IOWA CITY — Gabe Olaseni blocked a walloping seven shots for the Iowa men’s basketball team Tuesday night against Illinois, but it didn’t surprise people at a Kansas high school in the slightest.
“People would think they had a breakaway against us,” said Sunrise Christian Academy Coach Kyle Lindsted. “But we’d know as long as Gabe was on the court, he’d run them down and get them from behind.”
Olaseni averaged 4.2 blocks per game two winters ago for Sunrise. But he was unearthed by Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery and assistant Andrew Francis by accident. They had gone to the suburban Wichita school to look at 6-foot-9 Eric Katenda, a highly regarded national recruit who eventually signed with Notre Dame.
The Iowa coaches saw a Sunrise practice, then asked Lindsted about Olaseni.
“I said he’d had some recruitment,” Lindsted said, “but he really didn’t have any offers. They said ‘Hey, he’s got an offer from Iowa.’ They never doubted on him, which so many people did.”
Abodunrin Gabriel Olaseni was a 14-year-old soccer goalie in London. That was seven years ago, when he was 6-foot-2 instead of 6’10. But then he saw basketball being played on a playground. Basketball isn’t exactly part of England’s sporting fabric. It’s not a school sport.
So Olaseni played on a club basketball team. He just liked it. It was probably easier to enjoy after he had a growth spurt that let him tower over his teammates and opponents.
At 6-foot-10, with limited offensive skills and little experience, Olaseni wasn’t exactly American Division I college material. But he wanted to see how far he could go with the game.
“My coach in London knew Coach Lindsted,” Olaseni said. “I had a few Division II offers. I could have gone straight to college. I just felt like I needed to go to a smaller Christian school. I wasn’t really into huge high schools with thousands of students. I wanted to focus on basketball for one year, and that was just a great situation for me.”
Sunrise is no sleepy little school on the prairie. It has almost 900 students, and its boys’ basketball program has evolved into one that is renowned nationally. It won the National Association of Christian Athletes Division I national-title in Olaseni’s year there, and he was named the Defensive MVP of the national tournament.
“We probably have 12 Division I kids in our program this year,” Lindsted said. Half of his 10 players on the top team are from overseas. Two are from Wichita.
“We take character over talent,” said Lindsted. “We’ve made a conscious decision to try to do things that way. This is my 13th year as coach. We don’t just go after the top 100 guys like a typical prep school. This is a real school. Kids are in class all day long and take tough classes in a Christian environment.
“Gabe is a very good student. He’s very well-spoken, very articulate, very bright, very well-mannered.”
McCaffery and Francis must have made immediate good impressions on Olaseni.
“I went on a few more visits, but from Day One I wanted to be here,” Olaseni said. “They saw what I could be. They were the first team in the gym from when I pretty much touched down (in the U.S.) on the plane.”
“He was raw,” Lindsted said. “He started playing late. But always, for a guy his size, his feet were always good and his hands were always good. From the time he got here, defensively he was a showstopper.
“He’s very raw offensively, but he’s improved greatly in that area. He still has a ways to go there, but he has such good feet and hands and athletic ability that he can always catch the ball and finish around the rim.”
Olaseni is backing up freshman Adam Woodbury at center. If the two improve and expand on their games — and there’s no reason to suggest they won’t — the Hawkeyes could one day have one of the nation’s most formidable center combinations.
Hey, Olaseni blocked seven shots in just 19 minutes of a Big Ten game Tuesday night. That’s stepping past potential and going straight into production. Game-changing production.