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Playing through tragedy: Olaseni copes with the loss of his father

BY JACOB SHEYKO | DECEMBER 01, 2014 5:00 AM

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Gabe Olaseni walked into the Hadley Club room in Carver-Hawkeye Arena and made a beeline for the stat sheet.

“No turnovers,” he said with a smile.

Basketball was the only thing on his mind, which is nothing short of a miracle considering what Olaseni has been put through the past couple of days.

Before Iowa’s Nov. 27 game against Northern Illinois, the Iowa coaching staff told Olaseni that his father, Benson Olaseni, had died in England that morning.

But as few people could, Olaseni not only played that night but played Nov. 29 against Longwood as well. The two wins were arguably the best two-game stretch of his season.

Olaseni never doubted if he would play.

“My dad would have wanted me to play,” Olaseni said following Iowa’s 77-44 win over Longwood.

“One thing he told my family before he passed away was, ‘Just continue as usual. Just be strong, stay together, fight on.’ So as soon as I found out, I told Coach I wanted to play.

“He would have wanted me to play, so hopefully, these past couple of games I made him proud.”

In Iowa’s wins against Northern Illinois and Longwood, Olaseni combined for 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 blocks in 43 minutes of playing time.

When he came off the floor in the fourth quarter against Northern Illinois, coaches and teammates gathered around and hugged him. In that moment and after the game, head coach Fran McCaffery told him his father would have been proud of him.

“If I was in his position, I don’t really know if I could have done what he just did,” Adam Woodbury said.

In each game, Olaseni has equaled or played his season high in minutes played. That would be a hassle to some, but to Olaseni, it’s helping him keep his mind on anything but his late father.

“I’ve never lost anyone, but one thing everyone has told me is just try to stay busy,” Olaseni said. “Just try to keep your routine.”

That routine often includes a lot of basketball. During the summer, Olaseni was spending so much time in the gym that McCaffery wanted to throw him out, fearing that his body would wear down.

“He’s so incredibly focused, and it’s across the board,” McCaffery said. “It’s how he lives his life. How he prepares academically, he’s always on time, he’s always early, he’s a great teammate, he reads the scouting report, processes the scouting report, and seems to keep getting better as a basketball player.”

He plans to go home to England following the North Carolina game on Dec. 3, which would bring him back to Iowa on either Dec. 8 or 9, depending on the date of his father’s service.

Between hearing the news and leaving for home, Olaseni has spent as much time with teammates as possible, finding that and basketball to be therapeutic.

He even went to McCaffery’s house with a couple of teammates for Thanksgiving. They stayed longer than they expected to, talking to each other for six or seven hours.

Olaseni said that his father’s death hasn’t really hit him yet. He even cracked a few jokes while talking with the media.

“Obviously, everyone has been really nice to me … for once, which is good,” he joked.

While the emotions haven’t gotten to Olaseni yet, he knows that’s subject to change once he goes home, saying when he walks around the house, he’ll let loose.

“Obviously, it’s a terrible thing to happen, but terrible things happen to everyone,” he said. “No one’s going to feel sorry for me. I still have to go out there and produce.”

After the questions about his father ended, Olaseni seamlessly flipped back to focusing solely on basketball. He turned back to the stat sheet, picked it up as he walked out of the room, analyzing his game from a numbers standpoint.

He was still focused on turnovers.

“I think I have like 8 turnovers and 3 assists,” he said. “I’m getting there.”

Follow @JacobSheyko on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa men’s basketball team.


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