Olaseni making strides at power forward

Iowa center to see action at two positions

Gabe Olaseni dunks over Eric Washpun in a Primetime League Game at the North Liberty Recreation Center in North Liberty, Iowa on Thursday, July 17, 2014. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)
Gabe Olaseni dunks over Eric Washpun in a Primetime League Game at the North Liberty Recreation Center in North Liberty, Iowa on Thursday, July 17, 2014. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

NORTH LIBERTY — Graduation and recruiting misses have some Iowa basketball observers concerned about the team’s depth at forward. Senior Gabe Olaseni, however, hopes to alleviate those fears.

After three years of improvement at center, Olaseni will compete for minutes this fall at power forward this year. At 6-foot-10, Olaseni has the height and defensive prowess necessary to remain in the post. But with forwards Zach McCabe and Melsahn Basabe departing, Iowa’s coaches will rely upon Olaseni playing multiple minutes this year alongside junior 7-foot-1 center Adam Woodbury.

“I’m to the point now where I’m comfortable with doing that,” McCaffery said in May. “Two years ago, maybe not so much but now they know what they’re doing, and they’re both veterans.”

Olaseni ranks among the Big Ten’s best pure athletes, both in speed and explosiveness. He was one of only four players nationally with at least 160 rebounds to register more offensive rebounds (82) than defensive boards (81). He ranked second in the Big Ten in offensive rebounds (2.5). He blocked at least three shots five different times and he ranked 10th in Big Ten blocked shots.

But there’s more involved in shifting positions, even if it’s for just a few minutes a half. Olaseni, 22, also is a raw athlete and didn’t take up basketball until he was a teenager. A London native, Olaseni spent a year at Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita, Kan., before moving to Iowa. Playing power forward means different responsibilities, and Olaseni has spent his off-season working as much on his perimeter game as his post moves.

“A lot of ball handling, a lot of pick-and-roll, high-low action in pickup,” Olaseni said. “Sometimes me and Woody (Adam Woodbury) play with each other (on the same team). It’s a lot of high-low action, a lot of ducking in, and so I think I can definitely play the four. I know I can guard fours, I just have to show offensively I can space the floor and hit that midrange shot, stuff like that.”

Olaseni averaged 16.7 minutes, 6.5 points and 4.9 rebounds a game last year. He believes his jumper will be crucial in making that transition. If he succeeds, Iowa can space the floor with two centers near the post.

“I think it’s definitely a more consistent outside shot,” Olaseni said. “Obviously Woody’s been working on his postgame, so they might double him, so they’ll kick out to someone. If I can show I can hit the 15-foot, 17-foot jumper consistently, I feel as though I can play the four because I feel as though I can definitely guard fours.”

His teammates agree that Olaseni has the skill set to play power forward. But his most impressive improvement as an Iowa player is how quickly he’s caught up to the game at their level.

“The biggest thing for him is he hasn’t been playing basketball for that long so he has to develop a feel for the game, which he has,” Iowa junior Jarrod Uthoff said. “That’s the biggest stride. It’s not his ball handling, it’s not his shooting. That’s the biggest stride that he’s gone through. I think that’s the key for him.

“It’s not just backing down (into the post). It’s at four, you’ve got to face up sometimes. You’ve got to guard a four, which can be difficult, which he can do. That’s why he can play the four.”

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