IOWA CITY — Gabe Olaseni took the court Wednesday with hugs from his Iowa teammates. He left it with a heavy heart and his thoughts halfway around the world.
The London native found out Wednesday morning that his father, Benson, died in England after short illness. Olaseni decided to stay in Iowa and play against Northern Illinois. The result, a 70-49 Iowa win, was a testament to Olaseni and dedicated by his teammates.
“That’s tough,” said Iowa senior Aaron White, Olaseni’s roommate and best friend on the team, “obviously for him and his father but for all of us because he’s like a brother to us, especially to me. It hit me hard, but the best thing I can do is just be there for him and love him like a brother.
“We’re there for him. He’s in my prayers and just a tough situation. I’m proud of how he played.”
Fellow center Adam Woodbury wrapped his arm around Olaseni in pregame warm-ups.
“I just told him I loved him and we were going to go get this win for him,” Woodbury said.
Olaseni played 20 minutes and scored 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting. He grabbed five rebounds and blocked four shots. He walked off the court with 51 seconds left and immediately was embraced by his teammates.
It was Olaseni’s choice to play, and Coach Fran McCaffery said the senior didn’t waver.
“One of the last things his father said was he’s so proud of Gabe, and he wants him to maximize this opportunity his senior year,” McCaffery said. “He didn’t want to do anything — ‘he’ being his dad — didn’t want to do anything that would in any way impact his ability to do that. So I think that made it easier for him.”
Olaseni and McCaffery discussed arrangements with Olaseni’s mother, Yvette, over Skype. Any notion for Olaseni to sit out was squelched by his mother. He chose to play, and his teammates were supportive. Iowa will be able to take care of Olaseni’s transportation through the NCAA’s Student Assistance Fund.
“We can get him home,” McCaffery said. “We can get him back.”
Olaseni’s effort left his teammates in awe.
“I think it shows how strong he is,” Woodbury said. “If I was in his position, I don’t really know if I could have done what he just did. He puts the team in front of himself and he showed the will that he had putting everything behind him and trying to do what’s good for the team. I commend him for what he did.”
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