It's fitting that Melvin Ejim was Fred Hoiberg's (sort of) first recruit. While Melvin Ejim technically committed to Greg McDermott (but really former assistant T.J. Otzelberger) out of Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, he was the first to re-affirm his commitment to Iowa State and a completely unproven coach when Hoiberg was hired in 2010. In the past four years, however, Melvin Ejim has evolved as a player just as Fred Hoiberg has as a coach, going from untested to one of the very best in the Big 12, considered by most to be the best conference in the nation this year. To top it off, Melvin was named a first team Academic All-American, the second first team player in Iowa State history. The other player? You guessed it, Fred Hoiberg.
Ejim's career started off on a completely depleted Iowa State team, forced into starting minutes almost immediately due to a lack of depth and size. Ejim consistently guarded the other team's big man almost every night, and did a solid job of guarding and rebounding against someone who was usually at least 3 inches taller than him, which became a consistent theme for his career. The 2010-2011 team finished 16-16 with only 3 conference wins, but Melvin would not have to wait long before the wins came.
With the additions of Royce White and Chris Allen via transfer, the Cyclones headed back to the tourney the following year. The program continued to improve and the wins began to pile up, so did the success of Melvin through his final three seasons in Ames. As the stature of the Cyclones basketball program rose back into national recognition Melvin grew from a player that had to play out of necessity to role player to unheralded "glue guy" to now a top flight player in the country.
Despite his size disadvantage, Ejim was always a great rebounder, leading to him topping the Big 12 in rebounding in 2012-2013, just the 12th Cyclone to accomplish the feat and the second since Dean Uthoff was the league leader in 1980 (Jackson Vroman - 2004). Through his painstaking dedication to the game, Melvin has transitioned over the years from a player who fed off of talent around him to a guy who can now create his own shot and knock down the three ball. In his first two seasons in Ames, Ejim was just a 22.6% (24/106) three point shooter. Since then he has cashed in on 58 of his 171 attempts (33.9%). leading to him leading the Big 12 scoring race in his senior season.
Melvin hasn't just embodied what it should mean to be a student-athlete but his success and growth has also mirrored that of what it means to be a member of this basketball program. He has become the epitome of "hard work beating talent when talent doesn't work hard" that so many Cyclones and Iowans can relate to.
All of his hard work culminated in a tour de force performance that gave him the Big 12 record for most points in a single game. That's right... it's not Kevin Durant or Michael Beasley or any of the other freshman phenoms who have come through the league who own that distinguished accolade, it's the former "glue guy" Melvin Ejim.
After proving every doubter wrong about his scoring abilities, he capped it off with this unbelievable reverse dunk right in Texas forward DeMarcus Holland's face to prove that his athletic ability may have been undersold over the years as well.
But for all his on the court success, Melvin has been even better off the court in Ames. The man has been nominated repeatedly for CLASS awards for his work in the community, owns an incredible 3.7 GPA, and has been complimented by his professors as an outstanding student, with "time management skills that even non-student-athletes could learn from".
While I will throw my unsolicited vote toward my fellow Canadian's jersey hanging in the rafters of Hilton Coliseum, Melvin should know that until we see it up there, every time we see a blocking foul called against an Iowa State player who seemingly does everything in his power to avoid contact, we'll always fondly reminisce of #3.