IOWA CITY — It’s possible Iowa could unveil a new starting lineup Thursday against Penn State, and junior Melsahn Basabe is a major reason why it could happen.
Basabe, a 6-foot-7 forward, has entered into his best stretch of basketball in his three-year Iowa career. He’s playing with consistency and confidence at both ends of the court and his minutes have increased.
But the outspoken Basabe also is a good teammate. He’s not publicly lobbying for a starting role. He just wants to keep playing.
“All I want to do is do what the coaches need me to do to help the team win and just play,” Basabe said. “It doesn’t matter how I’m doing it, as long as I’m coming in the game and playing with a lot of energy and being effective. I just care about being on the court. I don’t care how I get there.”
Basabe has played a combined 58 minutes in Iowa’s last two games. His 31 minutes against Purdue was his most since midway through his sophomore season. Basabe has averaged 10.2 points over Iowa’s last five games and totaled 18 rebounds over the last two.
But in order for Basabe to start, freshman Adam Woodbury likely would have to sit. Woodbury, a 7-foot-1 center, has struggled offensively over Iowa’s last five games, scoring a combined 10 points. Woodbury, though, has impacted the game in other ways. He’s a strong passer out of the post and plays good defense.
That’s why any lineup change is a tough consideration for Iowa coach Fran McCaffery. Basabe started the first 52 games of his career until coming off the bench midway through his sophomore season. It could send a wrong signal of not having confidence in Woodbury.
“Obviously (Basabe is) playing well,” McCaffery said. “So the logical conclusion is, we’ll just put him in the starting lineup. It may be the right thing for the team; it may not be, because he’s playing the best basketball of the last two years coming off the bench. But it may come to that, anyway.
“What we’ll do is we’ll evaluate over the next couple days, and you know, we may look at different lineups, because making a lineup change doesn’t mean that would be the only one.”
Basabe has grown into a leadership role on the team by his work ethic and knowledge of McCaffery’s system. That wasn’t always the case. Basabe bulked up to nearly 240 pounds before his sophomore season and was plagued by inconsistency. He was irritable after losses and poor performances. It carried over into practice and games.
“He was dwelling on how bad his performances were instead of worrying about to how to get better for the next game,” Iowa junior Devyn Marble said. “I think that’s the difference to this year from last year. He has more confidence in himself, learning how to affect each game differently.”
Basabe now playing comfortably at 225 and is in the best shape of his life. He accepted candid evaluations from McCaffery without taking offense.
“I think in the past and even now there was a lot I had to learn about maturity for my habits and how to approach the game and what to look for,” Basabe said.
Basabe was a member of the Big Ten’s all-freshman team after averaging 11 points and 6.8 rebounds a game. He became a sensation after a 22-point, 11-rebound, six-block performance against Ohio State that season. But he also posted many games that year where he’d earn two quick fouls and never get into a flow.
This year he has more solid and consistent performances. His only games with meager statistics were as a result of injuries to both ankles.
“Now I fully understand what the coaches need, how the offenses work,” Basabe said. “As a freshman I had a lot of great games; it was still kind of a mystery because I was hit or miss. I really didn’t know the systematic way. That’s where consistency comes in.
“I’ve always been a humble spirit for the most part. I still practice like I want to start. I’m still battling for starting positions like I was two years ago. I’m battling to be the best.”
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