IOWA CITY, Iowa -- It would be hard to argue that one of the University of Iowa's most improved men's basketball players this year was Gabriel Olaseni. His work ethic and commitment to improvement translated into increased production on the court.
After averaging 2.7 minutes per game as a sophomore, Olaseni played nearly 17 minutes per game his junior campaign and saw a significant boost in his numbers. The native of London, England, averaged 6.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, and led the team in blocked shots (43). Olaseni posted four double-doubles to tie classmate Aaron White for the team lead and also rank first among Big Ten reserves.
UI assistant coach Kirk Speraw is not surprised by Olaseni's improvement.
"He had a tremendous junior season," said Speraw. "He's one of the hardest working young men in college basketball. He puts in the time and effort and has a great approach. He gets better every day at his ball-handling skills, shooting, and post moves and has carried that into game competition."
Olaseni was one of Iowa's top rebounders, clearing nearly five boards per contest. He was the only basketball player from a BCS conference to grab more offensive (82) than defensive rebounds (81). Overall, Olaseni was one of just four Division I players (minimum 160 rebounds) to have more offensive than defensive rebounds, joining Mark Henniger of Kent State, Butler's Khyle Marshall, Kelsvin Penn of Florida Atlantic, and Towson's Timajh Parker-Rivera.
"I strive to work hard in every work out and practice session so my play is helpful toward our team's success," said Olaseni.
Sophomore Mike Gesell says Olaseni's ability to clean the offensive glass gives the team a big boost.
"The offensive rebounds are huge especially when we're struggling offensively," said Gesell. "It's huge when you can go back and get offensive rebounds and get another chance to score. He brings a lot of life and energy to this team."
Olaseni says his offensive rebounding productivity comes down to desire, heart and determination.
"You don't get anything you don't work for," he said. "You have to keep working and hopefully you get a couple. No rebound is going to fall to you; you have to go out of you area to get a lot of them.
"You have to go after the rim, but look where the shot is going up from. If it's a close shot, it's going to be a close rebound, but if it's a 3-point shot it's going to fall to a different position."
Speraw says Olaseni's improvement has gone beyond what the numbers show.
"His improvement was not only about his skill level but also his understanding of the game, how to play team defense, rotate properly, and how to screen and get people open," Speraw said. "It wasn't just the skill level that improved but how he incorporated that into our offensive and defensive philosophies."
If Olaseni's current is an indication of what his senior year beholds, fans are in for an even more skilled and confident player in 2014-15.
"I have one year left, and I want to continue my improvement," Olaseni said. "I feel like my confidence is growing each year and I understand the game a lot more. I'm thankful we have such a great coaching staff to help in my development."
UI redshirt freshman offensive lineman Sean Welsh has made an impression on the Iowa football coaching staff.