Basabe continues to grow


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Take a look at the statistics for the Iowa men’s basketball team, and one stat jumps off the page.
Junior shooting guard Matt Gatens has three blocks thus far. Forward Andrew Brommer has nine.

Eric May, the team’s block leader last year, has five.

Melsahn Basabe has 28.

In other words, Basabe’s post presence has accounted for 49 percent of the team’s rejections. He has more blocks through 20 games than May did all of last year (the guard finished with 26 in 32 games).

Basabe has blocked more shots than all but seven Big Ten players, despite being the only underclassman and the second-shortest of the league’s top 15 blockers.

Not bad for a freshman.

The 18-year old from Glen Cove, N.Y., has raised eyebrows on both sides of the court. In addition to leading the team in blocks, Basabe averages a squad-best seven rebounds per game and is third in points per contest with 10.2.

“Melsahn is great at reading the game and what it brings to him,” Hawkeye center Jarryd Cole said. “Earlier on in the season, he was pretty flashy, trying to do things, but I think he’s mellowed down a little bit. He’s found himself. He’s going to take whatever the game gives him.

“You can’t take too much, and he’s learned that. That shows his maturity.”

Basabe had to be mature given the nontraditional circumstances in which he arrived in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. After starring at Glen Cove’s St. Marks High, Basabe committed to play for Fran McCaffery at Siena. The small private college reached the NCAA Tournament last year, and it is 800 miles closer to Basabe’s hometown than is Iowa City.

McCaffery left the Saints and signed with the Hawkeyes in March 2010, and Basabe announced via Twitter that he would follow the coach last May.

The forward has blossomed in the Midwest, quickly establishing himself as one of the Black and Gold’s most dangerous threats. He put up a double-double against Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, the likely No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, and he was more impressive than Minnesota standouts Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III when the teams met on Jan. 16. The freshman finished with a 20-13 double-double; the Gopher duo combined for 27 points and 18 boards.

Basabe, who was unavailable for comment, continued his strong play Sunday with what McCaffery called a “workman-like double-double” in Iowa’s 91-77 drubbing of Indiana. He wasn’t flashy, but he finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the year.

He didn’t get [his numbers] in bunches, but he was a factor,” McCaffery said. “He had a few too many [turnovers], but to see him turn and face and read the double team and make two assists early, really affected their ability to keep doubling.”

McCaffery does have one criticism for his star pupil, though. The first-year coach has said on several occasions Basabe needs to find a way to bring the same intensity to every game. While Basabe looked like a veteran against Ohio State and Minnesota, he has also had games in which he was ineffective, particularly against Purdue and Northwestern on Jan. 9 and 12, when he totaled 14 points in the two contests.

Still, Basabe’s good outings have his teammates and fans salivating. Freshman Roy Devyn Marble said his close friend and roommate has the potential to be one of the Big Ten’s premier players by the time he graduates.

“I told him, ‘You could have been playing like Jared Sullinger the entire year,’ ” Marble said. “You just didn’t realize how good you really were.’ ”

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