IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa has had just one basketball player who went directly from college freshman to NBA rookie, and that was 13 years ago.
It’s been a long time from Ricky Davis to the present at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. For Davis, it was six franchises, 11 seasons, 700 games and 9,912 points ago. In the meantime for Iowa, it’s been four head coaches, a lot of turbulence, and nothing resembling a Final Four berth.
Maybe the Hawkeyes could use another one-and-done, someone more like Ohio State power forward Jared Sullinger than small forward Davis. A player who will use Iowa as a launchpad before soaring into the NBA stratosphere.
Like OSU freshman forward Jared Sullinger will do this spring. Like former Buckeyes Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Daequan Cook did a few years ago.
Like John Wall and Derrick Favors and DeMarcus Cousins and Xavier Henry did last year when they were among the top 12 players taken in the 2010 NBA draft. Like Harrison Barnes of Ames might do at North Carolina if his game sharpens in the second-half of this season.
Show me an NCAA Elite Eight without a freshman sensation or three who are a few months from NBA millions, and I’ll show you yesteryear.
Ohio State Coach Thad Matta lives in the reality of the present. He’s perfectly content with rent-a-players because he can get them. If he can plug in an Oden or Conley or Sullinger for one year, he will. There are always more young phenoms in Ohio, and Matta seems to have little trouble enticing them to Columbus.
All five Buckeye starters Tuesday in Carver are Ohioans. Deshaun Thomas, the only other Big Ten player besides Sullinger to be the league’s Freshman of the Week this season, came across the border from Indiana.
So the solution seems easy. Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery needs to get himself a high school superstar from Ohio or Indiana, a diaper dandy, a PTPer … OK, I’ll stop.
The Hawkeyes’ Melsahn Basabe probably isn’t a one-and-done, but he sure gave quite the performance by a freshman in the first-half of Tuesday’s OSU-Iowa game Tuesday night. He out-Sullingered Sullinger in the half, with 16 points to Jared’s 10. He was no more intimidated than the Buckeyes’ football team was against Arkansas in last evening’s Sugar Bowl.
The halftime score was Iowa 35, OSU 29, even though Hawkeye forward Eric May was sidelined by an apparent leg muscle injury. This was basketball. By the home team, more so than the second-ranked Buckeyes, the club that had knocked off all 14 of its previous opponents by an average margin of 28 points and had never won by less than 11.
Basabe, a Long Islander who came to Iowa because he was a Siena recruit of McCaffery’s, looked every bit as much “lottery pick” as Sullinger for much of the half, other than Sullinger possessing two inches more of height and 55 pounds more of weight. Basabe had 10 points before OSU scored nine, and we’re talking about the game’s first 6:38.
Were it not for the low-post artistry of the 6-foot-9 Sullinger, who had 10 first-half points, Iowa would have had a fat lead at the break.
But the Buckeyes trailed at halftime once before this season, at Florida six weeks ago. OSU won that game by 18 points. It’s kind of a, you know, really talented team.
Basabe blocked a Sullinger shot in the opening seconds of the second half, but that seemed to awaken the guests. Sullinger reeled off six quick points, OSU led 38-36 two minutes into the half, pulled ahead by 13 points, then hung on for a 73-68 win that was an honestly good scrap.
Sullinger had 24 points and 12 rebounds. He’s legit. So is his team.
Basabe had 22 points, 13 rebounds and 6 blocked shots himself. He’s legit. If McCaffery adds similar talent in the near future, the Hawkeyes will do more than just stay close to one of the nation’s finest teams.