History in the making

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Melvin Ejim is a top student, but he’s better known as one of coach Fred Hoiberg’s most steady players.

By Steve Jones, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

The photographer was quite late without a good excuse. Yet the photo subject, third-year Iowa State University history student Melvin Ejim, was not bothered. He sat quietly on the Carver Hall steps reading a thick history book.

However, that’s Ejim (pronounced EDGE-um) – a top student with a reputation as a truly nice guy. He also might be the best-known history major on campus. Ejim is a two-year starting forward on the Cyclone men’s basketball team, combining scoring, rebounding and steady play for coach Fred Hoiberg. The 6-foot-6, 215-pound Toronto native enters his third ISU season as the second leading returning rebounder in the Big 12 Conference. He averaged 7.1 boards per game in Big 12 play last season. He also scored 9.3 points per game overall for the 23-11 Clones, who reached the NCAA Tournament second round.

He had some of his best games last year against Big 12 foes. Ejim totaled a season-high 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds in ISU’s road win at Oklahoma and also scored 15 second-half points against No. 9 Baylor in the Cyclones’ come-from-behind home win.

Against No. 5 Kansas, his 15 points and eight rebounds helped ISU to a 72-64 victory before a sold-out, frenzied Hilton Coliseum crowd.

Ejim came to Iowa State as an open option (undecided) student. Although strong in the classroom, he didn’t know what he wanted to study.

"When it came time to choose a major, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do," Ejim recalled. "I didn’t know what interests I had or the things I was good at. Nothing really popped out at me."

Then came a summer 2011 trip to Italy with the Cyclone basketball team. In addition to playing some Italian teams, Ejim enjoyed the museums, the cathedrals, the art and most of all, the history. "There is so much history you can’t see anywhere else. It opened my eyes that I really enjoyed hearing stories about the past," he said.

Ejim has enjoyed his new major. "History is a class that you go in and everyday hear a new story from a different point of view. I said, ‘What’s better than that?’"

The major, Ejim said, is also improving his study skills, particularly reading and writing. He admitted he "wasn’t a big fan of reading" and he wanted to become a better writer. "History has forced me to become better at both."

Ejim, an All-Big 12 First-Team Academic pick in 2012, was recently initiated into the Iowa State Chapter of The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi. It is the nation’s oldest, largest and most selective collegiate honor society for all academic disciplines.

A first generation Canadian, Ejim’s family is from Nigeria, which opened doors to international hoops. He played last summer with the Nigerian national squad, eyeing a position on the team that would try to qualify for the London Olympics. At 21, younger than the rest of the team, he didn’t make the cut, which wasn’t unexpected. Ejim was being groomed for the future and perhaps a spot on the national team when the 2016 Olympics qualifying comes around.

"It was an incredible experience," he said. "The Nigerian basketball coaches told me they want me to come back."

Heading into the 2012-13 season, Ejim will again be counted on to be a Cyclone leader. He said the team is focused on post-season play again.

"We want to make it back to the NCAA Tournament and go even farther," he said. "Individually, I want to play at my best and show improvement in my game and help the team in anyway I can. Ultimately, when we win, everyone looks good."