A compelling and exciting aspect of any team entering a new season is the addition of new players to a roster. Whether by way of promising transfers or freshman recruits, fan bases can hardly wait to get a look at these fresh faces. A new player could be the missing piece a coach has been looking for. They might take a team from obscurity to heights previously unknown or simply contribute to increased success in the coming season.
Looking at the Iowa basketball program one would peg freshman Peter Jok and/or redshirt sophomore Wisconsin transfer Jarrod Uthoff as the impact “newcomer” this season for the Hawkeyes. After all these are the only true additions to the roster likely to see the floor in 2013-14.
But there is another Hawkeye poised to make his presence felt this season, and he might as well fall into the “newcomer” category also.
His name is Gabriel Olaseni.
The 6’10 225 pound London native enters his junior season with vastly increased expectations. While it may sound crazy calling Olaseni a new addition to the Iowa squad that’s essentially what he feels like. However, after learning his backstory it isn’t hard to imagine how a relatively unknown back-up center is just now coming into his own.
Olaseni only seriously started pursuing basketball during the latter stages of high school at Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas. Basketball was new to him and his learning curve was steep. His size and athletic ability were enough to be effective at the prep level, but an overall understanding of the game was lacking.
Unranked by most recruiting services, Olaseni could best be described as lightly sought-after by even mid major programs. But Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery saw something beyond the senior season averages of 10.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.2 blocks per game.
Perhaps it was the 7’2 wingspan, the ability to run the floor like some guards, or the athleticism allowing Olaseni to complete between-the-legs and behind-the-back dunks with ease. Then again, maybe more than any of the physical attributes was Olaseni’s desire to learn and improve. It’s rare in this era to find a player willing to accept a role permitting merely 10.7 min/game this past season and only action in 18 games as a freshman.
Despite limited experience and playing time against high caliber opponents Olaseni played well this past season. Playing roughly ¼ of a game on average he finished 12th in the Big Ten in blocks, and his total of 36 on the season was the third highest total in Hawkeye history for a sophomore. He also displayed a near 70% free throw percentage, and a decent midrange jump shot when afforded the time to take it.
This season it appears as though his willingness to be coached and developed will pay off in a big way. Coach McCaffery spoke numerous times this offseason of Olaseni’s impressiveness, and that his role and minutes will expand this year. It may be time for past highlights such as a seven block game against Illinois or his high flying dunks to become a regular occurrence.
A trip to Europe late this summer gave Iowa the chance to gel prior to the start of preseason camp as well as get some game action in against multiple professional squads. It also gave Olaseni the opportunity to play live in front of his family as a collegiate athlete for the first time in London.
After getting a few jitters out of his system in the opening game he once again impressed the Hawkeye coaching staff. Fans can expect big things this season from Olaseni, and also anticipate a new lineup combination involving both he and sophomore 7-footer Adam Woodbury.
Gone are the days of Olaseni swimming in unfamiliar terminology and thinking his way through games. He can now simply react and play, allowing him to maximize his extraordinary athleticism to benefit the Hawkeye squad.
If there is one “newcomer” on the Hawkeyes worth watching this year, it may just be the one who has been there all along.