On Tuesday, Ibrahim Jaaber was presented with the Geasey Award, honoring him as the Big 5 Player of the Year. Being named the best collegiate basketball player in Philadelphia is quite an accomplishment given the city's competition, and it hasn't happened on the Penn campus since Tony Prince received the honor in 1979.
To garner the honor, the defending two-time Ivy Player of the Year had to compete and succeed against top-flight talent in Villanova, an NCAA tournament team, and perennial Atlantic 10 power St. Joseph's. In addition, Jaaber had to beat out a projected late second-round NBA draft pick in Villanova's Curtis Sumpter-no small feat. He recently was invited to an NBA pre-draft camp, and while he will most likely not be asked to return to the more selective camp in Orlando, Fla., the option of playing overseas or in one of the NBA's development leagues is certainly a possibility.
For any of us who were able to watch Jaaber up close, his dominance was obvious against Ivy competition in nearly every contest. Even when Columbia stopped Penn's run at an undefeated league campaign two seasons ago, Jaaber led all scorers with 24 points on 8-11 shooting. Although his selection as Ivy Player of the Year this season was debatable, there is no doubt that Jaaber had the largest impact on Penn's basketball program the past three years.
Now, while it is somewhat unusual to see this level of talent in the Ancient Eight, it isn't unprecedented. Comparing Jaaber's play to that of an NBA legend such as Hall of Fame member Bill Bradley, Princeton '65, or an NBA champion such as Jim McMillian, CC '70, would not be a fair one. Still, there are players from the Ivy League who have found their way to the professional ranks either domestically or abroad-and succeeded.
Currently 21 Ivy alums, male and female, are playing basketball around the world, albeit only one is in a major professional league in the United States-Allison Feaster of the WNBA. In baseball, the Ancient Eight sports 33 professionals, including four in the major leagues. The Ivy League has seen the most success of late in hockey, where an astounding 70 professionals have Ancient Eight roots. Of all the major professional leagues, however, the NFL contains the highest number of active Ivy athletes with 18, including Columbia graduate Marcellus Wiley.
In a world where players are hyped for the pros while still in their first year of high school and Division I programs give athletes scholarships simply to play for one season, the Ivy League remains a unique conference that still attracts top athletes without having to hand out athletic scholarships. As a result, it is certainly the case that one is going to see many more players come out of schools such as the University of Miami or the University of Michigan, but that doesn't mean the Ivies have stopped producing a large number of professional athletes. The opposite trend seems to be occurring, in fact, as Ivy athletes are making a living for themselves in the professional ranks of 10 sports.
While conferences like the Pac-10 and SEC get much of the national glory for the superstar status of their athletes in the pros, the Ivy League has continued to manufacture a steady stream of graduates into a field other than law, medicine, or business. For an eight-school conference whose emphasis is on academics and not athletics, I would say that 202 professional athletes is a pretty strong showing.