IOWA CITY, Iowa — The emotions finally caught up to Gabe Olaseni on Wednesday night.
Iowa had just beaten North Carolina, and the Hawkeyes were celebrating in their locker room.
Except Olaseni, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said.
It had been a week since Olaseni’s father, Benson, had died, and Olaseni, who had been dealing with the emotions since, finally let go.
“I mean it was kind of a unique locker room,” McCaffery said. “It’s about as happy a group as I’ve ever been around in all my years playing and coaching. Yet he was bawling his eyes out. His teammates had their arms around him. The guys are dancing and they see him, so it was a little more about him at that point than anything else.”
“Yeah, it was [emotional], for a lot of reasons,” Olaseni said. “Obviously it was a great win. I would have liked for my dad to have seen it, but I felt like he was there.”
Olaseni, though, said he had to be “professional” in his approach on the court, and he continued that in Saturday’s 77-47 win against Maryland-Baltimore County at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“I understand that regardless of what happens outside of college basketball, you still have to produce when you’re on the court,” Olaseni said.
Olaseni has produced. Saturday’s point total was a season-high, and he has had 42 points and 23 rebounds in his past four games.
“I’m very proud of Gabe, the way he’s handled himself,” said junior point guard Mike Gesell. “He’s a worker. He works hard. He’s a positive guy, fun guy, great guy to be around. He’s a guy that, whenever you’re around him, he’s going to lift up your spirits. He’s continued to do that through his hard times.”
Olaseni will be heading home to London next Saturday for his father’s funeral, and McCaffery said that decision has been tough on Olaseni, a senior center.
“You can only imagine what’s going through his head,” McCaffery said. “Do I go? Do I stay? When do I go? We didn’t put any pressure on him. You go when you want to go and you come back when you want to come back. It’s that simple.”
It was originally thought that Olaseni was going to be heading home after the North Carolina game. Instead he stayed and had seven points and five rebounds in the 60-55 victory.
“He wanted to play in that game, and he wanted to impact that game, and he did,” McCaffery said. “Then we win. So, as you can imagine, it was pretty emotional for him. He was, I don’t think he was off the floor yet, and he was bawling all the way down the tunnel and into the locker room.”
“Obviously it’s going to hit me hard,” Olaseni said of his return home. “Even though it has hit me hard already.”
The Hawkeyes (7-2), coming off that emotional win, had no problems against UMBC (0-7). They had a 20-0 run and a 12-0 run in building a 48-20 halftime lead.
“Coach said they give out scholarships like everyone else, so this was a chance for us to keep improving,” Olaseni said.
— Gabe Olaseni
“We got back late, and we didn’t do much, obviously, on Thursday,” McCaffery said. “But Friday we got after it a little bit and we got ready. You could tell they were going to be ready for this game. It was not going to be a letdown or anything like that.”
Olaseni said his teammates have been supportive of him in the wake of his father’s death.
“They still get on me about certain things, they’re still cracking jokes,” Olaseni said. “It’s been pretty much the same. Everybody knows what happened, they’re trying to be there for me, they’re trying to keep it like it was before, basically.”
As Olaseni got done with his time with the media after the game, he stopped when he saw Gesell being interviewed and walked in behind a group of reporters, leaning in with a big grin.
“The play of Gabe Olaseni, can you speak about that? He seems to have really stepped up his game,” Olaseni asked Gesell.
Gesell couldn’t help but laugh.
“He has,” Gesell said. “He has played well, especially defensively. Just an energy guy.”
“Good answer,” Olaseni said, smiling as he headed back to the locker room.