Basketball

WHERE ARE THEY NOW: Melvin Ejim

AMESMelvin Ejim’s starred at Hilton Coliseum and stood in awe at The Colosseum.

He’s soared for dunks and pored over historic sites. 

The Toronto native — and one of Iowa State’s all-time greats — has seen it all in a career that’s spanned much of the globe in four short years since leaving Ames. 

“I’ve been so many different places from Italy, to Spain, to Russia, to Turkey, China, the Philippines,” said Ejim, who ranks second all-time at ISU with 1,051 career rebounds. “I’ve been in so many different places; got to experience so many different cultures. And like you said, being a history major and being interested in learning and understanding different people, it’s been amazing. And it’s fun. Rome was kind of the start of it for me, when we went on our trip at Iowa State. Then it kind of came full circle, with it being the first place that I played (professionally). But it’s just been amazing and it’s been great to kind of go to all these different places and just experience a little bit of everyone’s culture, so it’s been cool.”

And richly deserved.

Ejim ranks in the top 15 in Cyclone annals in scoring (12th, 1,643 points); blocked shots (15th, 59); and steals (tied for 10th, 146) — and set a Big 12 record by dropping 48 points on TCU during his senior Sweet 16 season.

The single-game record still stands, though one-and-done Oklahoma standout Trae Young tied it last season. 

“It’s pretty vivid,” Ejim said of the memories surrounding his 48 and 18 game against the Horned Frogs. “I mean, I get constant updates on the Iowa State Twitter page putting it up, which is always a great reminder. And people, always, just think fondly of that game and that memory. It’s great. Sometimes I’ll be in different cities or different countries and people remember that game. It’s pretty incredible that one moment can really just spread across so far. So it’s great. I love it. I reminisce on it fondly. It was an incredible moment for me and I think for there school. I’m hoping nobody comes close to breaking it. Trae (Young) was pretty close, so I’m glad that he didn’t, but eventually hopefully someone from Iowa State can break it.”

In due time.

Ejim spoke to Cyclone Fanatic and several other reporters at ISU coach Steve Prohm’s annual alumni reunion in August. He hadn’t been back for a while, so appreciated Prohm’s efforts to make the gathering a priority year after year.

“His commitment to it has been pretty incredible,” Ejim said. “Every summer, all the time, throughout the whole year he’s been talking to me and then at the end of it he said, ‘Hey, are you coming to the alumni reunion?’ So I definitely had to make it out this summer. … It means a lot. I think the fact of so many different people of different generations of Iowa State Cyclones are here to just celebrate and to reminisce and to get to know each other, I think it’s great.”

Ejim’s ISU ties followed him overseas. Former teammate Tyrus McGee, who was also featured in a CF “Where Are They Now” miniseries than can be found here and here, joined him at Reyer Venezia, where they duo celebrated a Series A championship together in 2017.

But first they had to sweat through some tense situations with devotees of a top Turkish team — a group of fans Ejim and McGee both describe as “crazy.”

“I haven’t played in Greece or Serbia, and they are renowned for having the craziest ones, as well,” Ejim said. “But for now, Turkey takes first place, yeah.”

One game in Turkey stood out. Ejim had gotten into a fracas with an opposing player in a previous win, which meant in the road rematch, he and McGee — who had sprang off the bench in his defense — would be the targets of fans’ ire.

“They took a picture of (the fight), blew it up, and then on the next game, we played them twice, they were sending him death threats,” Ejim said of McGee. “Serious (stuff). We had to get our own private police to come with us for the game and then when we got to the game, it was over. They were at him, like, 100 percent. The funny thing is, the fight was with me. But he was just back-up, you know what I mean? and once we got there, they killed him. He touched the ball, and they were, ‘(Expletive), Tyrus. You suck.’ Spitting at him, throwing coins and (stuff). They were crazy over there. And I could see it in his eyes. We got messed up that game. We got smacked by like 20. But we ended up having to play them two more times and they thought they were just going to roll over us and we ended up beating them to go to the Final Four of the Champions League, so it was sweet for us in the end.”

Even sweeter: Beating former Ohio State foil Aaron Craft in the finals, a payback occasion McGee dubbed as “revenge.”

Ejim’s take?

“We got to stick it to him,” he said. “We let him know, too.”

Still … 

“Aaron is a great guy,” Ejim conceded. “I had some resentment built up to him. I was like, ‘If I see him, uh!’ And he’s like the nicest dude you would probably meet. So I’m happy for him. He had a great year in France.”

That’s the thing about this worldwide basketball life. Friendships can be sparked with formerly bitter foes. Teams change, just as they did with a slew of transfers during Ejim’s time in Ames  (and as chronicled in CF’s “Transfer U” podcast series).

“Sometimes when I talk to certain guys — and when I was talking to Scotty (Christopherson) for a while after he left, just different guys we talked to, it’s ‘How did we make these locker rooms work?’” Ejim said. “It’s not that there were bad people or bad guys. It’s just that there were so many different people constantly, each and every year. I think that’s just a testament to to our coaching staff — to Fred (Hoiberg), to T.J. (Otzelberger), who was here, Micah (Byars) — those guys who really put in — Matt Abdelmassih — who really put in the work to kind of get everyone to jell together and figure out just the right way to play and how we wanted to play. I think that culture worked for us at the time and it was a great experience, I think, for me, going forward, because now in the pro league, in Europe, every year’s a new person on your team. Every year’s a new makeup for your team. It could be a new coach. So it’s always exciting.”

Adapt and move on. It’s an endless process of evolution — of one’s game and one’s surroundings.

The one constant: The desire to the best.

It fueled Ejim as a Cyclone and continues to be the grist that powers his pro career, wherever that takes him. For now, that’s Russia, for UNICS Kazan.

“I’m trying to win,” Ejim said. “I’m looking forward to winning some more championships, to playing well and to playing at the highest level. So just continuing to strive to do that and try my best to be the best player I can be.”

Rob Gray

administrator

Rob, an Ames native, joined Cyclone Fanatic in August, 2014 after nearly a decade and a half of working at Iowa's two largest newspapers. He spent 10 years at the Des Moines Register and, after a brief stint in public relations, joined the Cedar Rapids Gazette as an Iowa State correspondent three years ago. Rob specializes in feature stories for CF.