NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y -- To be given a nickname as cool as Optimus Prime, you have to be a pretty good ballplayer.
Iona's Mike Glover is more than pretty good. Through the first 10 games of his Division I basketball career, the 6-foot-7, 215-pound forward -- the younger brother of former St. John's player Anthony Glover -- is averaging 22.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game for the Gaels. His scoring averages ranks him No. 15 in the country.
Optimus Prime, for those who haven't seen the movies or watched the Cartoon Network of late, is a character from Transformers -- more specifically, the leader of the Autobots, a.k.a. the good guys. And, appropriately enough, Glover is helping transform Iona into an NCAA Tournament-caliber team this season. Following an 0-3 start, the Gaels have won rattled off seven straight wins, and play No. 5 Syracuse at the Carrier Dome on Saturday.
Iona's first-year head coach, Tim Cluess, admitted he is a little surprised at how well Glover has played right out of the gate. "I thought he had it in him, but I thought it would take longer for him to start playing at that level," Cluess said. "Because he had been away from a high level of competition for a while."
Indeed it has been a long, strange trip for Glover to get to Iona. A Bronx native, Glover was supposed to begin his college basketball career with Seton Hall way back in the 2007-08 season. But he was ruled ineligble when the NCAA launched an investigation into his academic record at American Christian Academy in Pennsylvania, where he spent his final year of high school.
Glover remained at Seton Hall that year, but never regained his eligibility. He filed a lawsuit against the NCAA and the Big East, arguing that he was never given a reason for having his grades from American Christian invalidated. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed.
From there, Glover spent some time at ASA, a junior college in Brooklyn. And then he transferred to the College of Eastern Utah, where he averaged 17.3 points and 6.9 rebounds last season, led the team to a third-place finish in the national tournament, and was named a JuCo All-American.
Even then, Iona was not his next scheduled destination. Glover had verbally commited to play for St. Francis in Brooklyn starting this season, but he pulled back when St. Francis coach Brian Nash resigned in April. After that, Glover was very close to deciding to attend Hofstra. But in July, he finally made up his mind and enrolled at Iona, where he will have two years of eligibility.
Staying as close as possible to his son, Mike Jr. -- who will turn two on Jan. 8 -- played a major role in his decision.
Glover said he has grown and matured over the course of his basketball odyssey. "I've learned a lot," said Glover. "I've learned just to stay level-headed. And when things don't go your way, you don't always tend to do crazy things. I was very humbled by the whole situation."
"Mike has turned out to be one of the finest, finest young men I've ever coached," Cluess said. "He's someone who I love coaching, I love being around. He's always positive. You can get on him as hard or harder than aynone, and you're never gonna get anything except a, 'Yes, Coach.' He's never gonna make a face, he's never gonna answer you back, he's just gonna go out and try to do what you want him to do. He's the type of young man I really really respect."
Now Glover is the cornerstone of a team that looks more than capable of winning a Metro Atlantic Athletic Concerence championship and advancing to the Big Dance in March. The Gaels went 21-10 last year under Kevin Willard, who took the Seton Hall job after the season. And all five starters returned, in addition to Glover.
Cluess, who came aboard after four very successful years at Division II C.W. Post on Long Island, has installed an up-tempo system at Iona -- and so far it seems to be paying off. The Gaels are scoring 80.3 points per game, which ranks them No. 24 in the country. They're shooting 47.3 percent from the field, ranking them No. 43. And they're handing out 17.9 assists per game, good for No. 8 in the nation.
Junior point guard Scott Machado -- Iona's second-leading scorer at 13.7 ppg -- is also averaging eight assists per contest, which makes him at present the second-leading assist man in America.
But all eyes are on Glover, who made many eyeballs pop when he posted box-score lines of 39 points and 14 rebounds versus Canisius, and 30 points and 11 rebounds versus Niagra, in his first two conference games.
The only other Iona player to have back-to-back double-doubles and score at least 30 points in each game? Former NBA center Jeff Ruland.
"Mike was a man amongst boys in those games," Cluess said. "I think for him it was his coming-out games."
Cluess is one of the few people who calls Glover by his real name. Most people, including his teammates, use his Transformers nickname, which he first received at a summer league game in the Bronx back in 2007.
When asked how he earned the Optimus Prime moniker, Glover said, "Basically on how I play. The dunks, the moves, the creativity. I was overwhelmed by it. ... From 2007, that's been my name ever since."
But the scary thing is, Glover likely hasn't even entered his prime yet.
"Personally I think he can get a lot better," Cluess said. "I think he's just scratched the surface of what his ability could be. I think there's so many areas he's never even put any time into, that his growth potential is huge."
"I've been playing pretty decent," Glover said. "I'm still not satisfied. I'm still in the gym every day, working hard to be the best I can be."
On Saturday, Glover will finally get to showcase his talents against a Big East team -- four long years after he was supposed to be suiting up for a Big East team himself. But he said he doesn't feel like he has anything to prove against Syracuse.
"I don't feel any pressure at all," Glover said. "Our job is to just go up there and play Iona basketball, push the ball in transition, run the floor ... and do what we normally been doing that got us to this seven-game winning streak, and hopefully make it eight."
Sounds like something Optimus Prime would say.