Making an impact as a reserve is nothing new to Iowa junior forward Melsahn Basabe.
He often did it in high school while playing at St. Mark’s School in Massachusetts. And now he’s doing the same thing for the Hawkeyes, who face Big Ten leader Wisconsin on Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Basabe hasn’t started a game this season after combining to start 52 as a freshman and sophomore, but he has been finishing them lately.
He leads the Big Ten in field-goal percentage in conference games at .800 percent thanks largely to the past two games when he combined to make 10-of-11 field-goal attempts against Northwestern and Michigan State. He is also shooting 53.8 percent from the field overall, is second on the team with 19 blocks and fourth in scoring at 7.0 points per game.
“I wouldn’t say it was an adjustment,” Basabe said of coming off the bench. “In high school, I was on a real stacked team and I came off the bench. So I’ve had experience with being a really good bench player. So it wasn’t that hard.”
Basabe said it takes a different mindset coming off the bench as opposed to starting. There is a greater sense of urgency because Basabe knows his opportunities could be limited.
“Some guys can’t take that,” Basabe said. “But at the end of the day, the minute you come into the game you’re just playing. Some things are different. You’ve got to mentally prepare yourself and you might have to be more efficient because (coming off) the bench you should come in and affect the game immediately.”
The 6-foot-7 Basabe started all 31 games for Iowa as a freshman two seasons ago. He was one of just five Big Ten freshmen to start every game that season. Basabe also made the Big Ten all-Freshmen team, but then struggled through a sophomore slump before coming on strong at the end of last season.
Basabe scored 15 and 17 points in Iowa’s two games in the National Invitation Tournament last season. He also scored at least nine points in four of Iowa’s first eight games this season.
However, his playing time was reduced significantly around the holidays while Basabe dealt with injuries to both ankles.
He only played four minutes in the 80-50 victory over Coppin State on Dec. 22 and just nine minutes in the 69-65 loss to Indiana in the Big Ten opener on New Year’s Eve.
“I’m just excited now that I’ve got my legs under me,” Basabe said. “I think I could be doing even more. I know what I’m capable of and it’s a good time of the year. I think this is the best time, too, because we’re going to need everybody on our team.”
Basabe is one of three upperclassmen for Iowa with extensive starting experience, but who now come off the bench.
Senior Eric May has started 70 games for the Hawkeyes and junior Zach McCabe has started 39 games, including seven this season.
“A lot of times you’ll see starters, not just on my team, but on any team, they play more minutes so they coast at times,” Basabe said. “But coming off the bench, you’ve got to have a little pop and pep in your step and I think that’s good because I feel like that helps me and Zach when we come in because we’re focused and we know we’ve got a job to do.”
Iowa’s starting lineup has included three freshmen in each of the past 10 games: guards Anthony Clemmons and Mike Gesell and 7-1 center Adam Woodbury. Gesell and Woodbury have started every game this season, while Clemmons has started the last 10.
Being a starter doesn’t necessarily guarantee more playing time, though, considering Woodbury played fewer minutes than Basabe in each of the past two games.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery often will leave a reserve in a game for an extended period if he’s playing well. McCaffery also likes having versatile players coming off the bench, with sophomore shooting guard Josh Oglesby another option. Oglesby scored 14 points and made all four of Iowa’s 3-point baskets in Sunday’s 70-50 victory at Northwestern.
“A lot of times you go to your bench and you have tough guys, experienced guys that help you win, but then you might have a scoring drought because you don’t have the offense,” McCaffery said. “That’s why the guys who are starting are starting, typically.
“But we have I think equal performance coming off the bench in terms of offense. And in some games it might even be more, especially when Zach and Melsahn and Josh are playing the way they’re capable of playing.”
Basabe said in addition to being healthy, he’s also using his experience to his advantage. Saturday’s game will be his 84th as a Hawkeye.
“Pretty much now confidence is the best part,” Basabe said. “I know these teams in and out. So I’m not really surprised by anything.
“I know what these teams are going to hit you with and I know how hard they play and what level they compete at. So it’s just being ready for it.”
Reach Pat Harty at 339-7368 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball