DI Freshman of the Year: Melsahn Basabe

BY IAN MARTIN | MAY 09, 2011 7:20 AM

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This year’s Daily Iowan Freshman of the Year Melsahn Basabe’s favorite moment of his first season included being on the wrong end of a YouTube clip.

With 14:08 left in Iowa’s Feb. 6 game at Indiana, Basabe attempted to play help-side defense on driving Indiana freshman Will Sheehey.

Instead, he ended up posterized and left inbounding the ball after receiving a thunderous dunk on his head.

It was another moment of adversity in what had been an inconsistent freshman year for the Glen Cove, N.Y., native. But finally, he said, he responded.

“The game I got dunked at Indiana … that was a national stage, and I came through at the end,” Basabe said.

The game, televised on ESPN, ended up a 1-point victory for Iowa, in large part because of a 20-point, 13-rebound game from Basabe — one of his six double-doubles in the 2010-11 season.

When first-year head coach Fran McCaffery came to Iowa from Siena, Basabe was the marquee recruit. Initially committed to McCaffery at the Albany, N.Y., school, he ended up following the coach to Iowa City as the 6-7 centerpiece of an overhauled Hawkeye roster.

The move was a change, not only in location but in the quality of play. Instead of going from high school to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Basabe played post in the Big Ten — widely considered the most physical Division-I conference.

Initially, there was sluggishness. He didn’t score 20-plus points until a 22-point game against Ohio St. on Jan. 4. But the latter half of the season was enough to earn enough respect of conference coaches that he was voted as a member of the Big Ten’s All-Freshman team.

“He was more valuable to our team than any other freshman was to his team in the Big Ten,” fellow freshman Roy Devyn Marble said.

The numbers reinforce Marble’s thinking. Basabe’s effect on the revitalized Iowa basketball team was evident on both offense and defense — his 41 blocks accounted for 46 percent of Iowa’s blocks, and his 85 offense rebounds accounted for 26 percent of Iowa’s offensive rebounds.

His coach predicted even better numbers for next season.

“Basabe … will be much better next year [after] being spectacular last year,” McCaffery said in an April 26 teleconference.

Fundamentally, Basabe’s game will likely improve over the next three years. But, with a goal of eventually making the NBA, his objectives to accomplish that go beyond just scoring more points and grabbing more boards before he graduates.

He said he didn’t lose 20 games — as Iowa did this season — during all four years of high-school play. Turning the team into a top program, and subsequently leading the team in that effort, will make his college career a success.

“Basically, I have to be a winner; I have to win games,” Basabe said. “I’ve never been a loser all my life.”

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