Ivy hoops players shoot for big stage
Ivy Leaguers-turned-pros fight for spot on NBA roster but find better luck overseas
July 8, 2010, 2:39 am · Updated June 24, 2010, 12:00 am·
For a select few Ivy League basketball players, the chase of the ‘dream’ does not have to come to a screeching halt come graduation time.
In fact, this past season’s stars, namely Harvard’s Jeremy Lin and Cornell’s Ryan Wittman and Jeff Foote, have shown that a successful career in the Ivy League can indeed open opportunities to play at the professional level.
Lin, a January nominee for the John R. Wooden Award (given to the nation’s best collegiate player), will seize such an opportunity when he suits up for the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League, which tips off tomorrow and runs through the 18th. Meanwhile, Wittman, the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year, is currently attempting to prove his worth as a member of the Boston Celtics’ summer squad — playing in the Orlando Summer League, which began on the 5th and ends tomorrow.
Foote, on the other hand, has signed a contract to play for Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv, a reputable European team based in Israel.
In the examples of those three players, one can see some of the possible paths players can forge to take their games to the next level.
“It just shows that it doesn’t matter where you go, it matters what you got,” said Penn point guard Zack Rosen, who added that his fellow All-Ivy first teamers’ success will be good for the Ancient Eight.
However, the reality is that with Ivy players a rarity on draft boards each June, the window of opportunity to play in the NBA is close to shut. Even standout Ivy players, like Lin and Wittman, are often passed up on draft day. That’s where the NBA’s Summer League comes into play.
For undrafted prospects, an invitation to play for a Summer League squad offers a chance, albeit a slim one, to make a strong impression and earn one of the last spots on an NBA team’s 15-man roster.
An impressive showing can also lead to a professional contract overseas.
Mark Zoller, a former Penn star (C’07) who led the Ivy League in scoring as a senior, was not invited to participate in the NBA’s Summer League, but did play professionally in Spain after graduating.
“I think that they’ll get a lot more exposure, too,” Zoller said. “That makes them infinitely more valuable if they can hop on one of these teams and show well, and get in a couple of games.”
Zoller, who also played in Finland, thinks both Lin and Wittman would fare well in the European game.
“Personally, I think those guys have a Euro-game filled in,” Zoller said after acknowledging their shooting ability.
In some cases, seasoning your game overseas can help keep the NBA dream alive, as former Harvard guard Brian Cusworth and Penn’s two-time Ivy League Player of the Year (C’07), Ibrahim Jaaber have shown.
Both will also be participating in the NBA’s Summer League after playing abroad the past few years.
Current Penn coach Jerome Allen, the last NBA draft pick from the Ivies in 1995, took the opposite path, with a brief stint in the NBA leading to a successful European career.
Ironically, the star of the team Allen now coaches appears to be the most likely Ivy Leaguer to follow in Wittman and Lin’s footsteps in the coming years.
That would be Rosen, a first-team All-Ivy selection as a sophomore and one of the few bright spots on a beleaguered 2009-10 Penn squad. He led the Ancient Eight in scoring and shot an impressive 43 percent from three.
Nevertheless, Rosen, who said it would be a “dream come true” to play in Israel once his Penn days are over, wasn’t interested in comparing his individual success to that of Lin or Wittman.
“To be honest, I’m more focused on this team and this school,” he said, “getting back to the tradition that they’re used to and winning some games.
“There really aren’t any personal successes in a team failure.”
Spoken like a true professional.