LAS VEGAS – Eugene Omoruyi is on a quest to become the fifth-most popular basketball player to come out of Orangeville Prep in Orangeville, Ontario.
So far, the list of alumni includes guard Jamal Murray, who has played five seasons for Denver after the Nuggets made him the No. 7 overall pick of the 2016 NBA Draft. It also includes center Thon Maker, who was the No. 10 overall pick of the ’16 draft and who currently plays for Cleveland.
In addition, New York Knicks forward Ignas Brazdeikis was a second-round draft pick in 2019 who played at Orangeville Prep. Also, Oklahoma City guard Luguentz Dort, an undrafted free agent who signed with the Thunder in 2019, played at Orangeville Prep.
A summer league camper with the Dallas Mavericks, Omoruyi played alongside Murray and Maker in Montreal, and that trio was so strong that they often defeated American high school teams.
“It was great,” Omoruyi said following Tuesday’s practice at the Paul McDermott Physical Education Complex. “I learned a lot from those guys and I learned a lot from that program.
“I thought that helped me translate my game to college. I kept the same attitude I learned there and used that as my approach in college.”
Omoruyi is a late-bloomer since he only started playing basketball as a high school sophomore. Thus, being around Murray and Maker enabled the 6-6, 235-pound forward to learn some of the nuances of the game of basketball.
With the Mavs and their entry in the MGM Resorts Summer League, Omoruyi has been like a proverbial sponge, strategically soaking up everything the coaches are throwing his way.
“I think that’s an amazing point is that he is still continually every single day learning, learning and learning,” Mavs summer league coach Greg St. Jean said. “Everything we end up talking to him about he’s doing it with a lot of instinct. You wouldn’t know that he just learned that seven years ago.”
Born in Nigeria, Omoruyi and his family moved to Canada when he was a year old. But basketball was not a sport his parents had an affinity toward.
“My parents, they didn’t want me to play basketball,” Omoruyi said. “I played soccer growing up. Just me falling in love with (basketball) in the 10th grade was big for me.
“I just wanted to play and get a chance to get out of the house and get away from studying. So my parents allowed me to do that for a bit, and I just had to prove to them that I could balance (academics and athletics) in school.”
Before receiving an invitation to become part of the Mavs’ summer league team, Omoruyi spent three years playing for Rutgers. As a junior, he averaged 13.8 points and 7.2 rebounds and was an All-Big Ten honorable mention selection while also serving as a captain for the Scarlet Knights.
However, Omoruyi said his goal was to play college basketball for Oregon. So he transferred, spent a year red-shirting, and then averaged 17.1 points and 5.4 rebounds in his senior season for the Ducks, and also earned First Team All-Pac 12 honors.
So, why did Omoruyi leave Rutgers and transfer to Oregon with only one year of eligibility remaining?
“It was a hard decision, but I felt just me getting (to Oregon) was what I wanted,” Omoruyi said. “It helped me elevate my game and helped me get ready for the NBA.”
Omoruyi also was following in the footsteps of his mentor, guard Dillon Brooks, who is a Canadian who played for Oregon from 2014-17 and has spent the last four seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies.
“That’s my guy, that’s my big brother,” Omoruyi said of Brooks. “I always ask him for advice. He’s also the main reason I went to Oregon.
“I just wanted to get a different head set on obviously coming in and learning the game and learning it the way he learned it. Our games are very similar in different aspects, so that’s my guy. He’s always been in my corner.”
In Monday’s 95-73 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers during the Mavs’ summer league debut, Omoruyi, who went undrafted, collected 16 points and six rebounds in 26 workmanlike minutes, and was 6-of-11 from the field. The Mavs have admired his work ethic and the way he does his due diligence.
“His effort, his physicality and his intensity was great,” St. Jean said. “He’s very coachable. He’s someone that is extremely versatile defensively, so we want to continue to utilize him that way.
“And then offensively, continue to find ways for him to impact the game. That’s why we’re playing him in a lot of different positions on both ends of the floor, because that’s kind of how we’re going to try to utilize him going forward.”
The Mavs will get their second gameday look at Omoruyi when they face the Utah Jazz on Wednesday at 8 p.m. CDT at the Cox Pavilion on NBA TV. And Omoruyi, 24, has plans of going out and trying to help the Mavs even their summer league record at 1-1.
Omoruyi, who has dual citizenship in Nigeria and Canada, plans to play for Team Nigeria in the 2024 Olympics in Paris. In the meantime, despite his age, the Mavs believe there’s some favorable aspects about Omoruyi’s game that they’re intrigued with.
“He’s somebody that we do think has a great upside despite the, quote unquote, age that people say when they’re coming out of the draft,” St. Jean said. “He’s somebody that we think could continue to get better.
“He’s got the right work ethic and right mentality, and we’re hopeful we can continue to work on his skills.”
If nothing else, Omoruyi would like to become another popular basketball player to come out of Orangeville Prep. That alone is motivation in his journey to possibly make an NBA roster.
“I’m just staying locked in and just taking my game and just coming out here and competing and staying focused,” Omoruyi said. “I just want to come in here and prove I belong in the (NBA), and that I belong playing this game.
“I know I started (playing basketball) late. I just got to keep up my repetitions and how I approach the Mavs or the G League and get better. I just want to get better and prove I belong on a team and prove I deserve a spot.”