March 31, 2013
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Melsahn Basabe is playing a numbers game that has nothing to do with the 7.1 points and 5.1 rebounds he averages per contest on basketball courts this season.
Like the rest of his University of Iowa teammates, Basabe receives six tickets to Tuesday’s National Invitation Tournament semifinal against Maryland in New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
The matchup against the Terrapins is the closest the Glen Cove, N.Y., native has played to his hometown in the three years he has been a student-athlete in Iowa City. In other words, a ticket from Basabe is a hot item in the Big Apple.
“It’s love,” Basabe said. “At the end of the day, people want to see you do well. I’m busy, so sometimes you don’t talk to friends and family for a while. But they still love you, they’re still watching, so when everybody can come together and connect, that’s so special.”
In the past week, Basabe has heard from elementary classmates and middle school coaches he hasn’t talked to in years. But getting on his elite pass list of six will take some doing.
“My mother has to be there,” Basabe said. “My grandmother has to be there. Everybody else? I have to make cuts. I have to trim it somehow and it’s hard.”
Basabe committed to play for Fran McCaffery at Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y., but that was before McCaffery took the head coaching job for the Hawkeyes. Basabe followed McCaffery from the Empire State to the Hawkeye State, meaning the majority of his collegiate career would be played on courts in the Midwest, not on the East Coast.
“My family and friends have never caught me in a big-time college setting with my team, seeing Iowa basketball and the Iowa identity. I’m happy for them to get to see my team as well, and what’s going on out here, because this is like a home to me, too.”
UI junior forward
“Being in this conference and this region, we rarely play where I’m from, so just to be going home is such a special feeling,” Basabe said. “I am so blessed to be able to go home.”
Basabe is originally from Virginia, but moved to Far Rockaway, Queens, N.Y., and then to Glen Cove at the age of 12. His first trip to Madison Square Garden on Seventh Avenue between 31st and 33rd streets in New York City was as a 17-year-old to watch the Big East Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament.
“It’s crazy because I have never played there,” Basabe said. “It’s going to be an amazing feeling to be in that building.”
Basabe will be surrounded by many family and friends. Junior teammate Zach McCabe joked that Basabe was looking for “600 tickets, or something like that.”
Basabe was asked how many friends and family from back home were looking to get on his pass list.
“Enough to fill half this arena,” he said, pointing to empty seats in the 15,400-capacity Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
It has been three years since Basabe moved west to Iowa City when he made an immediate impact as a player. As a freshman, he converted 57.2-percent of his field goals and averaged 11 points and 6.8 rebounds a game. Last season he sank 52.4-percent of his field goals and averaged 8.2 points and 4.8 rebounds. In 36 games this season (with 16 starts), Basabe is shooting 50 percent from the field. He is a fan-favorite, and in his words, Iowa has joined New York as his home state.
For Basabe, a trip back to New York is an opportunity to show off his team and teammates.
“My family and friends have never caught me in a big-time college setting with my team, seeing Iowa basketball and the Iowa identity,” Basabe said. “I’m happy for them to get to see my team as well, and what’s going on out here, because this is like a home to me, too.”
Despite his familiarity with the New York scene, it is doubtful Basabe will play tour guide during the NIT excursion. As junior teammate Roy Devyn Marble said, this is a business trip, not a field trip.
“At the end of the day, this isn’t a vacation,” Marble said. “We’re trying to take a step to the ultimate goal, which is to win an (NIT) championship.”
Basabe and his teammates are excited to go to New York to play basketball and extend a three-game postseason winning streak.
“This is the Final Four of the National Invitation Tournament,” Basabe said. “There is a lot of energy in all of us.”
The Hawkeye charter leaves from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, at 3 p.m. (CT) Sunday and it is expected to arrive in Newark, N.J., at 5:45 p.m. (ET).
Iowa (24-12) and Maryland (25-12) play the semifinal nightcap April 2 beginning at approximately 8:30 p.m. (CT). The winner will play either Baylor or Brigham Young in the NIT Championship Thursday, April 4.