Ejim Makes An Impression
By Holly MacKenzie
Wherever Melvin Ejim’s basketball career takes him next, he left his Wednesday workout with the Toronto Raptors having left an impression.
The 23 year-old, 6-foot-6 senior out of Iowa State had media and front office personnel alike talking about his maturity and approach. While most basketball fans will remember Ejim as the Canadian that dropped 48 points — a Big 12 record — in a game this season, the four-year senior was also named Big 12 Player of the Year before helping the Cyclones make it to the Sweet 16.
At the Air Canada Centre, Ejim wore a huge smile as he spoke about having the chance to show his skills to his hometown team.
“Growing up here in Toronto, I think anybody who played here would have a dream to work out for the Toronto Raptors,” Ejim said. “And even play here. It’s an amazing city. You’ve seen all the incredible support that we have here. It’s just been a great opportunity, and you can ask my family, they’re extremely excited for me just to be here and to be in this ideal situation. So I’m excited, I think I had a good workout and I had a great time here.”
Ejim knows that his impressive college resume doesn’t hold the same amount of weight in the world of professional sports where the right mix of athleticism, height and potential can make almost anything else disappear. Still, he’s confident he will be able to show teams why he’s worth the investment. He also believes his decision to stay at Iowa State and earn his degree is helping him throughout this process.
“I think that I have…a level of maturity, a level of understanding, of task management and commitment that you have when you stay in school,” Ejim said. “And when you stay in school, it shows a lot of values and a lot of things that you do, not to say that these guys don’t necessarily have that, but I think that the fact that I’ve been in there for four years have taught me a lot of things, a lot of things that I can translate over to being a professional and being somebody playing in the NBA. I really think that it’s helped me, it’s prepared me on multiple fronts as an athlete and as a student, as a person, as a gentleman.”
Ejim’s taken advice from Steve Nash, Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg, college teammate Diante Garrett of the Jazz and high school teammate Will Barton of the Blazers.
Hoiberg spent four seasons working in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ front office and has grilled potential draftees in interviews. He knows what teams are looking for and is confident that the combination of Ejim’s on-court abilities and off-court intangibles will win out come draft night.
“Melvin gets it,” Hoiberg said. “He’s just such a smart kid. He was an absolute dream to coach. He was a guy I had for four years and he continued to get better and better every single year. He was everything you wanted in a student-athlete. Almost a 4.0 student, just such a great representative of our university.
“For Melvin, the transition, the next process after going through four years of school is pretty easy for him. The biggest thing I talked to him about with this whole experience, not only on the court, but he has so many intangibles, to show those. Those communication skills, his ability to go out and be a great teammate whatever role is given to him, those are the things I talked to him about. Being in the position of a front office for four years, knowing some of those things those guys look for. Melvin has done a great job with that so far.”
Ejim’s interview with the media was the talk of Wednesday afternoon, but it was how he showed up for the workout that impressed Raptors staffers.
“We were actually talking about Melvin earlier,” Tolzman said. “He came in [here dressed] in slacks and a nice button down shirt. He looked like he was coming to an interview and I think that clearly it resonates with us because this is a professional job interview for these guys. They're doing 20 of [these workouts] before the draft so they're trying to leave an impression and guys that approach it properly and they're prepared and they know what we're going to ask them and what they want to tell us, guys that come prepared [treat it] just like any other job interview. If you come ready and you know what you're looking to do it goes a long, long way.”
While Ejim has improved his scoring and shooting percentages each year, Tolzman singled out his efforts on the opposite end of the floor.
“His niche, in my opinion, will be as a defensive player,” Tolzman said. “He's a strong defender and I think the level of intensity he plays with bodes well for guys that focus on defence because when they give their all they impact the game somehow even if their shot's not there. That's just the way it goes.”
The Raptors have two second-round picks this year. Wherever Ejim ends up, the team won’t forget the charismatic forward who was raised in Toronto and grew up watching Vince Carter and the Raptors. Tolzman stressed the importance of in-person interviews and the lasting impact they can make on a player’s career down the line.
“At the Chicago combine we have a list of guys and you'll remember them from decades,” Tolzman said. “Just guys that you saw, they were impressive because of the way they approached it or guys that were unimpressive because of how they approached it. Without a question, it sticks with you.”
Hoiberg wasn’t surprised to hear that his senior had left people impressed with his poise.
“He’s got his head on straight,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve been fortunate to have really good kids [at Iowa State]. I’d put Melvin up there at the top. No doubt about it.”