Joel Bolomboy was raised on dreaming.
When he was four years old, his parents picked up and moved halfway across the world from Ukraine to the United States. At the time, he was an only child. His parents wanted to start a life full of opportunities for their growing family, which would soon accompany Bolomboy with three younger sisters. The best way to do so was to chase the American Dream.
Throughout his life, both personal and on the basketball court, Bolomboy continues to carry that dreamer’s mentality to further himself with the opportunities his parents provided him nearly 20 years ago. To understand the success he’s been able to find on his journey, you first need to understand the route he chose to get there.
For Bolomboy, his path to professional basketball didn’t start with a plastic Fisher-Price hoop and a cliche story of him making his first basket before he could even walk. Playing basketball wasn’t even the first sport he gave his full attention to when growing up.
After moving from Ukraine to Texas, Bolomboy spent his time in adolescence doing a lot of the same stuff every kid in America does. He watched TV a lot, he got acquainted with a skateboard, he tried every sport under the sun. Tennis, track, football, anything to keep him occupied as he became integrated into the American culture. As the 6-foot-10 sweet-shooting big man says himself, “I can play any sport you can think about.”
When the Texas heat became a bit too unbearable for the outdoor sports, though, Bolomboy shifted his focus to basketball. Towering over most middle schoolers at the time, standing at 6-foot-2 in eighth grade, Bolomboy was nudged in the direction of the hardwood by his best friend’s father, Gerald Sledge.
Sledge was the coach at Central High School in Keller, Texas. With his free time, he would come down to Bolomboy’s middle school to try to find players for his team, while simultaneously offering advice and workouts to the students. That’s where it all began for Bolomboy.
“(Sledge) would come in a few times a week,” Bolomboy said. “And like, nobody would go over there except for his son, and his name was Lawrence. So, I was like, maybe I should go over there. You know, I was playing football and I wasn’t really into it just because there were so many guys. It was an outdoor sport and growing up in Texas, it was really hot, always hot. I just felt like it wasn’t for me. So, I just kept going to basketball working on my game. And I just got better and better at and just kind of went from there.”
Go from there, he did. Bolomboy used his size advantage coupled with the natural athleticism he displayed growing up to play his way onto the radar of college basketball coaches around the country. His future in the sport looked bright. Colleges like Florida State and Clemson expressed their interest in signing Bolomboy, but those offers from high-major programs didn’t connect with the high schooler at the time.
Instead, it was mid-major Weber State and Phil Beckner who won the services of Bolomboy, not knowing at the time they were signing a player who would go on to be one of the most decorated in program history.
“Those schools like Florida State,” Bolomboy said. “I remember them telling me that if I go there, they wanted me to be a redshirt my first year. It just didn’t seem right. You know, kind of bigger schools, they felt like they were just kind of hearing about me and came into the picture and they really know, who I was, about my game.
“I think the main reason why I picked Weber State just because the coaching staff they had in place and all the guys that were there, I kind of like them a lot,” Bolomboy said. “And just like, the main reason is because they believed in me and they had a plan for me. They also showed me a long-term plan because they had a guy named Phil Beckner and he’s the one who recruited me and he was really good at developing players. But, Dame, he always says like Coach Phil, the coach who recruited me, he’s the biggest reason why he’s in the NBA. So, I took that into consideration.”
Getting to the NBA is no easy task for any player. Every year thousands of college basketball players line up for a chance to be drafted in one of the 60 slots, and the rest scramble to fill in summer league invites and training camp opportunities. When a player has the pedigree of a Kentucky or Duke, sometimes life is a bit easier in landing that chance.
Coming from Weber State? Well, the work was cut out for Bolomboy.
All he did during his time in college was dominate, though. In 2016, Bolomboy was named Big Sky Player of the Year. He left Weber State as the program’s all-time leading rebounder, too.
The mid-major to NBA road is one less traveled, for sure, but Bolomboy was never worried about that standing in the way of his chances.
“I knew that getting into the NBA would all come eventually,” Bolomboy said. “The main thing for me was to continue to get better and just being stronger. And if you could play, you’re an NBA caliber player, those guys, that’s what they get paid for. Those scouts, they find you out there.”
When Bolomboy made his way to the NBA Draft Combine ahead of the 2016 draft, he found himself around all of those same players from the high-major schools that passed him over. It was his opportunity to prove to himself something he knew all along: that he belonged in the same gym with all of those guys.
“What really put me over the top was when I did all of my athletic testing,” Bolomboy said. “And I felt like I was much better and more explosive than those guys. When we started playing, I was playing good and I was playing better than a lot of those guys. I was finishing at the rim, hitting my three’s, rebounding and doing what I normally do.”
The impressive combine performance led to another dream few ever realize: being drafted into the NBA. In the second round, with the Utah Jazz picking 52nd overall, Bolomboy saw his name pop up on the screen while surrounded by friends and family.
“It was such a good night just to hear my name called,” Bolomboy said. “I teared up and stuff like that just knowing all of my hard work and everything I did, just to hear my name called, it all paid off. It was just the start of everything.”
Once life in the NBA begins, nothing is guaranteed. Unless you’re a first-round pick, the money usually isn’t, either. Getting to the league is a battle in its own right, but the real fight begins once you’re there. For Bolomboy, his journey since seeing his name flash across that screen has been a prime example of that grind.
After spending his rookie season with the Jazz among the likes of Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors, and Trey Lyles, opportunities for court time came few and far between. It was in that first season that Bolomboy experienced the back and forth of being on both an NBA squad and a G-League squad; he appeared in 24 games for the Salt Lake City Stars. Spending time down in the G-League helped keep Bolomboy sharp throughout the season.
This season for Bolomboy has been spent primarily in the G-League, with the Wisconsin Herd. Taking the learning experience he gained last year while around the Jazz, the forward has turned in one of the most impressive seasons the developmental league has seen. Averaging 17 points, 10.5 rebounds, and shooting 59 percent from the floor, Bolomboy has once again found himself squarely on the radar of NBA clubs.
With the way the game of basketball is evolving, more big men are asked to step out to the three-point line. After attempting just one three-pointer in his first two years of college, Bolomboy has developed into a legitimate shot-maker from beyond the arc. Last season in the G-League, he made 21 of his 46 attempts.
“Coaches always told me if I’m open to shoot it and don’t even hesitate,” Bolomboy said of his G-League experience last season. “It will make defenses respect you more because for me when I am on the perimeter and for a guy to sag off me two to three feet, that’s disrespectful.”
From Ukraine to America, Bolomboy has developed more than a jump shot. He’s developed the opportunity to succeed, not just on the basketball court, but in life as well. His parents dreamed of a better life when they moved to the United States, and Bolomboy grew up dreaming of a shot at the NBA. Both things have come true, for the most part.
While Bolomboy waits for his next opportunity on the big stage, don’t expect him to just sit around and dream about it, though. He’ll be working harder than ever to make that dream a reality.
“Whoever is going to give me that chance, I won’t let them down,” Bolomboy said. “That’s for sure.”
The Six Things We’re Watching
Spencer Davies takes a look at a handful of storylines surrounding the NBA as the league’s suspension continues.
The NBA is at a standstill. Even as we approach the midpoint of April — over a month since the league ceased its in-game operations — the needle has yet to move due to the coronavirus pandemic, as the whole sports world continues to attempt to figure out its next course of action.
While we wait, let’s go over Six Things We’re Watching here at Basketball Insiders.
With one announcement on Thursday morning, Jalen Green made history. In an unprecedented move, the widely-considered top high school basketball prospect from Fresno will be joining the G League on its Select Team in Southern California. This is huge for the landscape of elite talent and a pathway to the NBA, especially considering the “traditional” nature of going through the NCAA ranks or traveling overseas to play professionally.
According to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, G League president Shareef Abdur-Rahim is at the forefront of the concept, which will include a lucrative salary and a college scholarship to receive an education if the participating prospect chooses to. ESPN’s Jonathan Givony reports that Green will make over $500,000 in the program.
As far as the Select Team is concerned, it will not operate as a regular team in the league would. There will be a handful of open roster spots for the high school talents — Isaiah Todd is another player who has gone this route, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania — while the rest of the team will be comprised of veterans. Givony says the Select Team’s competition will range from regular G League squads, foreign national teams and worldwide NBA academies. Though most of these contests will be played in an exhibition, the main goal will be to mature on and off the floor. As reported by Givony, former NBA head coach Sam Mitchell is expected to be a top candidate to lead the Select Team. Uncommitted prospects such as Makur Makur, Karim Mane and Kai Sotto may follow Green’s lead, as well.
For a number of years, young athletes have been taking alternate paths to exclude the NCAA. Most recently, LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton decided to head over to Australia to prepare for the NBA ranks. Even a couple of years ago, Darius Bazley decommitted from Syracuse University with intentions to go straight to the G League — although, that turned into a million-dollar internship plus training. Green’s decision today, however, has the potential to set a brand new standard for NBA hopefuls coming out of high school. It will be fascinating to see how this G League Select Team program for elite prospects turns out.
Winds of Change
Out with the old, in with the new. This past week, the Chicago Bulls announced the hiring of Arturas Karnisovas from the Denver Nuggets as their executive vice president of basketball operations. The front office shake-up is the organization’s first major change in nearly two decades, and it’s about time. There is light at the end of the tunnel with this team as constructed; a borderline All-Star in Zach LaVine, an exciting young point guard in Coby White, a physical presence in Wendell Carter is a good starting place. It’s who’s molding those players and the leadership that could use a facelift.
Karnisovas has already gotten rid of former longtime executive Gar Forman, while John Paxson will transition into an advisory role. Those two are extremely close to the Reinsdorf family, which made it a difficult sell, but ultimately the franchise is moving on. Could a coaching change be the next on the list? Whether people deem it fair or unfair, Jim Boylen hasn’t exactly gotten rave reviews from his players in public. There seems to be a tension with LaVine, the team’s franchise player, which doesn’t make staying any more favorable.
We know that Karnisovas’ philosophy is high-pace with multi-positional players, identical to what he helped build with the Nuggets. He mentioned during his introduction that shooting and rebounding were glaring issues, so those will likely be areas addressed in the offseason. Will his desired style line up with Boylen’s? We’ll find out sooner than later because Karnisovas doesn’t want to waste time in kick-starting Chicago’s fresh direction.
As usual, our founder and lead publisher Steve Kyler is bringing forth top-notch work through his one-on-one podcasting sessions. His latest talk is with Jordan Fair of Progression Daily, a former basketball player-turned trainer for high-level collegiate and pro talent, as well as a high school head coach at Oldsmar Christian School.
Other guests on the podcast recently include Delaware Blue Coats assistant coach and former NBA guard Xavier Silas, veteran Detroit Pistons big man John Henson and one of the game’s highly-regarded trainers, Tyler Relph. You can find these interviews on our Insiders Podcast page.
What Could’ve Been (?)
A friend of mine texted me the other day about what could be lost if this season is indeed canceled.
The Milwaukee Bucks were rolling with Giannis Antetokounmpo and had a high chance to go all the way and win the NBA Finals. Could this be a situation like the 1994 Montreal Expos, where their best chance at a title was strictly halted by a league stoppage? Let’s not forget that this would result in one less year of Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee, and unfortunately for the franchise, his free agency comes up in 2021.
What about the Los Angeles Lakers, who seemed destined to bring a title back to the city behind LeBron James’ leadership in the most emotional year the team and league have ever seen? And the other squad in town, the Clippers — could all of those assets and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander sent to Oklahoma City potentially be worth one season of Paul George? That’s quite an all-in scenario, no?
As for the others — In a season most teams consider a failure or a success, is there more of a neutral outlook now? Maybe coaches who were on the hot seat before all of this get a little more time to sort things out. It will be interesting to see how those evaluations are made.
Player General Management
Before the Bulls hired Arturas Karnisovas as their next top front office guy, Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie decided to roleplay and have some fun on Twitter as player-general manager. Not too different from Jackie Moon — do you have the marketing skills in you, Spence? Anyways, it was a cool little project he put together and the results were quite intriguing regardless of actual possibilities and logistics. This doesn’t appear to be a tampering situation, and hopefully the NBA wouldn’t treat it as such.
Check out the results of Dinwiddie’s pretend GM activity for the Bulls on SB Nation.
The Cream of the Crop
If you’re looking to stir up a good, ol’ fashioned debate up with your friends, start with us! Over the past week-and-a-half, Basketball Insiders went ahead and ranked the top players by their respective positions, point guard through center, in our own unique ways. Check out what our writers came up with and let us know how you feel about these!
- Ranking The PGs: Matt John
- Ranking The SGs: Ben Nadeau
- Ranking The SFs: Spencer Davies
- Ranking The PFs: Drew Maresca
- Ranking The Cs: David Yapkowitz
Hopefully, you enjoy those articles and the content we’re putting out in these trying times we’re facing as one big basketball family. We will keep you updated as the information presents itself in real-time. In the meanwhile, please stay safe and stay smart!
Report: G League to Expand to Mexico for 2020-21 Season
The NBA G League, the NBA’s official minor league, and Capitanes, a professional basketball team based in Mexico City, today announced that Capitanes will join the NBA G League as its first team from outside the U.S. and Canada.
Capitanes becomes the NBA G League’s 29th team and will make its debut for the 2020-21 season. The team will play its NBA G League home games at the Gimnasio Juan de la Barrera in Mexico City.
Miye Oni — A Rare Breed
Matt John has a chat with Utah Jazz rookie Miye Oni about being the only Ivy League player currently in the NBA, the importance of education and adjusting to a new city.
Ivy Leaguers are hard to come by in professional basketball.
Coming into this season, there have only been 45 players in NBA history whose alma mater come from Ivy League schools. The most notable names among them have been Bill Bradley (Princeton), Rudy LaRusso (Dartmouth), Chris Dudley (Yale) and, of course, the most recent one, Jeremy Lin (Harvard).
This makes a fair amount of sense. As impressive as it is to get into a university as prestigious as an Ivy League institution, their basketball programs don’t get much exposure in the NCAA. There are plenty of colleges out there who may not have the same prestige as Harvard or Yale, but still provide great educational opportunities as well as top-notch basketball programs like Duke and UCLA.
In and of itself, it’s actually pretty impressive to be both a top-notch scholar and a top-notch athlete in the college ranks. However, because universities like Cornell or Brown don’t boast well-repped basketball programs, we don’t see a lot of their alumni make it to the NBA. Even when they do, they don’t last too long.
When Jeremy Lin wasn’t re-signed by anyone this summer and headed overseas — which by the way is still ridiculous — the NBA seemingly didn’t have anyone in the league who hailed from an Ivy League education at first glance. Upon further inspection, there actually still is one NBA player who’s an Ivy League guy.
He can be a little hard to miss because it’s his rookie year, but Miye Oni, who was drafted 58th overall by the Utah Jazz back in June, played his college ball at Yale. As the only player currently in the NBA who played basketball in the Ivy League, Oni believes he can do more to influence the younger generation.
“It’s crazy. I was talking about it with my friends yesterday that I feel like should do a little more with that,” Oni told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a good platform to reach out to kids and let them know that education is important.”
Emphasizing the importance of education is obviously a great message to send to our children. For Oni, he believes that what he’s learned from his own story of becoming both a professional athlete and being a student at a top-notch university can send an empowering message about what it takes.
“Control as you can control it if you take care,” Oni told Basketball Insiders. “I wouldn’t have been where I’m at without my education. At times it seems like I wasn’t going to play college basketball, so I always had my education to fall back on. I knew that if I had that, I would be able to have an opportunity to play and that’s what happened.”
In his three years at Yale, Oni majored in Political Science. In this modern-day and age, athletes are speaking out more and more about social issues that go beyond the sport they play in. In Oni’s case, he stresses that athletes should speak their mind because of what their point of view could do for the public.
“It’s important to an extent,” Oni told Basketball Insiders. “Some people maybe try to overdo it a little bit, but… athletes have a large influence over a large amount of people, so it’s good to get a point of view from a different group.”
Again, most Ivy League basketball players don’t make it to the pros, and the ones that do usually don’t have long and prosperous careers. Oni could potentially be an exception to the rule. Even with the odds stacked against him, he was the first Ivy League player to be drafted into the NBA since 1995.
The reason why players who come from such well-respected schools don’t last for long in the pros is that the smarts a college athlete can have in the classroom usually don’t translate as well on the court. Salt Lake City Stars head coach Martin Schiller thinks the 22-year-old rookie on his roster is very much to the contrary.
“Often, smart school guys are not smart basketball players,” Schiller said. “In his case, I think it goes together so I sense a good smartness on the court from (Oni).”
Now, it’s led him to the Jazz. Much like a fair amount of rookies nowadays, Oni’s starting his career out with Utah’s G-League affiliate — in his case, the Stars — but Oni credits the team for helping him adjust to the next level of basketball.
“It definitely helps,” Oni told Basketball Insiders. “Training camp was good. We learned a lot. We’re just getting more reps offensively and defensively, so it’s been good.”
Now, Oni starts his career off in Utah. As competent as the Jazz are as an organization, adjusting to Salt Lake City can be a tough — one, from the weather alone. Oni grew up in the hot and humid atmosphere that is Los Angeles before moving to the cold tundra that is the northeast. And so, he gets to start his professional basketball career in both a cold climate and at a high altitude. Even though the environment has changed around him a fair amount over the years, that doesn’t phase Oni.
“The altitude here is for sure crazy but you’re fine after the first day,” Oni told Basketball Insiders. “It’s probably the biggest change playing-wise, but I don’t think it impacts me there.”
As for his potential as a pro long-term, what Schiller’s seen of his abilities has gotten him to believe that Oni’s all-around game could make him a keeper for the Jazz.
“Miye is a very capable defender,” Schiller said. “Miye is a very capable driver to the rim. He will also develop into a good shooter. The last thing is… he can actually pass the ball. He’s a pretty good passer. He’s got the quality of potentially being a real three-and-D guy on the next level.”
Given the Jazz’s development with some of their young guys who have also played with the Stars in the past — Royce O’Neale and Tony Bradley as a couple of examples — Schiller’s analysis may not be too far off the mark.
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