Melvin Ejim keeps NBA dreams alive during summer league


Kelby Wingert/Iowa State Daily

Senior forward Melvin Ejim works his way past a Kansas player during the second half of the Big 12 Championship semifinal game March 14 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. The Cyclones defeated the Jayhawks 94-83.

Max Dible

It has been a four-year journey toward the NBA for former ISU forward Melvin Ejim, but he still has a little farther to travel after failing to be drafted on June 26.

For the month of July, Ejim will be living the life of a basketball nomad as he searches for an NBA home.

“I would not say I have a base of operations really,” Ejim said. “I will start in [Philadelphia]. When I leave, I will be in Orlando. Then after Orlando, I will be in [Las] Vegas.”

The now free agent is headed to Philadelphia to prepare for NBA summer basketball, signing on to play for the Philadelphia 76ers in a summer league that begins in Orlando, Fla., on July 5.

As soon as Ejim finishes his time in Florida, he will join former teammate and fellow NBA prospect DeAndre Kane in a separate NBA summer league that will be in Las Vegas, Nev., between July 11 and July 21.

Ejim will be participating in that league as a member of the San Antonio Spurs, while Kane will be playing point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers.

At 6 feet 6 inches tall and weighing 220 pounds, Ejim defined versatility during his time at Iowa State. The veteran player displayed both an inside and outside game during his senior season, showcasing his ability to make a jump shot, to score off the dribble and to post up.

He played his senior season out of position at power forward and was still named the Big 12 Player of the Year for the 2013-14 season. He averaged 17.8 points per game during his senior campaign to complement 8.4 rebounds per contest.

Many draft scouts speculated that Ejim was not drafted because teams were unsure of his true position and how he could be utilized. Ejim disagreed with the idea that his skill set is not comfortably and easily defined.

“I am a small forward. I do not understand why people think I am anything but that,” Ejim said. “I played the [power forward position] in school, but I was [frequently] on the perimeter. I shot the ball and I attacked the rim. People say I am a ‘tweener’ but that is because they are looking at me as a power forward. Viewed as a small forward, there are no limitations.”

Ejim was second in the Big 12 Conference in both points per game and field goal shooting percentage. He led the league in effective field goal percentage at 55.5 percent, which factors in free throw shooting as well as field goal attempts.

Offensive versatility coupled with a high shooting percentage are skills that define NBA small forwards. Both traits are visible in the games of the best players at the position, including LeBron James, Carmello Anthony and Kevin Durant.

Ejim was also a team leader and helped carry Iowa State all the way to a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA tournament during his final year.

Despite how well his game appears to translate to the NBA style of play and despite all of his accomplishments and accolades, Ejim did not get to live out his lifelong dream of hearing his name called at the NBA draft.

“I knew there was a possibility that I would not be drafted, so I was prepared for the situation,” Ejim said. “It is obviously disappointing any time you work really hard for something and it does not come to fruition. You are always taken back a bit.”

Ejim added that the specific reason he was not drafted is unknown to him but that it is not important.

“I do not know why I was not drafted, but quite frankly, I do not care,” Ejim said. “It does not matter to me why it happened, but it happened. It is all about moving on, learning from the experience and moving forward. Luckily, I put myself in a good position with the season I had, and I have plenty of options coming out.”

Ejim said that his free agent status serves only as a motivator and that, as he improves and showcases his talent throughout the summer, his play will speak for itself.

Redshirt junior Jameel McKay, Ejim’s former teammate, was also taken aback that Ejim was not selected in the draft, but he said it was telling about the NBA as a league.

“I was surprised, but it just goes to show you it is a hard league to play in and a hard league to get to,” McKay said. “Both [Ejim and Kane] dominated the best conference in the country last year and neither got drafted. That shows how hard it is to make it in the NBA.”

McKay added that he believes this is not the end for Ejim — it is just the beginning.

“Sooner or later, after he goes through the summer league, if he performs the way he should, I think a lot of teams will regret not [drafting] him,” McKay said.

Junior Georges Niang echoed McKay’s comments about Ejim, mentioning Kane as well, and said he has confidence both will reach their ultimate goal.

“I thought they had really good seasons where they should have been drafted, but that is how the cookie crumbles,” Niang said. “It is not going to stop them from working hard, so I know they are going to eventually make ends meet.”