Auburn Hills — Miye Oni always has felt like he has belonged. Whether it’s a pick-up game, a Division I college basketball team or in the NBA, Oni hasn’t backed down from a challenge. Rather, he’s stepped up to it.
Oni, who starred in his three seasons at Yale and was the Ivy League player of the year this past season, is knocking on the door of history ahead of the NBA Draft on June 20. The 6-foot-6 wing could be the first player from the Ivy League to be drafted since Penn’s Jerome Allen went in the second round in 1995.
Oni was one of six prospects who worked out for the Pistons on Friday morning, a prelude to the NBA Draft Combine next week, when he’ll get to show his skills on a bigger stage. In his junior season at Yale, Oni averaged 17.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists and shot 37.1 percent on 3-pointers.
He could be a potential second-round selection for the Pistons, who have the 45th pick, as he’s ranked the 53rd overall prospect by ESPN.
There’s something in a name — and Oni is looking to hear his called on draft night.
Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish — those are the most popular names of the top draft prospects. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski bestowed a comparable honor on Oni, saying that he could be drafted in the first round as well after a game against Yale this season.
“It definitely bolstered my confidence a lot,” Oni said Friday. “To hear one of the best coaches of all time say that means a lot.”
It’s not that Oni needs a confidence boost; he’s been motivated and a self-made player since high school in California. He didn’t have any Division I scholarship offers because of a knee injury during his junior season in high school, so he reached out to a crop of Division III schools.
He made some progress with Williams College after the coach was impressed with his highlight video clips. Yale later joined the recruiting fray after an assistant coach saw one of Oni’s games during his senior season.
“I was looking at (the Ivy League schools) but I didn’t know if I’d be able to play there. Most of my attention was at the Division III level as I hadn’t made varsity (in high school) at that time,” Oni said. “That was a key recruiting time, so no one was going to recruit me off not seeing me play and no film. It was tough. I was looking at D-III and the Ivy option started to open after my senior year.”
It was too late in the year for Oni to get admission to Yale, so he played a year at a prep school before joining the Bulldogs. That only served to give him more motivation to hone his game and prepare.
Oni averaged 12.9 points and 6.3 rebounds and shot 39.6 percent from beyond the arc as a freshman — and his numbers improved each season at Yale. He led the Bulldogs to a 22-8 record and helped them capture the Ivy League regular-season and tournament titles this past season.
The prestigious Fab 48 AAU tournament in 2016 provided the biggest boost for Oni. He led his team to the championship game before losing to Josh Jackson’s 1Nation powerhouse squad. Oni had 52 points in one of the games but says playing against future NBA stars such as the Pistons’ Thon Maker and Jackson changed his outlook.
“I definitely felt like that was big for my confidence and I belonged with those guys. That was a big step for my confidence at the time and the reason I’m here today,” Oni said. “I had the confidence to realize I could play in the league with those guys. That kept me working hard and push to get even better.”
That’s led him to becoming one of the best NBA prospects out of the traditionally academic conference in decades. Oni still has another year of eligibility if he wants to return to college, but he said he’s at a point where he’s comfortable with his decision to leave school, with a degree in political science not far out of reach.
Being the first player from the conference to be drafted in a long time would be big, too.
“It would mean a lot; it would mean the world. It would open up recruiting for the league,” he said. “It would be me fulfilling a lifelong dream and that’s the goal. I’m hoping it does wonders for me.”