William McCormack

Yale men’s basketball guard Miye Oni ’20 received this season’s Player of the Year award, the Ivy League announced Tuesday afternoon, making the junior only the third Eli recognized with the prestigious conference honor in school history.

Oni, who was also a unanimous selection to the All-Ivy first team, joins program alumni Paul Maley ’88 and two-time recipient Justin Sears ’16 as the University’s only other conference MVPs. Guard Alex Copeland ’19 accompanies Oni on the Ancient Eight’s first team, making Yale (20–7, 10–4 Ivy) the only team with two selections to the first team this season and marking just the sixth time since 1956 that the Bulldogs have landed two of their own on the top squad.

But as Ivy Madness Media Day progressed early Friday, the duo clearly established their focus on the postseason games at hand, asserting their intention to attack Princeton (16–11, 8–6) with the same confidence, poise and intensity that propelled them to league honors — and sent the Bulldogs to Ivy Madness — in the first place.

“We still know that we have to come out with a complete team effort to get it done again, so we’re not taking anything for granted this game,” Oni said of Yale’s confidence entering Saturday’s semifinal against Princeton, who were swept by the Bulldogs in two games this season. “We’re going to come out with the same type of fire and intensity that we did the last two games when we played them.”

Oni’s ability to impact every facet of the game with his long, athletic frame, creative passing and fast-break finishing above the rim had been proven before he even stepped foot on campus for his junior year. He has averaged more than six rebounds a game for the entirety of his Yale career and scored nearly 13 points a game as a freshman, increasing that stat to a shade over 15 a game during in his sophomore campaign. This year, Oni finished the regular season averaging 17.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.6 blocks per game on 46 percent shooting.

As head coach James Jones pointed out in Yale’s Media Day presser Friday morning, the junior from Northridge, California ranked top ten in multiple statistical categories — from points per game to assist-to-turnover ratio — across the Ancient Eight.

“I tip my hat to Miye because he did something this year that was really quite incredible,” Jones said. “He was, in almost each major statistical category, in the top ten. We hadn’t seen that in this league since Jeremy Lin did it quite a few years back. He was somebody that did a little bit of everything for us… I think that he looks around at the teammates he has, and he has more confidence in them and our ability to do it. He doesn’t feel like he has to do it on his own.”

He features a stat line that reads like that of a legitimate NBA prospect and a league star poised to carry his team through to the NCAA tournament. And indeed, both titles accurately suit the junior wing, who has attracted professional scouts to Yale games and practices throughout the season.

After starting his Yale career strongly, Oni drew further attention to himself with a 29-point performance against Miami, earning valuable minutes at Cameron Indoor Stadium and praise from legendary coaches like the Hurricanes’ Jim Larrañaga and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski along the way.

The scouts kept coming, flocking to Ivy League campuses throughout January and February. Oni lured Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge to a courtside seat at Lavietes Pavilion when Yale played Harvard on Feb. 1 and treated one lucky scout who voyaged north to Hanover to a new career-high of 31 points at Dartmouth the next night. The career mark would only live about 150 hours; Oni dropped 35 points at home the next weekend against Princeton, becoming only the fifth player at Yale to record back-to-back 30-point performances.

Following further recognition in advance of Ivy Madness, Oni continues to handle distractions just like he has throughout Yale’s 27-game campaign. Jones has repeatedly complimented Oni’s ability to focus on Yale basketball, especially as the season reaches its climax.

Copeland, Oni’s easy-spirited elder in the starting lineup, has carried himself with similar composure. His progression from key contributor to co-star took place in Ivy play this year, as Copeland’s scoring average in league games rocketed to 15.7 points per game, and a 23-point performance against Dartmouth allowed him to unite with Oni and 27 other Elis in Yale’s 1,000-point club.

“[I] definitely worked hard in the offseason,  but I didn’t do anything differently,” Copeland said. “I think it’s really just a testament to the confidence that my teammates have given me and the coaching staff. It being my senior year, I think I’ve taken a bit of an effort to try to be more present and to try to play every game like it’s my last one.”

The senior averaged just 2.3 points per game as a freshman on a veteran Bulldog team that achieved the school’s first win in an NCAA tournament game. He emerged as a key member of the Bulldog rotation his sophomore year and earned the team’s Most Improved Player award that season.

Following the announcement of the awards on Tuesday, the program distributed two graphics celebrating Oni and Copeland’s honors. Associate head coach Matt Kingsley met both with supportive comments and the hashtag “#notdoneyet.” But with individual honors secured, Yale still has work to do. The prospect of a potential trip to March Madness — Copeland’s second and Oni’s first –– outweighs any postseason award.

“Alex Copeland has just been absolutely outstanding for us this year,” Jones said. “… There’s a long way to go here. I’m sure my thoughts would have been that we wanted to win a championship, which we shared, and get to the NCAA tournament, which we have an opportunity to do.”

Yale’s first obstacle to that goal is Princeton, whom the Bulldogs face Saturday afternoon in the second Ivy Madness men’s semifinal at 3:30 p.m. on ESPNU.

William McCormack | william.mccormack@yale.edu .

WILLIAM MCCORMACK
William McCormack currently serves as a Sports and Digital Editor for the Yale Daily News. He previously covered men’s basketball and the athletic administration as a staff reporter. Originally from Boston, he is a junior in Timothy Dwight College.