Iowa CITY, Iowa - Melsahn Basabe could have hung around Iowa City with his teammates this summer as he had the past three years. It was a familiar routine - workout, play in the PTL, scrimmage with the fellas, maybe take some classes and live the good life.
Basabe instead stepped out of his comfort zone. He returned home to New York City and worked. He cleared his head and thought about what in life was important to him.
"I wanted to get a taste of the real world," the 6-foot-7, 220-pound senior said.
While college basketball players grind through high-level training and academics, a lot of their lives are handled for them. Their meals, housing, travel and other necessities are paid by the school.
"Coming back here has made me appreciate it more," said Basabe, who was gone from Iowa City for two months. "There weren't too many handouts when I was home; getting used to supporting myself and seeing how things are in everyday life and commuting and food, just different stuff that I take for granted here. I think it made me appreciate the basketball and be responsible and take this blessing, which is Iowa."
Basabe rose at 5:30 a.m. to work out and then get to his job. He was employed at summer basketball camps and also delivered pharmaceuticals around Soho and Mid-Town Manhattan.
"It was an interesting experience," Basabe said.
Hawkeye Coach Fran McCaffery sent Basabe home with a request that the forward work on his conditioning. He obliged by lifting weights, running steps and running long distances before and after his job. He appeared to be in excellent shape at Monday's practice.
"I only signed up for one (summer basketball league) because of NCAA rules and then I had an injury so I really didn't play too much," Basabe said. "Basketball pretty much stays with you. I just focused on my conditioning because I knew the basketball was there.
"It was about being mentally ready to accept coaching and being a good teammate. That's what I tried to focus on this summer."
Roy Devyn Marble came to Iowa with Basabe and the two bonded right away. They've grown closer through the years and supported each other through the tough times.
"He seems more refreshed and more relaxed and more confident, just being more focused on basketball, the task at hand," Marble said.
Basabe is personable with an infectious smile. Teammates are drawn to him.
"Whenever Mel gets here, it's always special," sophomore Anthony Clemmons said. "You can feel the energy change once he gets in. He's active. He's always in your ear telling you what to do.
"Like I said, he brings an unbelievable amount of energy to the game when he's here. It's cool having him back."
Basabe flourished in his first season at Iowa, averaging 11.0 points and 6.8 rebounds on his way to a spot on the Big Ten's all-freshmen team. He was a focal point of the Iowa offense as McCaffery tried to refill the roster in his initial year at the school.
Basabe followed the coach to Iowa after committing to him at Siena. It seemed like Basabe would be the piece around which McCaffery would rebuild the program.
Instead, the Hawkeyes added more parts to a balanced attack. Basabe struggled to find his role as a sophomore and his numbers dropped to 8.2 points and 5.9 rebounds a game.
Basabe's struggles continued at the start of his junior year. Then, things began to click for him. He realized his role was to rebound, defend, bring energy and score within the offense when the opportunity presented itself.
"His game is really to the point now where he can do a lot more things," McCaffery said. "He's not making mistakes. He's playing with a great energy level.
"He knows this is his last year. He needs to have the kind of year that he should have. We've all seen greatness from him. For him it's always been a matter of consistency. He's really challenged himself to be as consistent as he can possible be this year. He's going to be a captain this year. He needs to act like a captain."
The first step for Basabe will be helping lead his team to a six-games in eight-day trip to Europe this month. The Hawkeyes leave on Sunday.
"It definitely was a good experience for me to go home and get my mind right," Basabe said. "I'm definitely happy to be back and am looking forward to this experience."