Expectations for Melo are Fab


The name itself conjures up visions of grandeur:

Fab (as in Fabulous, it's actually Fabricio).

Melo (as in former All-American Carmelo Anthony, who led Syracuse University to its only national title).

And if the name isn't enough, the 7-foot, 250-pound freshman center has already been accorded Big East Conference Preseason Rookie of the Year honors and pegged as one of the top half-dozen rookies in the entire country.

All that before he even takes the court as an official member of the Orange in Friday's Carrier Dome opener against Northern Iowa.

"It's been a little bit overwhelming," said the polite and well-spoken Melo. "But all I'm here to do is learn from one of the best coaches in the country and to help this team win games. I'm not worried about anything else."

That Melo has been thrust into a key role for the Orange is not a surprise. With Arinze Onuaku having graduated, and DaShonte Riley forced to miss all season with an injury, Melo and fellow freshman Baye Moussa Keita are the only true centers on the team.

Melo said he's not afraid to be forced into the spotlight.

"We've got a lot of veterans here to help the freshmen along," said Melo, who did not start playing competitive basketball until the eighth grade. "Coach isn't asking us to do more than we're capable of doing. For me, that's playing tough defense, rebounding and making my teammates better."

Along with having the wingspan of a condor, Melo is a much more agile player than Onuaku or Rick Jackson, who has played some center at SU but will be mainly at power forward this season.

Teammates already say Melo tries to block every shot he can in practice. "He's a monster in the paint," said SU guard Scoop Jackson. "Fab is going to make our (zone) defense terrific. He can cover so much territory and he's quick enough to get out on any shooter."

Melo also figures to help SU's frontcourt rebound the ball better. Onuaku, for all of his girth and strength, was only an adequate rebounder. Melo attacks the ball as Anthony did, and has also proven to be a good passer in the early stages of his career.

"He's got all the physical tools," said Jackson, who has worked as Melo's mentor during the summer practice sessions and since the beginning of preseason camp in mid-October. "What I like about him the most is he listens to everything you tell him, and then will go out and work his butt off. A lot of talented freshmen think they know everything. Fab is not like that."

SU coach Jim Boeheim said he's impressed with what has seen of his freshman pivot so far. "He's intelligent, a hard-worker and has a motor that never stops running," Boeheim said. "Fab has improved his conditioning, but he still needs to get better. Defensively, he's already a top-level guy. Offensively, he's a work in progress."

After playing for the Brazil 17-under national team, Melo enrolled in Sagemont (Fla.) High School as a junior in 2008. After sitting out a year due to Florida High School transfer rules, he quickly rose up the ranks among the top center prospects with an outstanding senior season.

Melo was the top center on ESPN's Top 100 rankings and earned McDonald's and Parade All-American honors a season ago. His choice of SU was a no-brainer.

"I've loved how Syracuse plays after watching them over the years," Melo said. "They play in the toughest conference in the country and in front of great fans. And coach is a Hall of Famer so what's not to like?"

His new teammates can't say enough about the youngster's work ethic or his beaming personality.

"He's just a terrific kid with a great body," said SU junior Kris Joseph. "I never played with Carmelo, but I know he smiled all the time. Fab is like that. You never seem him without a big grin on his face."

Melo has said he will always defer to the upperclassmen because "they know what it's like at this level and they've been in big-time games," he said. "I'm just along for the ride."

Boeheim is hoping he is much more than that.

"He can become a great player in our program," Boeheim said. "Fab has the right attitude, the physical gifts and the work ethic to take his game to the highest levels. We're just happy to have him here for as long as he wants to stay."

NBA Draft experts have already tabbed Melo as a potential first-round pick, either this year or next. Melo said that's the farthest thing from his mind.

"I want to enjoy the college experience and stay here for as long as I can," he said. "I'm not ready for that kind of life, yet."

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