By Rob Gray
AMES — Melvin Ejim is one well-travelled Canadian.
And the Iowa State junior forward — and straight-A student — almost added Brazil and London to his high-flying, Olympic dream-themed summer itinerary.
“I was the last cut,” said Ejim, who nearly became the youngest member of the Nigerian Olympic team, but fell slightly short. “The coaches talked to me and the president of the organization talked to me about it. They let me know it was a close thing. It was fun. It was cool. It was bittersweet, but I enjoyed my time.”
Now the multi-talented, 6-8 Toronto-born son of Nigerian parents is in Las Vegas, preparing for the Cyclones’ first true test of the young season: No. 22 Cincinnati, at 5:30 p.m., on CBS Sports Network (check your listings), at the Thomas and Mack Center.
“We’re going to see what we’re made of,” ISU coach Fred Hoiberg said. “These guys are really talented.
Ejim’s been a consistently stabilizing force for Cyclone teams with varying fortunes.
He was recruited by former coach Greg McDermott, stayed as “The Mayor” made his triumphant, surprise return as a first-year mentor, and scored in double digits in his first five career games.
He now leads current ISU players in career 10-19 point games with 32. He also paces the team in 10-plus rebound games with 13 — including a 10-board effort in Tuesday’s 86-59 win over North Carolina A&T at Hilton Coliseum.
“Melvin’s always been a guy that lets things come to him,” Hoiberg said. “He’s the ultimate team guy. Unselfish plays by running the floor every single time. Drawing in the defense. Other guys get the glory for knocking down the shots, but by him collapsing the defense every time, it has a cause and effect on our offense. Just crashing the glass … and he’s shooting the ball well right now. I’ve been very pleased with Melvin.”
As for shooting, Ejim stressed improving that aspect of his game in the offseason.
“With the way we play — we put up a lot of 3s and do a lot of spacing things,” said Ejim, who’s shooting a heady 50 percent from 3-point range (5-of-10) this season. “Being able to shoot at the perimeter and keep the defense honest is key and I prided myself in working on my jump shot this summer.”
Clearly, it’s paying dividends for the 25 percent career long-range shooter.
“Melvin can shoot it,” ISU sharpshooter Tyrus McGee said.
Ejim’s first Olympics journey took him to China.
His next could take hime anywhere.
In 2016 he could play for either Nigeria or Canada.
“I definitely would love to play for both teams, but the situation doesn’t permit (that),” he said.
Regardless it’s been quite a ride.
And soon it will take him to less cosmopolitan, but locally important spots on the globe such as Lawrence, Kan., Stillwater, Okla., and Waco, Texas.
“All of those teams are going to be talented, they’re going to be good,” Ejim said of the Big 12 in general. “It’s going to be up to us to determine if we want to put the team ahead of ourselves. I think we have a good group of guys who are committed to winning, committed to the team. I think it’s really going to be a good year.”
Despite Big 12 coaches picking them eighth for the second season in a row.
“It’s Iowa State, Ejim said. “Nobody really gives us a lot of respect. I’m excited.”
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