IOWA CITY — Seven months ago Melsahn Basabe stood outside his team’s locker room after an NIT loss at Oregon and funneled his Iowa basketball future into a single quote.
“If I want to maximize who I am, then it comes down to me dedicating myself or not,” Basabe told The Gazette. “It’s that simple. Really I can’t do much talking. I can start right now and just prove it to everybody next season.”
Basabe, now a junior power forward, was a member of the Big Ten’s all-freshman team then slumped last year as a sophomore. His production dropped, and he lost his starting role. His scoring output fell from 11.0 to 7.9 points, and he fell from 6.8 to 4.7 rebounds a game.
But Basabe’s drop-off was more than just numbers; it was about consistency. In Big Ten play he posted five double-digit scoring performances and five games of two points or less. In late December he scored six straight games of at least 10 points, then combined for two points against Minnesota and Ohio State.
Part of the problem was a 25-pound offseason weight gain that stunted his quickness. Basabe also didn’t put the proper effort into his offseason workouts.
“He didn’t approach coming into last year as professionally as he should have,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said.
McCaffery and Basabe met last spring and Basabe knew where he stood. McCaffery had recruited him from Glen Cove, N.Y., to Siena and then brought him to Iowa. Basabe did have his solid efforts last year but he knew he’d never reach his potential without winning every day in the gym and weight room.
“It’s one thing to say it and admit it — that’s hard enough,” McCaffery said. “But do you really take that time and go out and make that change? From my perspective, he’s really tried to do that.”
Basabe topped out at 235 pounds on his 6-foot-7 frame entering last year. He’s now at 222. Every day he worked on agility drills and conditioning. His body tone is chiseled, and he has shown an explosiveness in workouts he had yet to display. He has remained positive and incorporated critiques as motivation.
“I’m using the knowledge my coaches have given me and trying to be a more controlled player and accepting criticism,” Basabe said. “It’s not criticism; it’s only trying to help me. I’m taking affirmations — the good and bad and turning it into a positive and to my advantage. You need the bad stuff, too, because if you keep working on those, you can turn them into strengths. That’s what the good people do.”
Basabe played near the same amount of minutes (20.1) as starting posts Aaron White (23.8) and Zach McCabe (21.5) despite coming off the bench for the final 14 games. He’s still in contention for a starting role this year, especially if he can regain the promise he showed as a freshman.
But Iowa’s competition in the post has gotten deeper. Iowa adds freshmen 7-1 center Adam Woodbury and 6-10 power forward Kyle Meyer to the mix. White was one of the league’s top scoring freshmen last year (11.1 points), and McCabe can play multiple positions.
“We have a competitive team now, that puts more pressure on me,” Basabe said, then pauses. “I don’t look at it as pressure because I enjoy a competitive environment — that’s who I am.
“I let last year teach me. I didn’t stay stubborn. I just told myself the realities, how I can use that for an even better season. If I had a decent season, I might not have learned the same lessons. If I’m going to learn something, if I’m going to go through something, I’m going to turn it into my advantage. I’m not going to go through it again.”
McCaffery said Basabe is “going to to have a big year” but reserves judgment on defining Basabe’s success until the season is over.
“We’ll know seven months from now did that in fact happen,” McCaffery said. “I’m confident that it will because I know his character. I know what he’s capable of.”