IOWA CITY — Melsahn Basabe missed Iowa City.
The usually brash New Yorker went home this summer and spent quality time with his family. He worked a couple of camps, made some deliveries for a university pharmacy in downtown Manhattan and conditioned himself for his upcoming senior season.
Basabe wanted to clear his mind and prepare himself mentally to become a good teammate. But he also quickly realized how much Iowa City meant to him when he left it for a short period of time.
"I think I needed a taste of the real world, honestly," he said Monday as the team prepared for its six-game European trip. "Because I've taken some stuff for granted, not appreciative. Sometimes your mind can just slip. This summer made me realize how good this life is. Everything here, you guys, the staff, the school, the community, how I love it here.
"I'm a senior. You can never replicate this again. Even if I reach my wildest dreams of making it, playing professional basketball someday and I make money, it still won't be this."
Basabe wasn't required to stay on campus for schoolwork. He's ahead of schedule on his sociology courses, and wants to work with people when he graduates next May. He's hit the books hard since arriving in Iowa three summers ago. He didn't want to let anyone down.
"I think it's a testament to my mother, my grandmother, my father and my family, my grandfather, just everybody around me who always stressed academics and never stressed just sports," he said. "Ever since I was a kid I've always been a pretty good student. I actually slacked off in college, believe it or not. But I picked it back up."
The Iowa lifestyle often provides a cultural shock for many athletes from metro areas. Basabe is no exception. He had to acclimate himself to his surroundings, which wasn't easy. But he's matured and has grown as a person, fellow senior Zach McCabe said.
"It took him a while to get used to the culture around here," McCabe said. "He’s a great guy and people don’t realize he’s always there for you. He’s not only a great player, but a great teammate. There’s not words that explain how great of a guy he is.
"He means everything to this team for us. We’re going to need him a lot."
Basabe's three years at Iowa were filled with peaks and a few low points. He had an impressive freshman season, averaging 11 points and 6.8 rebounds a game. His production fell as did his consistency as a sophomore. He averaged 8.2 points and 4.8 rebounds and was benched midway through the season.
He spent last offseason working to regain his spot and his self-respect. For the first 20 games last year, Basabe was the first forward off the bench. He then moved into the starting lineup for the final 18 games. He averaged 6.9 points and 5.1 rebounds but was more of a member of an ensemble group than cast in a starring role. Basabe played more within his skill set and is one of only four players to lead Iowa in blocks three consecutive seasons.
"His game is I really think to the point now where he’s doing a lot more things," Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. "He’s not making mistakes. He has great energy level. Obviously he knows this is his last year. He needs to have the kind of year that he should have. We’ve all seen greatness from him. It’s always been a matter of how consistent is he. I think he’s really challenged himself to be as consistent as he possibly can be."
Basabe will be a captain this year, which adds responsibility. He understands younger players will follow him, and he's uses more team-first cliches in interviews. But that's not rehearsed or scripted. It's what he believes.
Basabe is genuine and candid, which is why he had no problems telling reporters multiple times about how much he appreciates Iowa City. He said he realized how special it is to him once he left it..
"New York, I have a lot of love there, but Iowa I just feel like is so easy and just comforting and enjoyable and a comfort zone," Basabe said. "I just realized that more being home. Obviously I missed my family, but it's just stuff here I don't get (anywhere) else."