helping him adjust to the next level of basketball.
“It definitely helps,” Oni told Basketball Insiders. “Training camp was good. We learned a lot. We’re just getting more reps offensively and defensively, so it’s been good.”
Now, Oni starts his career off in Utah. As competent as the Jazz are as an organization, adjusting to Salt Lake City can be a tough — one, from the weather alone. Oni grew up in the hot and humid atmosphere that is Los Angeles before moving to the cold tundra that is the northeast. And so, he gets to start his professional basketball career in both a cold climate and at a high altitude. Even though the environment has changed around him a fair amount over the years, that doesn’t phase Oni.
“The altitude here is for sure crazy but you’re fine after the first day,” Oni told Basketball Insiders. “It’s probably the biggest change playing-wise, but I don’t think it impacts me there.”
As for his potential as a pro long-term, what Schiller’s seen of his abilities has gotten him to believe that Oni’s all-around game could make him a keeper for the Jazz.
“Miye is a very capable defender,” Schiller said. “Miye is a very capable driver to the rim. He will also develop into a good shooter. The last thing is… he can actually pass the ball. He’s a pretty good passer. He’s got the quality of potentially being a real three-and-D guy on the next level.”
Given the Jazz’s development with some of their young guys who have also played with the Stars in the past — Royce O’Neale and Tony Bradley as a couple of examples — Schiller’s analysis may not be too far off the mark.