Former DU Star Lands on NBA Roster

Royce O’Neale has became the first former Pioneer to play in the NBA since Byron Beck did it 41 years ago in 1976.

O’Neale, is a small forward, originally from Killeen, Texas. He was recruited by DU out of Harker Heights High School. He played two seasons for the Pioneers before petitioning the NCAA to transfer to Baylor in 2013. DU did not try to block the transfer because he wanted to be closer to his family and his ailing grandfather. He was immediately eligible to play for the Bears instead of sitting out the customary year. Many Pioneer fans suspected another incentive for the lightly recruited prep star’s move was the lure of playing in a power conference and improving his chances of having a professional career. 

DU was 22-10 in O’Neale’s final season at DU when he played with a solid core of players that included fellow sophomores Chris Udophia and Brett Olson, senior Chase Hallam and freshman Jalen Love. O’Neale led the Pioneers in scoring for six games his final season. However, it was his passing that made his game extraordinary with his team-leading 111-assists. He averaged 11.2 points per game and a team-leading 5.5 rebounds per contest. The team made the NIT and defeated Ohio in the first round before falling to Maryland in the final minutes of the second round game at College Park, Maryland. Many Denver fans believe this team gave Denver one of their its best chances ever to make the NCAA playoffs.

The squad stumbled to a 15-16 record the year following the departure of O’Neale.

Following college, he was not selected in the 2015 draft. He played his first professional season in Germany where he averaged 8.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. After playing for the Golden State Warriors’ Summer League team in 2016, he signed with Spanish club for the 2016–17 season and earlier this summer signed with Lithuanian club before playing for the Utah Jazz Summer League team . It was there that he drew the team’s interest.

He’s played 3 minutes in two games this year for the Utah Jazz.  No points yet, but he does have a rebound, half a steal and a foul.

13 thoughts on “Former DU Star Lands on NBA Roster”

  1. Great to see Royce get his NBA shot and it’s been a long time since DU produced an NBA player. He’s on a three-year deal with Utah, with year one of guaranteed money. The NBA minimum salary for players with no NBA experience is at least $815K per year now, so it’s a very nice paycheck for him even if his playing minutes are quite limited.

    I’ve always believed that O’Neale was flat-out poached from DU by Baylor, and his incredible sophomore year development at DU put the Pioneers into their greatest stretch of basketball in the modern era, winning the WAC and winning an NIT game in 2013. Then he left, and DU had no replacement for him. Had Royce stayed at DU, I think the program would not have suffered the subsequent decline that led to Joe Scott’s firing. I am still mad at Baylor for what went down, and the medical reasoning for the transfer was flimsy.

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    1. No program at DU’s level can take a hit of losing a player like Royce prematurely. Stat-stuffer par-excellence. Just be happy for Royce. He had a great opportunity and didn’t waste it. I’m pretty sure he loved DU. He’s handsome and well spoken. Hopefully Rolls Royce hires him for ads and or commercials.

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  2. Yeah, I am not a basketball guru, but I do recall thinking that O’Neals transfer killed the momentum that DU built the season before, and set the program back quite a bit. In any case, glad to hear of his success, and wish him further success in the NBA.

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  3. I am happy Royce is getting his shot at his pro dream. He was a superb player who gave his all on the court, and helped lead DU to the high water mark in it’s 105 years of DU basketball. He was also a very good student, and hugely popular on campus – deservedly so.

    I don’t begrudge players turning pro at any point in college, as they chase their dreams. But I don’t like it when players leave one D-I school for another D-I school without sitting out a year, unless both schools agree that it’s in the player’s best interest to transfer.

    That said, I still hold Royce partly accountable for his decision to leave DU and the ensuing damage his leaving over that summer caused to the DU program. He was a lightly-recruited player in high school, and DU took a chance on him when most other D-I schools passed on him. DU then developed him to become an all-WAC player with a pro future. He would have had the same pro opportunity had he stayed at his D-I school of choice, DU, and he would have almost certainly elevated DU into an NCAA tournament program had he stayed here, helping DU to attract even higher level recruits. Instead, Royce turned his back on DU and on his coaches and teammates under a very loose medical hardship transfer rule, and DU fell like a stone from a high mid-major to a mediocre mid major, and the program has yet to recover.

    Certainly, I blame Baylor and the NCAA for this as well, as this kind of poaching happens with mid major players who get offered a chance to play on higher profile college programs. But it’s also up to the player to pull the trigger on the deal or stay loyal to his original school. I have heard that current DU star guard (and St. Paul, Minn, native) Joe Rosga was offered a chance to transfer to the University of Minnesota, but turned down the Gophers out of loyalty to DU, the school that recruited him when others didn’t recruit him out of high school. I only wish Royce had shown that Rosga level of loyalty to the school that was loyal to him.

    While everybody’s family situation is understandably different, to me, an ailing grandfather isn’t a strong enough reason for anyone to leave a school, but when you combine that ailing grandfather with an offer to play right away at an NCAA top-25 program close to home, and it becomes just too much for some up-and-coming players to refuse. Had Baylor (or any other school) been forced to make O’Neale wait another year to play, do you think he still would have transferred to be with his ailing grandfather? I doubt it…Anyway, DU got screwed badly on that deal. The medical hardship transfer waiver should be be a lot tougher to get.

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    1. So true Puck, so true. I’ve stated it before as well, you just can’t replace a player of Royce’s talent overnight. Those DU teams had star power in O’Neale and Udofia, flanked by complementary players who each excelled in their roles. Guys like the Hallam brothers, Stafford, Olson, Love, etc. (Another loss that the Pios never replaced was the grit of Chase Hallam.)
      The only point of contention was that there was no guarantee DU would have won their conference tournament with two more years of Royce. They had two chances to win the Sun Belt and then the WAC tourneys, and they choked to inferior teams in consecutive years.

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  4. Joe was never a player’s coach. Sources inside DU mentioned he wasn’t happy with Joe. Joe definitely drove that program into the ground. I can’t blame Royce for leaving and not wanting to play for him.

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  5. I guess I’m old school myself, but I believe that coaches should coach and players should play. Joe was Joe from minute one at DU until he left. Every player who went to DU during the Scott era knew exactly what they were signing up for – an old school, yelling disciplinarian who wanted things done his Princeton way, or you wouldn’t see the court. Even while I wasn’t a fan of his personality or his yelling, there is no doubt in my mind that he brought a needed sense of structure and discipline, a playing system that was very hard to play against, and often put DU in position to beat far more athletic opponents. He brought DU to the highest level of basketball it’s ever seen – a WAC league title and an NIT win. No other coach has been able to get DU to that level, so while one could say he “ran the program into the ground”, you could also say he elevated the program to its best level to date. My point is that if Royce had stayed, I don’t think the problematic end of Joe’s tenure would have happened when it did.

    Joe was also loyal to Royce – giving him the opportunity to play D-I ball when other schools didn’t recruit him. Royce had been at DU two full years and saw plenty of playing time under Scott. An NBA scout also told me in 2013 that Royce’s sense of spacing, positioning and his reading of opposing defenses went up dramatically under Scott’s tutelage. So while it’s easy to blame Scott, the blame (at least for me) falls on the players, too…

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    1. Again Puck, pretty much spot on analysis. Those who disparage Joe Scott please remember, he may have not led DU to the promised land, but they were almost always competitive year in, year out. He is a hard nut who expects toughness from his players. Some guys can’t abide by that philosophy, bound to be a clash of personality styles. But to insinuate that Scott ran the team into the ground is complete hyperbole. All that being said, I’m excited for Year 2 of the Billups Tenure.

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    2. Come on Puck, what 18 year old can really know what his college experience will be like. Hell, Larry Bird enrolled originally at IU and left after the first semester because he couldn’t handle Knight.

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    3. Puck Swami, I am a big fan of your analysis, but I don’t think DU gave that amount of money (highest men’s basketball budget in Sun Belt and Horizon, not sure on WAC) to Joe and his program for eight years for a WAC regular season title and a NIT win. The money spent, his unwillingness to change (NCAA last in rebounds for how many years????) and the constant flame-out at seasons end (conference tournament semi-finals was the furthest two of his eight teams made it) equals an unsuccessful hire in many people’s opinion.

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      1. Spot on! When time to make a change he fired two assistants. I don’t really see how that changes the philosophy of your coaching style by scapegoating guys you are supposed to be leading. His way or the highway. Understandably the reason why he didn’t land a head coaching gig anywhere. Didn’t have success at AF or DU.

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  6. To clarify, Coach Scott expected mental toughness in the execution of everything a player did. Inherent to that is discipline within his system, a system that Pete Carril ran with major success for decades at Princeton. It worked to varying degrees in Denver, but there needed to be some flexibility and modulation as well, which includes taking advantage of the home court elevation or individual talents. But Scott is a very good coach but needs the right institutional fit.

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  7. Princeton was not even the right fit for JS. He ruined their program and it’s now only slowly recovering. I agree that he is a very good coach, but his style does not fly in this era. Royce probably would not be where he is today had it not been for Scott teaching him basic and complex nuances of the game. He was a great hire in that he had a better resume then anyone else who would take the DU job. His hire also meant that when he left DU, the program would be in dire straits.

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