David Lubick did his best to convince college recruiters that Melsahn Basabe was a big-time player. He got low-time interest.
“I was frustrated when I was rebuffed by high-major coaches who didn’t think he was a high level player,’’ said Lubick, Basabe’s coach at St. Mark’s in Southborough, Mass.
Basabe has emerged as one of the Big Ten’s top freshmen. The 6-foot-7 forward, Iowa’s second-leading scorer and top rebounder, is averaging 13.1 points in Big Ten play. He averaged 13 points last season at St. Mark’s.
“I think that’s an amazing thing, and it speaks to his potential,’’ Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said.
Heading into Wednesday’s 5:30 p.m. game at Michigan State, Basabe ranks ninth among Iowa rookies in scoring and third in rebounding since freshman eligibility was reinstated in 1972-73.
“Not surprised,’’ Lubick said. “He’s a better athlete than most people had him pegged as in high school. Skill and ability are terrific, but I’m not interested in competing with kids who lack desire and toughness. Mel isn’t the most skilled or athletic – he’s good at both – but he’s at a very elite level in terms of his ability and desire to compete..’’
Collectively, Basabe, Devyn Marble and Zach McCabe are among the most productive Iowa freshman classes since 1972-73.
Their collective 22.8 points a game is third behind the 23.8 points a game by Ricky Davis and Dean Oliver in 1997-98 and the 23.5 points a game by Jess Settles and Chris Kingsbury in 1993-94. And their collective 12.8 rebounds a game is unmatched.
“All three are talented, they have character and they have versatility,’’ said McCaffery, whose first Iowa team team is 10-18 overall and 3-13 in Big Ten play. “I think that bodes well for the future of our team.’’
When McCaffery signed Basabe at Siena, he saw a player who could keep his team on top of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
“I looked at him as an impact player,’’ McCaffery said.
But McCaffery took the Iowa job, and Basabe joined him.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,’’ Basabe said.
Becoming more consistent is No. 1 on Basabe’s to-do list in the off-season.
“That’s what it takes to be a great player, when you do it every night,’’ Basabe said. “And that’s what I want to be.’’
Basabe also wants to improve his strength, his ballhandling and his perimeter jump shot. Lubick has no doubt he’ll get it done.
“He knows how to overcome obstacles,’’ Lubick said. “He knows how to win. He knows how to trust people like coach McCaffery, who can make him better.’’
It didn’t take long for McCabe to figure out what he could and couldn’t do.
“Some of the things I could get away with in high school, like driving and spinning in traffic, or into packs of people, you just can’t do it anymore,’’ McCabe said.
McCabe has had some outstanding games – 13 points and six rebounds against Alabama might have been his best outing – and some games that have tested his confidence.
“He’s real close to being a terrific player,’’ said McCaffery, who loves McCabe’s toughness. “He’s had a couple of games where he’s struggled and gotten down on himself. But he’s going to keep playing, and I’m going to keep going to him.’’
Marble’s father, Roy, Iowa’s career scoring leader, averaged 12.5 points as a freshman in a 1985-86 class that included Ed Horton and B.J. Armstrong.
“I didn’t come in thinking he ran over the league or anything like that,’’ Devyn said. “He had great players in his class, too, like I did.’’
Marble wants to add 10 pounds to his frame, and improve his strength before the start of next season.
“I think we’ve done fairly well as far as freshmen,’’ Marble said. “I wish we would have done better as far as our record, but it’s a process. We’re still learning.’’
WHERE THEY RANK (since 1972-73)…
1997-98 — (Ricky Davis/Dean Oliver) 23.8 ppg
1993-94 — (Jess Settles/Chris Kingsbury) 23.5 ppg
2010-11 — (Melsahn Basabe/Zach McCabe/Devyn Marble) 22.8 ppg
2010-11 — (Melsahn Basabe/Zach McCabe/Devyn Marble) 12.8 rpg
2000-01 — (Jared Reiner/Glen Worley’Sean Sonderleiter/Cortney Scott/Brody Boyd) 11.7 rpg
1981-82 — (Michael Payne/Greg Stokes/Todd Berkenpas) 11.6 rpg
WHO: Iowa (10-18, 3-13 Big Ten) at Michigan St. (8-8, 16-12)
WHERE: East Lansing, Mich.
TIPOFF: 5:30 p.m.
TV/RADIO: Big Ten Network/WHO-AM (1040), D.M.
STATISTICAL LEADERS: For Iowa — Matt Gatens 12.6 ppg, Melsahn Basabe 7.0 rpg, Bryce Cartwright 5.8 apg ; for Michigan State — Kalin Lucas 16.7 ppg, Draymond Green 8.4 rpg, Green 4.0 apg.
ABOUT THE HAWKEYES: Cartwright joined Andre Woolridge (1996-97) as the only Iowa point guards to record at least eight assists in nine different games in a season.
ABOUT THE SPARTANS: Michigan State has defeated Iowa 15 straight times at the Breslin Center.
WHAT TO WATCH: The Spartans made one of 11 3-pointers in their last game, a 20-point home loss to Purdue.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball