Have Game, Will Travel

Life and the game of basketball have taken Glen Cove’s Melsahn Basabe all over the country. He hopes his next stop is the pro ranks.

So often, Melsahn Basabe has walked out his front door with a basketball in hand, pounding it to the ground innumerable times while striding toward the nearest court, hoping to find a game or at least an open hoop. He’s done it in Winston-Salem, NC, where he was born, in Newport News, VA, where he lived twice growing up, in western Texas, eastern Maryland, on the south shore of Queens and the north shore of Long Island—all places he called home at one point in his life.

When Basabe, a resident of Glen Cove since he was 12, was turned down by area private schools, he took his game north to Massachusetts for his high school years. Now a star in his junior year at the University of Iowa, Basabe hopes his game and experiences have prepared him for a journey toward a most sought-after destination—the NBA.

image“[Traveling a lot] has just helped me adapt,” Basabe said. “Nothing really bothers me for too long, I always figure out my problems, I’m not scared to take chances and I’m not scared to be in unknown environments. I’ve lived in so many places and I’ve been able to adjust every time. I’m not scared to do anything.”

Basabe moved from state to state with his mother, Aloha Wilks, for a variety of reasons. They landed in New York, living in Far Rockaway, Hempstead and finally Glen Cove. He played for the Long Island Lightning and then the New York Gauchos, an elite travel hoops squad based in the Bronx.

Still, Basabe was unable to completely settle in. After attending Finley Middle School in Glen Cove, he insists he tried to play for the top private high schools on the Island—Long Island Lutheran, St. Mary’s, St. Anthony’s, et al—but the options either weren’t there or weren’t as attractive as what was offered at St. Mark’s School in Southborough MA, a quiet town 25 miles west of Boston.

Under coach David Lubick, Basabe and the Lions reached the New England Private School Athletic Conference title game in 2010, a season in which Basabe averaged 13 points and nine rebounds per game. In the talent-rich New England prep circuit he played with some of the best in the college game today. Erik Murphy (Florida), Alex Murphy (Duke) and Nate Lubick (Georgetown) were all Lions.

The St. Mark’s experience not only paved the way to a scholarship but shaped him as a person. “St. Mark’s was the best thing that ever happened to me, even to this day,” Basabe said. “Going there taught me how to be a man and how to navigate through life.”

Even though his dad was in and out of his life, Basabe has always felt his presence emotionally and considers him integral to his development. Of his absence, the Iowa star said, “It’s like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. My parents split so many times, but there wasn’t a specific pattern. It just happened. It wasn’t perfect parenting, but my father has given me some of the most valuable information someone can give you, even with all the turbulence.”

Out of high school, Basabe was recruited by Siena University in Albany, but when head coach Fran McCaffery left his post there to take the same job at Iowa, Basabe followed. At a glance, he was a low- to mid-Division I recruit suiting up to play in the Big Ten, one of the game’s power conferences, but he looked every bit the part of a blue-chip recruit his freshman year. The 6-foot-7 forward averaged 11.0 points and 6.8 rebounds to garner Big Ten All-Freshman accolades.

However, he stumbled as a sophomore. His production suffered (8.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg), his minutes dipped and his next-level potential dimmed. Basabe pins the decline on complacency. “I relaxed because I had done well the previous year. I lost the mentality that I always had, and that leads you to not working as hard as you should and not being as hungry,” Basabe said. “I was embarrassed after last year. That wasn’t me out there. But I accept it and have woken up every morning with something in my stomach, to this day, to this second. I just have to keep myself grounded, and when I do achieve success again—and I will—I will keep last year in mind so it doesn’t happen again.”

Iowa is nothing like the world he grew up in. It’s different, which isn’t to say worse. In fact, Basabe calls the experience “a blessing.” He has two more years at Iowa to show that he’s worthy of making the jump to the pros, whether it’s on or off the hardwoods. “I’m not afraid to use my mind,” said the sociology major. “I’ve always been able to use my brain and turn every option into a good option, no matter what it is.”

The NBA is the ideal landing spot, the place he’s long dreamt he’d end up someday. Only 60 collegiate and international players get there via the draft each year. Basabe hopes his is one of the names called. However, if he must get there another way, by first going overseas or playing in the NBA Developmental League, he’s prepared to do so. “You never know your route,” he said. “I just know I’m going to stay committed to the game I love. My dream has always been to make it to the NBA. I want to support my family using this game. That’s what I want to do and I know I can do it.”

brett mauser

Brett Mauser has been a monthly contributor for Long Island Pulse since June 2006. In addition to freelancing for a variety of regional and national publications, he is the executive director of Hamptons Collegiate Baseball.