AMES — As Iowa State star forward Melvin Ejim snoozed, the congratulatory texts began filling up his phone.
Big 12 Conference player of the year?
He slept through the momentous Twitter announcement— thanks to an ultra-early Sunday wake-up call to send off visiting family and friends.
“Then my phone just started blowing up and I started getting texts from my coaches and my friends,” said Ejim, who also picked up Associated Press Big 12 player of the year honors Monday while being named to NBCSports.com’s all-America third team. “So I figured good news.”
Unexpected news, too — for him anyway.
“I never thought I’d win it,” the 6-6 senior from Toronto said.
Ejim’s spent four years fighting for wins as well as respect.
He’s helped two ISU teams reach the NCAA Tournament after a seven-year absence — with another trip sure to come next week.
But which top player award meant the most?
“Definitely the coaches,” said Ejim, who hopes to help lead the No. 17 Cyclones (23-7) to a Big 12 Championship quarterfinal win Thursday at 11:30 a.m. against Kansas State.
Why not reporters?
“I love you guys, but I think the coaches know a little bit more of what they’re talking about,” said Ejim, the conference’s second-leading scorer and rebounder at 18.2 points and 8.6 boards. “No offense.”
Ejim said gaining all-Big 12 first team status had been a goal entering the season.
Heading into the postseason, he’s intent on making two tournament runs, starting with the Wildcats (20-11) in Kansas City.
“We have a good chance, I think,” said Ejim, whose team reached the semifinals last season before falling to Kansas. “The tournament’s wide open.”
Fellow all-Big 12 first team member DeAndre Kane agrees.
“We know what’s at stake,” Kane said of Thursday’s matchup with K-State, with Kansas looming — again — as a possible semifinal foe. “It’s win or go home. We want to win every game, take every game serious.”
That’s long been Ejim’s approach.
And no one will catch him sleeping as he hits the stretch run of his final college season.
“I’ve done the right things,” he said. “I’ve developed.”
TO PASS OR NOT TO PASS: Turns out Kane wasn’t joking after Saturday’s comeback win over Oklahoma State when he said he’d asked for a return pass from Naz Long before Long launched the buzzer-beating 3-pointer that forced overtime.“Yeah,” Kane said when asked if he’d been serious. “But my man, when I passed it, he went to him, but he made the shot. And like I always say, when Naz has the ball in situations like that, I’m pretty sure he’ll make it. So it was good.”