Olaseni works to win the hearts of Iowa fans

BY MATT CABEL | JULY 02, 2013 5:00 AM

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Gabe Olaseni wasn’t always a basketball player.

He wasn’t introduced to the game until his teenage years, when the London native was playing a game of soccer. Olaseni, who then played goalkeeper, fell into the mud trying to save a loose ball during a pickup game.

Lying in the dirt, Olaseni looked up and saw a group people playing a game he didn’t recognize: basketball.

“I thought I might as well just try to play,” Olaseni said. “It wasn’t as instantaneous as that, though. I had to pick it up because no one was really playing. I think 10 guys at my school out of like 1,000 played [basketball].”

Fast-forward to this summer, in which Olaseni now has two seasons of college basketball under his belt. He’s gone from being a benchwarmer to a role player in his first two years as a Hawkeye, and he is working to make even bigger strides in the 2013-14 campaign.

This drive of Olaseni’s stems from his time in London, where he was the only basketball player at his school that sought success in the popular American game.

So when one of his best friends could dunk before him, without the rigorous training Olaseni was going through, it pushed him to work harder.

“I kept trying to dunk for a few months, and eventually I got one down,” Olaseni said. “I think it was on my last day of school when I was, like, 15.”

Olaseni knew, however, that he couldn’t stay in England if basketball was to be his primary sport.

Opportunity soon knocked — his coach in London knew a high-school basketball coach in Wichita, Kan. Olaseni transferred there, excelled in his senior year, and accepted his first scholarship offer from Iowa.

Still, Olaseni’s drive is apparent. When Mike Gesell arrives at the practice gyms in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Olaseni is there, working on all aspects of his game: improving his hook shots — shooting 250 a day, if he has time — ball-handling skills, passing, and his overall offensive game.

It doesn’t stop there. Olaseni is also eating more, lifting more, and spending more time with a basketball than ever before.

“Every time I go to the gym, I see him there — see him trying to get better,” Gesell said. “He understands that he has very high potential, and he’s working really hard at it.”

Olaseni’s Prime Time League teammate Zach McCabe put the 6-10 center’s improved game very simply.

“Gabe’s playing really well right now,” McCabe said.

But it’s not about being the first man in and out of the gym — Olaseni finds the sentiment “kind of a cliché.”

“Whenever I have free time, and I’m not resting or studying, I try to get in the gym as much as I can,” he said. “… I feel if you’re not improving, you’re staying the same. If you’re staying the same, you’re getting worse — someone else out there is getting better.

“Someone’s always in [the gym]. Sometimes it’s annoying, actually. There are only four hoops to shoot on.”

Roles in the upcoming season are a nonfactor for Olaseni — he’s willing to be “whatever coach wants me to be.”

Even then, Olaseni still has his goals — most of them are ones that can’t really be kept on a stat sheet.

“I feel as though freshman year when I got in the game, everyone was like, ‘Oh, OK, let’s just see what he does.’ Sophomore year was like, ‘OK, he might do something good,’ ” Olaseni said. “This year, I want people to say ‘He’s going to change it for the better.’ I want the crowd to start going crazy.

“I want the whole stadium to recognize that I’m going to make a positive impact. That’s what I’m striving for.”

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