7.07.2012

Fab Melo Drops 30 Pounds, Continues to Evolve

1/19/12

Fab Melo Drops 30 Pounds, Continues to Evolve

After his freshman season, Fab Melo shed 30 pounds. At 244 pounds, he's leaner, quicker and his improvement is one of the keys to the season for the top-ranked Orange.

At 20-0, Syracuse is off to its best start ever headed into Saturday's 6 p.m. game at Notre Dame (11-9, 3-4 Big East).

"He is," Boeheim says, "one of the most improved players I've seen in a long time."

Melo did it with old fashioned hard work in the gym and by drastically changing his diet.

"I just gave up junk food and now I have a better diet," the 21-year-old says, giving a nod to the advice he received from Brad Pike, SU's head trainer, and Ryan Cabiles, its director of strength and conditioning.

Melo eats a lot more fruits and vegetables and tries to never eat after 9 p.m. Now he's stronger, faster running the court and definitely quicker off his feet and blanketing the lane at the back of the zone.

Two statistics amplify that.

Melo averages three blocks per game, which ranks second in the Big East and 12th nationally, and has taken 17 charges. That's more than triple the next highest on the team.

"Four charges in the first half? That's unheard of," junior guard Brandon Triche said after Melo drew four of them after picking up two early fouls against Marquette. "He's moving his feet well. A guy who is a great shot-blocker like (that), people are going to try to attack him."

"Fab Melo changed that game defensively," senior point guard Scoop Jardine says.

When Seton Hall employed that strategy in SU's Big East opener, Melo swatted a school-record 10 blocks for his first double-double. In Monday's win over Pittsburgh, he had 10 points, 10 rebounds and 6 blocks for his second.

He had none last year. In fact, he grabbed more than four rebounds only twice and had only 25 blocks in 33 games while averaging just 2.3 points, 1.9 rebounds and 0.8 blocks.

But that's because he averaged only 9.9 minutes. Boeheim couldn't play him much because of the speed of the game and Melo's lack of stamina.

"He's really like a senior in high school (or) early freshman in college right now because last year he couldn't play enough because of the conditioning factor," Boeheim says. "This should be his freshman year and he'd be making great progress for a freshman."

Melo's playing 22.6 minutes per game this season, which is about average on this balanced SU squad, and is averaging 7.2 points and 5.7 rebounds.

"You could tell he had good feet last year, he was just heavy and slower," Villanova coach Jay Wright says. "I've been very impressed with his improvement."

The statistical jump alone makes him a candidate for the Big East Most Improved Player award, but Wright says Melo's presence makes SU a better team overall defensively because now its big guards and athletic forwards can extend and go for steals.

"He seems to me to be a guy that in one year picked up very quickly that he can affect a game by blocking shots and protecting the basket," Wright says.

Like most boys in Brazil, Melo grew up playing soccer. He was a goalie. But by ninth grade and with a size 18 shoe, he shifted to basketball. His mother thought he'd develop better in America, so Melo moved to Miami with a cousin.

He was a McDonald's and Parade All-American and rated the No. 14 overall recruit by ESPN, but he hadn't faced great competition and his weight fluctuated. He topped out once at 281 pounds. Melo was named Big East preseason Rookie of the Year more on reputation, than results.

"That's just part of the system and world we live in now," Georgetown coach John Thompson III says, adding that Melo wasn't different than a lot of others.

Melo struggled from the start.

"I think I was a little afraid of everything," he told ESPN earlier this season. "I knew it would be hard, but I don't think I realized how hard it would be. Now it's all just a lot easier."

Melo showed flashes of his potential late last season in the regular-season finale against DePaul (10 points, 6 rebounds, 4 blocks) and a Big East Tournament win over St. John's (career-high 12 points, which he has matched twice this season).

Playing with the Brazilian national team in China in the World University Games also boosted his confidence.

Then he spent part of the summer in Syracuse.

"When he came back from China, you could see the hunger in his eyes," SU senior forward Kris Joseph says. "He was in the weight room ...he was getting in extra cardio after a cardio preseason workout. It showed how much he wanted to win."

Before Melo got to SU, some predicted he could jump to the NBA after one year in college. He never thought that. It was just the hype machine. But now after showing such dramatic improvement, Melo can start dreaming that dream again when the day comes that he'll join SU's other famous Melo, Knicks all-star Carmelo Anthony, in the NBA.

"He's still evolving, still learning," Boeheim says. "He's still very much a work in progress ... and he's just barely scratching the surface."

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