By Mike Green
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Melvin Ejim would be the first to admit he had a prosperous 2012. The Iowa State junior from Toronto helped the Cyclones earn their first NCAA Tournament berth in seven years, competed for the Nigerian National Team and was admitted to the prestigious Phi Kappa Phi Academic Society.
What can he do for an encore in 2013?
The Cyclone power forward is already showing signs that 2013 will be another successful year. Ejim, who is listed at 6-6, is currently the Big 12's leader in rebounding (9.3), helping an undersized Cyclone team lead the Big 12 and rank in the top-20 nationally in rebounding margin (+8.9).
Only two players in Big 12 history have led the conference on the boards while standing 6-6 or shorter (Terry Black, Baylor in 2001 and P.J. Tucker, Texas in 2006). Ejim has a chance to join that list. With an aggressive motor and relentless work ethic, Ejim has found a way to grab rebounds on a consistent basis.
Ejim, who earned Big 12 Honorable Mention honors in 2012, has 10 double-digit rebounding efforts this season and his 21 career 10+ rebounding games leads all active Big 12 players. He's closing in on 600 rebounds in his Iowa State career, which would rank him in the school's top-20.
Ejim is proving that rebounding takes more than size. It also takes heart.
"I really think a lot of it is heart," Ejim said. "It's about you wanting it more than the person in front of you, especially if you are undersized. It's really about how much you want it and I pride myself in that and it has become a cornerstone of my game."
"When you are in a game, you are doing everything you can to help your team win," Ejim added. "For me, that is rebounding. I always try to get us an extra possession or bucket. An offensive rebound can change the outcome of the game."
Ejim's confidence was boosted this summer when he trained with the Nigerian National Team in its quest to make the 2012 Olympics. Both of Ejim's parents are from Nigeria. His family migrated to Canada before he was born.
Ejim toured China with the Nigerian team in June and then participated in a series of exhibitions upon returning to the United States. Ejim was the only college player on a squad that featured many current and former NBA players. He was one of the last players cut before the Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
Despite missing out on the Olympics, the chance to train with athletes at the highest international level was an opportunity of a lifetime.
"It was a great experience for me," Ejim said. "I knew it would be tough for me to make the team with all of the experienced players on the roster, but they (Nigerian National Team) let me know I will be a part of their future. It was a whole new outlook on basketball and coach Hoiberg encouraged me to give it a shot."
Wherever Ejim's future path lies, it is clearly evident he will be a success. Ejim is the epitome of the student-athlete. He is a two-time member of Iowa State's Dean's List and, most recently, he gained membership to the Iowa State University Chapter of The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi.
Phi Kappa Phi is the nation's oldest, largest and most selective collegiate honor society for all academic disciplines. Standards for election to Phi Kappa Phi are extremely high. Membership is extended by invitation only to Iowa State University's top 7.5 percent of second-semester juniors and the top 10 percent of seniors, professional and graduate students.
Ejim, who was an All-Big 12 First-Team Academic selection in 2012, was honored to join the exclusive club.
"It's a great feeling to be able to say you are a member of the Phi Kappa Phi fraternity and to receive this academic accolade," Ejim said. "This is something I will treasure and be proud of when I am done here at Iowa State. It's something I have worked for and it means a lot to me and my family."
Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg, who was a two-time CoSIDA Academic All-American in his playing days with the Cyclones, knows he has a special talent in Ejim.
"It's everything Melvin is all about," Hoiberg said. "It is the way he was raised. Not only is he one of our better players, but academics also plays such an important role in his life. I am so proud of him. He works hard at everything he attempts to do. It's just who he is."