AMES — There’s precisely one NCAA men’s basketball player shorter than Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim who ranks higher on the national rebounding chart.
He’s Pierce Hornung, a 6-5 “glue guy” for Colorado State who happens to be coached by former Cyclone mentor Larry Eustachy.
How to describe him?
“He brings something you just can’t teach,” Eustachy told the Denver Post recently. “You’re born with it. He’s so competitive.”
“I think Melvin just has great instincts,” said Cyclone coach Fred Hoiberg, whose team seeks a Big 12 Conference road win in Wednesday’s 7 p.m. game at Texas Tech in Lubbock. “Sometimes it’s one-on-four and he comes up with the ball.”
Hornung ranks 18th nationally at 10.1 rebounds per game.
Ejim, a 6-6 junior from Toronto, lurks close behind, tied for 22nd with a Big 12-best average of 9.7 boards — up three over each of his previous two seasons.
“Rebounding was kind of just something I just did; it was part of the game,” said Ejim, who honed his skills last summer trying out for and nearly making the Nigerian Olympic team. “As of late, I’ve really been focusing more on it.”
ISU (13-4, 3-1) faces a Red Raiders team (8-8, 0-5) that ranks last in the conference in rebounding at 29.4 per game.
The Cyclones hope to regain a once-dominant edge on the boards.
They’ve outrebounded one of their first four Big 12 foes after spending most of the nonconference season among the nation’s leaders in rebounding margin.
“It’s a mentality,” said ISU’s second-leading rebounder, Will Clyburn. “All of us have to go in with a great team effort in rebounding. I think we’ll get back to it.”
Ejim’s been at it all along.
He grabbed a season-high six offensive rebounds in each of the past two games, and has reached double figures on the glass 12 times this season.
Part of that’s effort.
Part’s based on experience, including playing with pros last summer.
“You can’t afford to have a bad game,” Ejim said. “You can’t afford not to do what you’re supposed to do. That’s their livelihood. It just made me look at the game differently and make sure consistency is a big part of my game.”
So it is.
And that’s a big deal — this season, next season, and beyond.
“One of the things that translates, usually, from level to level is rebounding,” said Hoiberg, a former NBA player, scout and front office executive with the Minnesota Timberwolves. “(Ejim’s) per-minute rebounding is as good as anybody in the country right now.”