Notebook: Freshmen excel when needed most

By Chris Williams, Publisher

When Jamie Vanderbeken went down with a high-ankle injury in the first half of Iowa State’s loss to Kansas on Feb. 12, the tough blow that has been this Cyclone basketball season got a lot more violent.

After all, the tallest player on Iowa State’s roster that had ever played minute of college basketball not named Vanderbeken is point guard Diante Garrett, who stands tall at 6-foot-4.

Without the 6-foot-11 Vanderbeken in the lineup, how could one-win Iowa State possibly go on to compete with the big boys in the Big 12? Three freshmen in Melvin Ejim, Calvin Godfrey and Jordan Railey stepped up.

In the last two games (both against top 25 competition, @ A&M and vs. Missouri), Ejim and Godfrey have combined for 44 points and 32 rebounds. Seventeen of those rebounds from the pair were offensive. During the same span, Railey scored six points while grabbing five boards, but showed an edge that will be useful on future Cyclone basketball teams.

“Looking ahead to the future, that’s going to be huge for these guys’ confidence,” said Fred Hoiberg. “It’s going to be huge for their careers moving forward. You can learn two ways. You can go to a great team and sit the bench, redshirt and learn that way by practicing every day against those guys. Or, like our situation, you get thrown right into the fire. Here is your experience. Whether you are ready or not, you’re going to take this game experience and make the most of it.”

Ejim’s energetic emergence

It was only six games ago (Jan. 29 vs. Oklahoma), when Melvin Ejim was pulled from Iowa State’s starting lineup due to a lack of production. At one point during his rookie season, Ejim, who is an undersized power forward visibly hit a wall.

“He really struggled with that his first few games. He has been awesome for the last week and a half,” said Hoiberg. “Every game, he is bringing that energy and intensity.”

In Saturday’s loss to Missouri, Ejim approached Hoiberg three different times and asked to be taken out of the game. Why? Because he had been playing so hard, he couldn’t go any longer.

“That is a great sign, when you are running yourself into the ground and you can’t go anymore,” Hoiberg said. “Two minutes later he was ready to go back in and I’m going to reward him by putting him back in the game.”

Vanderbeken still questionable

Here’s the latest on Jamie Vanderbeken’s ankle injury from Fred Hoiberg.

“Jamie didn’t do much in practice yesterday. He came out and got some shots up. He ran around a little bit. Hopefully he’ll be able to ramp that up a little bit today. He is still going to be a game time decision tomorrow.”

Hoiberg went on to say that he does anticipate Vanderbeken to travel with his teammates to Austin for Tuesday’s game. Vanderbeken did not make the trip to Texas A&M last Wednesday. He wore street clothes in Saturday’s home loss to Missouri.