Miye Oni is rel­ish­ing a spe­cial sea­son at Yale

The News-Times - - SPORTS - JEFF JA­COBS

NEW HAVEN — After Miye Oni scored a ca­reer­high 29 points against Mi­ami, coach Jim Lar­ranaga said sim­ply, “We couldn’t guard him.” A week later, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski said Oni, “will be a firstround pick.”

And now here was the

6-foot-6 ju­nior on Fri­day, three days after scor­ing his

1,000th col­le­giate point against Skid­more, con­sid­er­ing those words. Con­sid­er­ing how three years ago he was look­ing at at­tend­ing Divi­sion III Wil­liams and not con­sid­er­ing the 2019 NBA Draft.

“That’s the high­est praise, ut­most re­spect from some of the best coaches in the world,” Oni said. “It means a lot to me. You hear things like that and you think, ‘Maybe I’m do­ing some­thing right.’ It drives you to work even harder.”

And Matt Kings­ley, Yale’s as­so­ciate coach who first spot­ted Oni in a Cal­i­for­nia high school layup line?

“It’s a lit­tle sur­real,” Kings­ley said. “But Miye has worked re­ally hard and we’re happy he has put him­self to be in this po­si­tion. We’re try­ing to help him con­tinue along this path, keep ev­ery­thing in per­spec­tive and not get car­ried away with the hype. He’s do­ing a pretty good job of that.”

There is a long list of Ivy League play­ers drafted by NBA teams, but none since Jerome Allen of Penn in

1995. Listed among the Top

50 and mov­ing up on draft pro­jec­tions, Oni could end that drought in June. We’ll see. He’ll see.

First, there is a sea­son, a po­ten­tially spe­cial one, to com­plete. At 10-3, head­ing into con­fer­ence play, the Bull­dogs are off to their best start since 1991-92. There are many boxes to check and Oni, av­er­ag­ing

16.9 points, 6.1 re­bounds and 3.8 as­sists per game, is check­ing them.

“He has been great for us,” coach James Jones said. “The big­gest dif­fer­ence this sea­son is his ef­fi­ciency of­fen­sively. He has been tremen­dous (with the grow­ing hype), it hasn’t changed the way he has played one pos­ses­sion. He hasn’t changed his be­hav­ior to­ward his game or our team.”

With a break be­fore Brown on Jan. 19, Jones had hit the road re­cruit­ing be­fore prac­tice Fri­day. Kings­ley was about to go out after­ward. Each re­cruit­ing cy­cle brings new sto­ries. Few will match Oni’s.

“It’s true, Miye’s the first kid I’ve ever of­fered an op­por­tu­nity to after just watch­ing him on tape,” Jones said.

Think about that. There are thou­sands of young play­ers who could put to­gether a high­light video that could dis­pro­por­tion­ately in­flate their value.

“I was born at night but not last night,” Jones said,

break­ing into a laugh. “I’ve been do­ing this a long time. Kids can put videos to­gether, but what he was do­ing wasn’t some­thing any­one could do.

“He had this pos­ter­ized dunk. But what I was im­pressed most by was his abil­ity to find his team­mates. That has trans­ferred to us. He led us in as­sists last year out of the 3 spot. Some­times spe­cial peo­ple slip through the cracks. He’s spe­cial.”

Oni was com­ing across the con­ti­nent to New Eng­land one way or an­other. He had in­jured his knee as a 6-3 ju­nior at View­point School in Cal­abasas, Calif., and would play in only a few games. Oni said he was 5-9 tops as a fresh­man be­fore sprout­ing to 6-5 as a se­nior. Run­ning track and ply­o­met­rics helped keep his quick­ness. He emailed the top Divi­sion III schools and found in­ter­est from Wil­liams Col­lege in Wil­liamstown, Mass. He vis­ited early that fall and com­mit­ted.

“I was just en­joy­ing my se­nior year in high school, playing with my friends and cousin,’” Oni said. “Wil­liams is a great aca­demic school. They’d been to the national D3 cham­pi­onship. Dun­can Robin­son played there.”

That’s when Kings­ley went to View­point around Christ­mas.

“We were done re­cruit­ing se­niors,” Kings­ley said. “I’m there to watch Chris­tian Juzang (now at Har­vard). I see this guy in the layup line, long, ath­letic and think, ‘Who is that?’ Found out he was a se­nior.

“Around April, his AAU coach Robert Icart of BTI Hoops, who I’ve known for a long time, called, and said, ‘I think I’ve got a guy for you.’ Here we go. You get a lot of these calls. But the first high­light on the video he sent was this ridicu­lous dunk in tran­si­tion.”

Kings­ley re­mem­bered the Christ­mas layup line. He went out to see Oni play AAU in April 2015. Oni and his dad came on an un­of­fi­cial visit in May. Since Yale ad­mis­sions had been closed, there also was a plan to visit Suffield Academy where he could do a post­grad year.

“They had a de­lay on a con­nec­tion in Washington D.C.,” Kings­ley said. “They were sup­posed to be here four-five hours and in­stead it was an hour and a half tops.”

Miye got to see the cam­pus in an hour. He sat with the coaches for 30 min­utes.

“It was a whirl­wind,” Kings­ley said.

“It was all I needed,” Oni said. “I don’t re­ally like of­fi­cials vis­its any­way. It was per­fect. I didn’t get a chance to visit Suffield, but I already liked the coach, Jeff De­pel­teau. I wasn’t wor­ried.”

The Yale coaches, how­ever, were wor­ried when Oni took an of­fi­cial visit to Prince­ton. He took an un­of­fi­cial visit to Stan­ford. As his AAU play got fire, so did the in­ter­est. Oni stuck with Yale. He stuck with Yale through eye-catch­ing play at Suffield Academy where he broke Shabazz Napier’s National Prep School In­vi­ta­tional scor­ing record.

“I was com­fort­able with the Yale coach­ing staff,” Oni said. “They be­lieved in me with­out see­ing me much in per­son.”

Kings­ley said he has been amazed at how quickly Oni has been able to im­prove once he fo­cuses on a weak­ness.

“When he was at Suffield and drove to the bas­ket in traf­fic un­less it was a straight dunk he wasn’t a good fin­isher,” Kings­ley said. “By the end of that year, he had got­ten re­ally good at it.”

“I didn’t prac­tice fin­ish­ing in high school,” Oni said. “I only wanted to shoot 3s. When I grew, I only wanted to prac­tice my dunk­ing. That had to change.”

It did. Oni does the Mikan Drill and vari­a­tions of it around the rim ev­ery time he works out.

As a fresh­man at Yale, he found 3-point suc­cess. His sopho­more year he didn’t shoot the 3 as well, but found ways to fin­ish with both hands.

“This year he’s putting it all to­gether,” Kings­ley said.

On Fri­day, Oni was named to the Lou Hen­son Award mid­sea­son watch list for the na­tion’s top mid-ma­jor player.

“The trip to China, es­pe­cially, Mem­phis, Mi­ami, Duke, this year has been an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” Oni said. “It has brought our team closer.”

And when the 2018-19 jour­ney ends, he’ll have a decision. Will he stay for a se­nior year? Or go into the NBA Draft? The good news is the NCAA has fi­nally cre­ated a process with the NBA un­der­grad­u­ate ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee for play­ers to get feed­back from NBA man­age­ment. There will be work­out in­vi­ta­tions, too.

“We will sit down as a fam­ily and as­sess the pros and cons of ev­ery­thing,” Oni said. “No mat­ter what, I’m go­ing to get my de­gree at some point.”

Oni, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence ma­jor, is a strong stu­dent, a smart guy. He will make the cor­rect decision.

Joe Mur­phy / Getty Images

Yale’s Miye Oni dunks the ball against Mem­phis on Nov. 17 at FedEx Fo­rum in Mem­phis, Ten­nessee.

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