Melvin Ejim is a 27 year old 201cm forward from Brampton, Ontario playing his fourth professional season and first with Unics Kazan (Russia-VTB). Last season he won the Italian Serie A title and reached the Basketball Champions League Final 4 with Umana Reyer Venezia. IN the 2015-2016 season he played with the Orlando Magic (NBA), released in Oct.’15, then moved to Erie Bay Hawks (D-League) playing 39 games averaging 14.6ppg, 7.7rpg, 3.1apg, 1.6spg, 2FGP: 51.8%, 3FGP: 33.0%, FT: 79.1%, in Mar.’16 signed at Umana Reyer Venezia (Italy-Serie A) playing 16 games averaging.9.3ppg, 6.0rpg, 1.1spg, FGP: 47.3%, 3PT: 33.3%, FT: 75.0%. In his rookie season he played with Virtus Acea Roma (Italy-Serie A) playing 29 games averaging 7.7ppg, 6.3rpg, FGP: 50.8%, 3PT: 32.8%, FT: 77.1%. In the Eurocup he played 18 games averaging 8.1ppg, 4.3rpg, 1.3apg, 1.2spg, FGP: 52.6%, 3PT: 33.3%, FT: 80.0%. He played at Iowa State from 2010-2014 playing a total of 135 NCAA games and as a senior played 34 games averaging 17.8ppg, 8.4rpg, 1.8apg, 1.2spg, FGP: 50.5%, 3PT: 34.6%, FT: 76.1%. He spoke to German Hoops before the Eurocup do or die game against FC Bayern Munich in Kazan.
Melvin thanks for talking to German Hoops. A tough 83-75 loss in Munich. On what things did you think about most during the long road trip back?
We had a lot on our minds on our long road trip back to Kazan. It was a tough game. We just couldn´t get over the hump at the end and make shots. It was tough for me as well. I had a very bad shooting game. I had some pretty good looks down the stretch, but they just didn´t want to fall. Despite the loss, I felt like we played pretty well limiting their transition game and offensive rebounds. We could have done a better job against their pick and roll. All it came down to was had we made just a few more stops we could have won. They opened up the game a bit at the end and just rode it out. Munich played well.
Unics Kazan (Russia-VTB) shot near 50% from downtown and limited FC Bayern Munich well from outside. But FC Bayern Munich killed you inside. How confident are you that you can advance on your home court?
Munich did a good job playing their game in Munich. We have to do the same at home and play our game. When we do that then we always have a good chance to win. We have to prepare mentally and do what we have to do and win at home. We have our backs to the wall, but expect to return to Munich.
Your playing your first season with Unics Kazan (Russia-VTB). Was the ambition to play VTB and Eurocup higher than returning back to Venice and defend your Serie A title?
Yes definitely that was why I left Venice for Kazan. Despite winning the Italian Serie A and reaching the Basketball Champions League final 4, I felt that it was time to make the next step. It has always been my goal since arriving in Europe to get to the highest level there. For me being able to play for Kazan and play in the competitive VTB and play Eurocup was a challenge and a stepping stone in my career.
Unics Kazan (Russia-VTB) is playing great in the VTB league and have a better record than powerhouse CSKA Moscow. What has been the secret to the success in this competition?
The secret has been that we have been very consistent in the VTB. We also have played very well whenever we needed to pulling out some tough wins including some buzzer beaters and some balls going our way. We have done a good job taking care of business and making those late game plays needed to win games. We have shown in the VTB that everyone is sacrificing for the good of the team to win.
How challenging has the VTB been for you in comparison to all other leagues you have played in? You had a tough loss to CSKA Moscow, but a strong game and win against Khimki scoring 16 points.
It has definitely been an adjustment for me this season playing in the VTB. The VTB league has been a lot different style to what I have been used to. From the officiating to how teams defend, it has been a lot different for me. It has been a rocky start for me, but I just concentrated on helping my team win in any way I could. I have shown glimpses of my talent, but at the end of the day it´s all about winning. I just try to play my best at this level and continue to move forward in my game.
You’re a veteran, but how important has a guy like Stephanie Lasme been for you in your fourth season as you continue to develop further as a player?
He has been great, but it hasn´t only been him, but also the other veterans like Jamar Smith, Joaquin Colom or Anton Ponkrashov. All these guys have been important for me. All have played at different levels and have helped guide me this season. It has been great learning from them this season.
Let´s talk about your game. You’re a guy that can fill the stat sheet and your athleticism really stands out. If you had to compare your game to an NBA player who would you choose?
I get the most comparisons to Draymond Green. I´m a guy who can rebound, defend, make passes and be a consistent scorer.
You have never been the total dominating scorer, but had some season where your consistent scoring was present like in your senior season at Iowa State, in the G-league and last season with Venice. Is it hard to accept not being that dominant scorer all the time or are you more content being that versatile all-around player?
I am more content being that versatile player. I bring a lot to the table and I have shown that I can be that scorer or go to guy like in my senior year at Iowa State, but for me the most important thing is to do those things that my team needs at that moment to win. I have shown that I have many skills like scoring, rebounding or defending. For me it is a bigger value being able to do many things than just that one thing. I know that my role will always change where ever I play and key is always being able to adapt and play well. That has been a big defining skill in my career that I have been able to do.
You’re a guy that can fill up the stat sheet, but what do you feel is still a hidden strength in your game that doesn´t get noticed right away on the court?
Passing has been something that has been off the radar. I have always been able to help get guys shots or be able to create for others. I don´t average huge assists, but I don´t always get the direct assist, but am involved in some way in getting that basket. You can call it the volley ball or hockey assist.
Do you still think back often on last season´s very exciting final series against Dolomiti? The series was tied 2-2 and Umana VE won game five and game six by no more than 5 points combined. What do you remember most vividly from these two incredible wins?
I think my biggest memory in that series against Dolomiti was actually the game three buzzer beater by Michael Bramos. That win was huge, because we had been down the whole game, but had stayed in the game and that buzzer beater was big. The atmosphere was huge at home and being together with my teammates in the trenches and getting that win against an underdog team was big. I really needed to win the series in six games and not seven games. The reason was because I was getting married and had there been a game seven, I would have missed my own wedding. There was so much emotion in the series, and I can remember telling the guys I needed to win in six and not seven games and we pulled it out in six games.
In the 2015-2016 season you saw it all. You had a great NBA Summer League impressing the Magic and made their training camp roster. Then you were cut right before the regular season started and played in the G-League and then got cut in March. Did you lose hope in the NBA process after experiencing all that?
I had my ups and downs. It was a long season. I had signed with the Orlando Magic and got cut right before the start of the regular season. I then played in the G-League for a few months and finished my season in Europe in Venice, Italy. I didn´t lose faith in the NBA with that season. I understood that getting there would be different and that I would have to take a different avenue. Reaching the NBA has to do with the situation. The Magic made a few trades and so much changed for me. I learned valuable information about the NBA and met important people. My way to the NBA didn´t work then. So now my plan is to keep building my brand and stock in Europe and showing value in hopes of getting to the NBA one day.
Do you ever realize that anything can happen in basketball? When you were with the Orlando Magic, you had to battle your ex rival from Iowa Devyn Marble who got the job, but as of now isn´t playing this season. How tough was that whole season seeing this develop?
It was a little different than how you describe it. Marble had been on the team and played with them the season before. At that time when I was there the Magic had 15 roster spots and there was only one opening. When I was sent to the G-league my goal was to get a call up. Marble also was sent down and he wanted to get back to the NBA while I just wanted a chance in the NBA. It was great being teammates with him and he is a great guy. He has had some tough injuries and I hope that he can recover from them. It was tough playing in the G-league as there were a lot of emotions involved.
You had a very good season with the Erie Bay Hawks (D-League) playing 39 games averaging 14.6ppg, 7.7rpg, 3.1apg, 1.6spg, 2FGP: 51.8%, 3FGP: 33.0%, FT: 79.1%. Did you ever have a feeling you might get a NBA call up?
I did early on as I played well. But as always it had to do with the situation that they were in. They had some guards go down and didn´t need forwards. I felt that I was playing well and was shooting the ball well. In my mind, I was playing the right way. Of course, I was disappointed that it didn´t happen. I continued to keep grinding and become successful in a different way and showed that in Europe.
You didn´t participate in the NBA Summer League in the last two seasons. Have you put the NBA on hold for now or is there always a back door open for it?
The NBA is always a possibility for me. The past two summers, I had some situations where I couldn´t play. In 2016 I chose to play with the Canadian national team. Last summer, my season in Italy ended in late June and I got married. I just didn´t have time to play NBA Summer League. I just take it as it comes and am always doing what is best for my family.
Does your ex teammate Julyan Stone motivate you for that NBA dream? He is back at the big show after toiling in Europe for some years. He didn´t put up great stats last season with Umana Reyer Venezia. Is this the best example that the NBA is still there for you to grab?
Definitly Julyan gives me motivation for my NBA dream. He didn´t have unbelievable numbers, but Julyan plays the game the right way. He has the skill set and knows the NBA. He had a tough injury, but he is a very versatile player and he is back on his way up. He is an excellent example of a guy who continued to build his brand and continued staying relevant playing the game the right way. The NBA came back to him and found use for him. I am happy that he could return back to the NBA.
As a rookie you played with Virtus Acea Roma (Italy-Serie A) playing 29 games averaging 7.7ppg, 6.3rpg, FGP: 50.8%, 3PT: 32.8%, FT: 77.1%; In the Eurocup, you played 18 games averaging 8.1ppg, 4.3rpg, 1.3apg, 1.2spg, FGP: 52.6%, 3PT: 33.3%, FT: 80.0%. What was your wake up call to being a rookie in Europe where you knew that you were very far away from home in Canada?
I never had problems with having to get adjusted to a new culture as I left Canada early going to Iowa State. The biggest transition for me was the different basketball style in Europe. I saw some of the style playing for Canada, but seeing the flopping and the steps was an adjustment at first. I learned to adjust to the European style and be successful. Being able to play and live in Rome as a rookie had a big effect on me. It was an amazing experience being able to experience the culture in Rome.
I have interviewed your ex teammates Jordan Morgan and Brandon Triche as well as Bobby Jones over the years and I have never heard a negative thing about your ex teammate Bobby Jones. How important was he for you as a young kid coming from Iowa State to Rome?
Bobby Jones was such an interesting person on so many levels. He was such an important person for young guys like Jordan and I. We could always go to him for advice and he told us his experiences in the NBA and gave us great ideas for what we can do after basketball. He is such a dynamic guy that is so involved with his movies that he is making. He taught us so much about how we can gain the most with our European experience and that we should never limit ourselves, but should pursue other aspects in life. On top of that he was a hell of a player. He had a lot to give to us on and off the court.
Did you even realize how lucky you were being able to live in the historic Rome. When you look back at your rookie season what did you cherish most about the city?
At that time no I didn´t. Now years later, I have realized how lucky I was being able to play as a rookie there and experience the culture. The people were so laid back and the food was great. It was incredible being able to drive past so many historic places. It was an amazing experience being there.
You played at Iowa State from 2010-2014. You achieved so much there. Where do you rank your incredible 48 point explosion against TCU?
That was definitely one of those games that I look back on fondly. I had so many great achievements there. I remember the TCU game as one where I went in not expecting any big game from me, but just wanted to win. I got some early dunks and buckets in transition. After that my team started looking for me and finding me. I really had no idea how well I was scoring until halfway through the second half where my teammates were egging me on and telling me how well I was doing.
In your last three seasons you had a 2-1 record against archrival Iowa. What will you never forget about this rivalry?
I might have been 3-1 actually. The atmosphere was so incredible in every game. Being able to win against Iowa was always a great feeling. It always meant so much to the fans and being able to win gave us a great feeling.
You beat North Carolina 85-83 and in your last NCAA game lost to Uconn 81-76. Was this one of your toughest loses in the NCAA?
I had some other tough loses. It was tough going out against Shabazz Napier and Uconn and then seeing them win it all in 2014. But the year before we lost to Ohio State on a buzzer beater by Aaron Craft and the year before that we lost to Kentucky and Anthony Davis who would go on to win it all also. We were really in good position to win some games, but the NCAA tournament just shows how hard it is to get far and win. I´m thankful we did get far in some tournaments. I played well against North Carolina. Even if these loses were tough, it was basketball at it´s purist. I will never forget my time in the NCAA. They were great and fun times as a youth.
You only played one season with Will Clyburn. What memories do you have of the head to head battles and is he another one of those guys you look up to now being he is a Euroleague player?
My relationship with Will has grown so much over the years. I respect and admire him so much and strive to be like him. He has put in so much work to be able to play at the highest level and be successful. We have had many battles on the court over the summers. He is a great friend. It is great to see how hard work has helped him get to the highest level. He is an important friend for me,
How did head coach Fred Hoiberg groom and prepare you best for a professional basketball career?
Fred was so great. He wasn´t only a great basketball mind, but was a great guy. He taught me at Iowa State how to act the right way on and off the court. I am happy that I was able to experience basketball at the highest level. His coaching helped us be successful there and after as a professional.
Who won a one on one in practice you or Will Clyburn?
He will say him and I say me. We had many battles then and still have them today. Our battles have gone back and forth over the years.
Who was the toughest player that you battled in the NCAA that is in the NBA now?
Joel Embiid. He was already incredible as a freshman. He was difficult to guard. Thomas Robinson was tough as well as the Morris twins and Doug Mcdermott.
You played at the 2018 World Cup qualifying games recently for Canada. What kind of experience was it playing for Gordon Herbert? He belongs to the best coaches in the BBL. Did some of his defensive schemes rub off on you?
Yes in the short time where I played for him in the last weeks, some of his defensive schemes did rub off on me. He challenged me on defense. He is a great coach. His coaching style wasn´t only beneficial for me, but also for Canada. We showed great basketball and showed that we could play at the highest level.
In 2015 you won a Gold at the Marchand Cup and Bronze with Canada at the Fiba Americas cup. You were teammates with Philip Scrubb. He is a legendary CIS player from Carleton that is playing in Germany. Do you keep tabs on your ex teammates and did you notice his game among so many of the athletic teamamtes then?
I noticed Phil Scrubb right away. He has always had a great reputation in Canada and showed how good his skills were in the CIS. I have played with him in some teams. He is a quiet guy, but his skill set speaks volumes. During the summers when he is in Toronto, he is all over the place playing in various tournaments. He has had health issues, but when he is fit, he can shoot the ball so well. Everyone knows Phil in Toronto. I keep tabs on him and have ties not only to him, but also to his brother Tommy. My younger brother played with him at Carleton
If you had to construct your own NBA Rushmore which 4 heads would you chose?
Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James
Lebron James failed to win his fourth NBA title and is still three away from Michael Jordan. Where does Lebron stand right now in your opinion in the never ending debate of who is the best of all-time?
I think that it will be hard for Lebron to pass Jordan. Jordan was so iconic how he changed the game. I think many believe that Lebron will never pass him. Jordan will always be the greatest. Lebron will eventually pass him statistically as one of the best to ever play the game.
There has been criticism of Russell Westbrook to be focusing more on rebounding to help inflate his stats and possibilities of getting triple doubles instead of focusing on his defensive assignments. Do you feel that this is a fair assessment to the player Russell Westbrook?
I don´t think it´s a fair assessment to him. He has to do so much for his team. He won so many games for his team when people never thought it could be done. It really doesn´t matter if he is stacking his stats or not, because nobody can stop him anyway.
How do you summarize the 2017 NBA Draft. What sleepers do you see playing a role in the NBA?
Kyle Kuzma and Donovan Mitchell. I knew Mitchell would be good, but not this great.
Where will the journey of the Houston Rockets go this season with Chris Paul and James Harden in the back court. Do they have enough to make a serious run at the title or is something missing?
The Rockets have a great team this season. If there is anyone who can beat the Warriors in a playoff series, it’s the Rockets. It will depend how well they shoot the ball. They are a high volume shooting team. It will depend if they stay hot.
How do you rate the Kyrie Irving-Isaiah Thomas trade? Who got the better deal and which team will profit better in the long run?
Boston got the better deal. Boston has been playing at a high level with Kyrie Irving.
What was your take on the Cavs wheeling and dealing sending away Thomas, Wade and Rose? How quickly will they be successful?
The Cavs had no choice. They are a better team now. They may not have the better individual players, but as a team, they are better. They will be good over time.
Where will the journey of the Oklahoma Thunder go this season with Westbrook, George and Anthony? Can they make a serious run in the west?
The Thunder have potential. It will be interesting to see what they can do with Mello, Westbrook and George.
What was the last movie that you saw? I will predict it was Black Panther since that has been a favorite of basketball players in my last 7-8 interviews.
I wish it was, but they haven´t shown it in Kazan yet. My last movie was Icarus.
Thanks Melvin for the chat.