Ivy League Player of the Year Miye Oni is a big reason for the Yale Bulldogs success this season.
Oni wasn’t highly recruited coming out of high school in Southern California, but the next step of his journey will be playing on college basketball’s biggest stage Thursday in Yale’s first round NCAA Tournament game against LSU. Tip-off is at 12:40 p.m. in Jacksonville.
Trailing late against Princeton on Saturday, Yale’s best player carried the Bulldogs into the Ivy League Tournament Championship game. Oni finished the game with 23 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
“Teams have to focus on him so much and you see usually ten eyes on him whether he has the basketball or not," Yale senior and All-Ivy First Team Alex Copeland.
But against Harvard, Oni got into foul trouble and sat for ten minutes of the second half on the bench.
"I had complete faith in my teammates to get the job done," Oni told NBC Connecticut.
They did just that. With Oni cheering from the bench, the Bulldogs built a double digit lead en route to a victory over their rival on their home court to punch a ticket to the Big Dance.
"Apart from my little cousin's being born, and a couple other moments, that was one of the best moments of my life," Oni said of seeing Yale’s name revealed on Selection Sunday.
Rewind to Oni’s junior year of high school at Viewpoint High School in California, and offers to play Division 1 basketball were not there after a knee injury limited his time on the court, meaning he didn’t have too much film to show coaches. He originally committed to play Division 3 basketball at Williams College.
“Playing through my senior year,” he said, “the Yale coaches saw me. Some of my coaches sent film to them and the rest is history. Took a year of prep school here in Connecticut at Suffield Academy and ended up here."
This season Yale Coach James Jones said Oni has improved his composure on the court and has learned to trust his teammates even more.
"It's a real privilege to play with him and it’s also really fun to watch," Copeland said.
Still, the Ivy League Player of the Year filled up the stat sheets.
"He was in almost each major statistical category in the top ten,” Jones said. “We haven't seen that in this league since probably Jeremy Lin did it."
Lin of course went from Harvard to a career in the NBA.
As a 6-foot-6, long and athletic win player, Oni is now on the radar of NBA scouts. According to the ESPN broadcast, 20 of them were in the building for the Ivy League Tournament.
If Oni leaves Yale after this, his junior year, he could become the first Ivy League player drafted since 1995.
"I don’t think he's taken one more shot or one less shot or made one less pass or one more pass because he's trying to look good for somebody else,” Jones said. “He's just trying to make our team better."
After Yale lost at Duke this season, Coach Mike Krzyzewski said of Oni, “he will be a first-round pick.”
ESPN’s latest mock draft has him projected to go in the middle-to-late-second round.
Oni has said if invited, he would attend the NBA scouting combine, but he could always come back for his senior year.
First, he’ll try to write Yale basketball history on Thursday as the Bulldogs aim for an upset just like they did in 2016 against Baylor for the program’s first NCAA Tournament win.