Melsahn Basabe has style, demonstrated by his impeccable attire 30 minutes after he led Iowa within five points of No. 2 Ohio State on Tuesday night.
Basabe entered the news conference with his head held high and carried a swagger usually reserved for only the best players.
Welcome to that inner circle, freshman Melsahn Basabe.
“I just have confidence in myself,” Basabe said. “I know I can play and maybe people outside don’t know the ability I have. It’s my responsibility to show people how good Melsahn Basabe is.”
Basabe, a 6-foot-7 power forward, posted career highs of 22 points and 13 rebounds in a 73-68 loss to unbeaten Ohio State. In the first half Basabe scored 16 points, including 10 of Iowa’s first 14. He was active and forced the action in the post. He also swatted six shots, including four off Ohio State super-freshman Jared Sullinger, who scored 24 points.
“What I said to myself is everybody is worried about him and guarding him,” Basabe said. “Well, he’s going to have to guard me, and he’s going to have to be worried about guarding me.”
Basabe, a Glen Cove, N.Y., native, has been a fixture for Iowa since the season opener. Against Iowa State on Dec. 10, Basabe nearly tallied a triple-double. He scored 12 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and had seven blocks in a three-point loss.
Since mid-December he was saddled with a combination stomach virus and flu that forced him to receive intravenous fluids and chopped his weight by several pounds.
Basabe fought through illness to play 26 minutes against Louisiana Tech but played only 12 minutes and scored four points in a 10-point loss to Illinois.
“I don’t make excuses,” Basabe said. “I wasn’t feeling really well, but I was feeling well enough to affect that game more than I did. That’s what I said after the game, that I sold my team short by giving that effort. So my focus (Tuesday) was to come out and I could do anything it was to give my team 100 percent of my energy. It seems like when I do it, a good result happens. I just need to be consistent with my play.”
Basabe squared off against Sullinger throughout most of Tuesday’s game. The two competed against one another multiple times in AAU basketball so Basabe knew Sullinger’s strengths. Although Sullinger led all scorers Tuesday, Basabe kept him off balance in the block, especially in the first half.
“As a player you should be aware of what you do well as well as your weaknesses,” Basabe said, “and take advantage of what you do well. I knew that I was really athletic, and I felt like I could out-jump him. I felt I knew his game. He was going to try to body-bump me and create the space and put it up. So I stood back and let him think he had the space and then when my timing was right, I was able to block his shot. I knew it was coming so I had to take advantage of my knowledge.”
Sullinger, who has earned seven Big Ten freshman-of-the-week honors in eight opportunities, gained respect for his former AAU rival.
“He’s a good basketball player,” Sullinger said. “Over his years of AAU he really developed each and every year. It’s obvious he’s continuing to develop.”
Basabe strives for consistency in his game the rest of the season. His statistics range from impressive, such as his output against Ohio State and Iowa State, to marginal, like his illness-plagued effort against Illinois and 21-minute game at Drake. Basabe now averages 9.1 points and 6.5 rebounds a game.
“He’s going to have to keep that up because we need him,” Iowa junior guard Matt Gatens said after Basabe’s effort against Ohio State. “He’s a huge part of this team and a great talent. I think people are starting to see that.”
Now that he’s no longer a hidden fixture among Big Ten freshmen, Basabe adds a little swagger and an extra dimension to Iowa’s offense. McCaffery also sees untapped potential on both ends of the court.
“I think you’re seeing him blossom in terms of his versatility,” McCaffery said. “There is so much more in there than I think he even realizes. He can put it on the deck. He can shoot the ball 17, 18 feet.
“We’re using him off the dribble now. That is only going to impact our ability to go on the road and score, and score against the quality teams in this league.”