Melvin Ejim quietly emerges for Cyclones

Sophomore Melvin Ejim is starting to live up to the promise he

showed when he started his career at Iowa State.

While his well-traveled teammates have grabbed the spotlight

this season, Ejim has quietly emerged as a key cog for the

Cyclones. The 6-foot-6 forward from Toronto has blossomed into a

steady swingman between star post player Royce White and Iowa

State’s trio of talented guards; Chris Allen, Scott Christopherson

and Chris Babb.

Ejim is averaging 8.9 points a game, ranks ninth in the Big 12

with 6.4 rebounds a game and is shooting a respectable 46.6 percent

from the floor. He’s also coming off one of his best games

statistically of the season, scoring 17 points with seven rebounds

and four assists in a 79-64 loss at No. 9 Baylor on Monday

night.

Ejim and the Cyclones (18-8, 8-5 Big 12) will go for their

fourth win in six games when they host Oklahoma on Saturday.

”He’s been awesome for us. We don’t run a lot of offense

through him, but he still finds a way to be very productive,”

coach Fred Hoiberg said. ”The best thing he does is, Melvin

defends every night and he goes out there and does a great job on

the glass.”

Few that saw Ejim play early in his freshman season would be

surprised he’s making an impact for the Cyclones, who are currently

in decent shape for their first NCAA tournament bid in seven

years.

Ejim started from opening night for a team that severely lacked

depth, scoring in double figures in each of his first six games.

But in Big 12 play, Ejim was seemingly nowhere to be found.

His shooting percentage dipped to 41.3 percent and his scoring

average fell by nearly five points in league games. It was a

surprising slump for a player who’d experienced immediate success,

and it served as a valuable lesson for how tough life is in the Big

12.

”Freshman year is kind of a learning curve, especially when it

comes to the Big 12. It’s a whole different type of ballgame,”

Ejim said. ”I’ve been trying to become more consistent and just

trying to help the team win, do whatever I can, whether that means

being an offensive rebounder or score when I have the opportunity

too.”

Hoiberg stuck with Ejim despite his late-season slump, and he

and Christopherson were the only returning starters for 2011-12.

Ejim started this season slowly. But in a pleasantly ironic twist,

he’s been better this season in the Big 12 than he was in

non-conference play.

”It was a great learning experience for him. It was a great

opportunity as a freshman to get as many minutes as he did, and I

think he could really tell how much he learned from last year,”

Hoiberg said.

Ejim has scored at least 12 points in five of his last eight

games – strong numbers considering he’s hardly ever the top option

in Iowa State’s offensive sets and is playing just 23 minutes per

game. His point totals have slowly risen since early January and

his rebounding has remained solid.

Opponents ”bring a lot of attention to Royce and the guards, so

I just try to make myself available,” Ejim said. ”I just try to

pick my poison sometimes and see where I can be most

effective.”

On a team with one of the nation’s most intriguing players in

White and three guards who can score from anywhere, Ejim is easy to

overlook. The Cyclones know they likely wouldn’t be pushing for a

bid to the NCAA tournament without him.

”He’s very versatile, and even as a defender he’s very

versatile. He can guard multiple people,” White said. ”Besides

myself, he’s probably the most versatile player that we’ve got in

terms of who he can guard and where he can play on the floor.”