Gabe Olaseni's family making first trip to U.S. for Senior Day
IOWA CITY, Ia. – Senior Day can bring a fountain of emotions to college basketball players in their final home game. For Iowa's Gabe Olaseni, it'll also bring his family into America for the first time.
The 6-foot-10 native of London's mother and two siblings were scheduled to set foot on U.S. soil Thursday night, in advance for Olaseni's Carver-Hawkeye Arena finale — 11 a.m. Saturday against Northwestern.
He last saw them in December, under more somber circumstances — in England at the funeral of his father, Benson, who passed away the morning of Iowa's Nov. 26 win against Northern Illinois.
"This time will be a lot happier, even though it's always good to see them," Olaseni said Thursday. "It'll be a lot happier environment, hopefully, if those guys don't get me going on Senior Night. I'm just planning to keep it all together, really."
Olaseni's mother, Yvette, older sister, Folasade, and younger brother, Bamidele, will be on hand Saturday, and they'll depart Wednesday. (His parents gave the children Nigerian first names and Christian middle names. Olaseni's given name is Abodunrin Gabriel.)
"You can call us either/or," Olaseni grinned.
"It's going to be a new experience for them. Hopefully they can understand everyone, and people can understand them, too."
What his family will witness Saturday is a more-polished senior player than the raw freshman who arrived on campus in summer 2011 with his own thick British accent.
His game has gradually improved under coach Fran McCaffery, and he now has become a strong candidate for the Big Ten Conference's sixth man of the year. Olaseni is averaging 8.5 points per game (third on the team), 4.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots while shooting 54 percent.
That's quite an uptick from the freshman version that only played 90 minutes and scored nine baskets — for the season.
But he knew it'd be a process after playing just one year in America, at Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita, Kan. He had offers from Oklahoma and Wichita State, but liked the Iowa campus and McCaffery's honesty.
"A lot of coaches early on, they told me I'd come here and be a star or be the guy, stuff like that. But knowing where my game was at that point, I knew they were just ... telling me what I wanted to hear," Olaseni said. "Coach McCaffery, on my visit, laid it all out for me. He told me it's going to be a process for a couple years, but they're going to get me to where they want to get me."
Olaseni's game might be at a high point. In Tuesday's win over Indiana — Iowa's fifth in a row — he racked up 13 points, including two thunderous put-back dunks, and eight rebounds.
His family got to see Olaseni play in person the summer before his junior year, when Iowa took a trip to England for an exhibition tour. Though this is their first trip to Iowa City, they watch every game.
"Even though they haven't been here physically, they know everything that's going on, and that's the beauty of it," McCaffery said. "So to have them here physically and kind of see everything that they've been watching on television is going to be — it's going to be a great day for all of us, I think."