HOOPS: Melvin Ejim’s emergence: ISU senior steps forward with ‘something to prove’


Photo: Jonathan Krueger/Iowa State Daily

ISU junior Melvin Ejim dunks the ball against Notre Dame’s Tom Knight in the second round of the NCAA tournament on March 22, 2013, at the University of Dayton Arena.  Ejim scored 17 points in the 76-58 victory against Notre Dame.

Dean Berhow-Goll

It is Oct. 10 and media day for ISU men’s basketball. All of Iowa’s media is at the Sukup Basketball Complex to ask Fred Hoiberg a question or two and try to unfold the question of how this team will replace 52 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists per game. Not to mention 278 of 346 3-pointers and five fifth-year seniors, four of which are playing at the next level.

After Hoiberg’s nearly 20-minute feeding frenzy with the media, it is now the players’ turns.

“Can we get Melvin,” asks a reporter. But he’s doing TV, then radio, then a phone interview and photos after that.

There isn’t enough Melvin Ejim to go around. Everyone wants a chance to talk with the preseason All-Big 12 selection.

But it wasn’t always that way. Melvin Ejim wasn’t always in the spotlight.

Melvin Ejim wasn’t a highly prized recruit. Or at least as a recruit he wasn’t expected to lead a major conference in multiple statistical categories.

Just a three-star recruit, the Toronto native arrived in Ames by way of the Brewster Academy and was only recruited by a handful of Big East schools with Iowa State being the only Big 12 school to send Ejim an offer, which he accepted notching himself as the fifth recruit in Hoiberg’s first class. Now he’s the only one left on the roster.

Ejim started flying under the radar right away his freshman year. Mostly overshadowed by the return of The Mayor, the ascension of Diante Garrett and a year packed with close losses in Big 12 play, his 10 points and 6.7 rebounds per game went virtually unnoticed.

His second season was even more in the dark with the arrival of Royce White on Hilton’s hardwood. The polarizing player, who drew waves of national media, led Iowa State in every statistical category and later declared for the NBA Draft.

Ejim continued with another workmanlike nine points and six rebounds per game, earning him Big 12 Honorable Mention honors while starting on Iowa State’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2005, dethroning defending champion UConn in the first round and losing to a buzz saw in Anthony Davis and eventual champion Kentucky.

His junior year, Ejim took leaps and bounds as a matchup nightmare for other teams. While other teams game planned for Iowa State’s nationally feared offensive blitzkrieg, the 6-foot-6-inch Ejim was too physically gifted to put a guard on, but too agile and quick to put a big body on him.

“It’s always about going out with a chip on your shoulder and always going out and proving yourself,” Ejim said.

Where was Ejim? Hidden behind the scoring ability of Will Clyburn, following Chris Babb’s leadership, on the receiving end of a Korie Lucious flashy dime or camped out beneath the hoop boxing out for a Tyrus McGee rainbow 3-pointer.

He was always perfectly hidden in plain sight.

He even led the Big 12 in double-doubles, racking up 15 and averaged 11.3 points and nine rebounds earning him third team All-Big 12 honors. He was even the first ISU player to lead the Big 12 in rebounding in a decade.

Now Ejim and his preseason All-Big 12 selection head into the 2013-14 season as the only senior — along with the newly transferred DeAndre Kane — on a roster full of talented underclassmen.

His head coach recalled when he was heading into his senior year, with the weight of a program on his shoulders and the possibility of the next level in his future, and said he believes Ejim can handle it the way he did all those years ago.

“I remember as a player the expectations and the pressure of going into your senior year, your future is right in your face,” Hoiberg said. “You just can’t go out there and press. You have to be who you are and Melvin’s done that.

“He’s our best leader, our best communicator out there, and I expect Melvin to have a great senior season.”

Ejim has bided his time for this season. A year that’s been three years in the making. The time is here when Melvin Ejim steps out from the shadows and firmly entrenches himself into the spotlight.

“I still have to go out and prove it and work hard and do what I do,” Ejim said. “I just take it for what it is and still go out with a chip on my shoulder.

“I’ve got something to prove.”

Now Ejim is back at media day in the Sukup Basketball Complex. He’s done three TV interviews, maybe more, a phone interview, a radio interview and photo shoots. 

But the media isn’t done with the new face of Iowa State’s basketball team. He’s got one last photo shoot before he can join the rest of his team back in the locker room.

He walks past a few of his teammates after their team picture with the coaches, graduate assistants and managers, over to the corner of the gym for the photo shoot.

The photographer bounces him a basketball to pose with.

Ejim steps in front of the lights and looks into the camera.

“OK, are you ready?” asks the photographer.

“Yeah let’s do this,” Ejim says.