Erie BayHawks first-year forward Melvin Ejim has been one of the most consistent players on its roster this season. But how did he end up in Erie? How did he end up in the D-League? What’s Ejim’s basketball story?
Let’s start at the beginning. Toronto, Ontario to be exact.
While growing up in Toronto, Ejim experienced some bumps-in-the-road on his basketball journey.
“There were limited opportunities to play basketball in Canada,” Ejim said. “Hockey is the dominant sport in the country, so there weren’t many basketball courts to play pickup games in Canada, unlike in the U.S.”
Not having enough basketball courts in Canada wasn’t the only hiccup Ejim experienced in Canada.
Ejim knew if he wanted to achieve his dream in playing in the NBA, he must participate in AAU basketball. The problem was that his mother, Elizabeth Omoghan, was raising four children, and she was concerned that paying Ejim’s travel to participate in AAU basketball would stretch the family’s budget thin.
“There are two dominant AAU programs in Canada: C.I.A. Bounce and Grassroots Canada Elite,” Ejim said.
That’s where Ejim’s uncle, David Omoghan, comes into play.
David convinced Ejim’s mother to allow Melvin to participate in the AAU circuit in the seventh grade. In fact, everyone in his family, from his mother to his brothers and sisters, helped pay Ejim’s AAU expenses even though he wasn’t a good player in the beginning.
Eventually Ejim showed some promise while playing for C.I.A. Bounce, which attracted some private schools in the U.S. to offer him a scholarship. At 15 years old, he moved away from home in Toronto to attend St. Mary’s Ryken in Leonardtown, Md before transferring to Brewster Academy in New Hampshire.
In 2008-09, he averaged 12.3 points and 4.6 rebounds for Brewster. In Ejim’s final year, 2009-10, he averaged 13.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, three steals and 2.5 assists, leading Brewster to a 34-4 record and a National Prep School championship. While at Brewster, Ejim drew attention from several colleges: Boston College, Butler, Colorado, Iowa State and Providence.
But Iowa State stood out above the rest.
“T.J. Otzelberger, who was the primary recruiter at the time, was one of the first people to recruit me,” Ejim said. “Also, the Iowa State coaching staff at the time would come watch me whenever they had the chance, and Craig Brackins, who was a player for Iowa State at the time, and I built a connection during my recruitment.”
Ejim committed to Iowa State on Feb. 5, 2010.
His arrival to Ames was overshadowed with the return of Fred Hoiberg back to Hilton Coliseum. His 10 points and 6.7 rebounds per game virtually went unnoticed in Ames.
His second year was even more overshadowed with the arrival of Royce White, who drew the national media’s eyes and led Iowa State in every statistical category.
During his junior year, Ejim was still hidden, but less than the previous two seasons. He averaged 11.3 points and nine rebounds, and he was the first ISU player to lead the Big 12 in rebounding in a decade.
Ejim’s senior year was when he finally entered the limelight at Iowa State. In his final year in college, he averaged 17.8 points and 8.4 rebounds, which helped him earn Big 12 Player of the Year honors. He finished his career at Iowa State with 1,643 points, No. 12 in ISU history, and 1,051 rebounds, No. 2 in ISU history.
“I had a great career at Iowa State,” Ejim said. “I built relationships at Iowa State that will last a lifetime and had an opportunity to play for Fred Hoiberg.”
Although Ejim had a great college career, his collegiate basketball merits weren’t enough for him to be drafted by a team in the 2014 NBA Draft.
After going undrafted, Ejim decided to join the Philadelphia 76ers for the 2014 Orlando Summer League. However, after not seeing any playing time with the Sixers, he left the team and joined the San Antonio Spurs for Las Vegas Summer League. But he didn’t impress enough to earn an NBA contract.
“It is just part of the process,” Ejim said.
Since he didn’t get an NBA deal, Ejim decided to go overseas to continue playing basketball.
On July 24, 2014, Ejim signed with Virtus Roma of Italy for the 2014-15 season. In 29 league games with Virtus Roma, Ejim averaged 7.7 points and 6.3 rebounds.
“It was an eye-opening experience. The style of play was different over in Europe compared to the U.S., but you had to adjust quickly if you wanted to stay in this profession,” Ejim said.
Putting in the time to continue his development and his year with Virtus Roma attracted many NBA teams who wanted Ejim to be a part of their Summer League team.
Ejim eventually signed with the Orlando Magic to participate on one of their 2015 Summer League squads. During his time with Orlando, he averaged 9.2 points and 6.8 rebounds, and his play impressed Orlando’s head coach Scott Skiles (via the Orlando Sentinel):
“He is a very good athlete. He’s got good speed. He’s got a really good thickness to his body, which makes him strong and kind of tough. He’s a good defender. He can make an open shot. He’s an all-around good player. He’s definitely somebody we’re taking a good look at,” Skiles said.
After the strong Summer League and an impressive showing with Team Canada during the Pan American Games, Ejim received what he’s been working for his whole life: an NBA contract.
He signed with the Magic on Aug. 4, 2015.
However, on Oct. 21, 2015, Orlando waived Ejim right before the start of the regular season. 10 days later, though, Ejim was designated to the Erie BayHawks of the D-League as an affiliate player of the Magic.
Since being sent to Erie, Ejim has averaged 13.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists for the 4-9 BayHawks as he continues to work toward getting his shot in the NBA.