Fab Melo is a Quick Learner
When you see Fab Melo dunk this weekend at the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions or show off his assortment of old-school post moves, his shot-blocking prowess and his infectious charisma, remember how quickly things have changed for the 7-foot center.
He has swapped continents. He has dropped soccer for basketball. He has learned a new language.
Heck, even his name has changed or, at least, been tweaked.
"Oh, I love it here," said Melo, a senior at Sagemont High School, a private school in Weston, Fla. "I always wanted to come (to the United States) and we made it happen. I knew I had a great opportunity and now I'm doing what I can to make it all come true."
In just four years, Melo has gone from a 6-foot-5 14-year-old Brazilian soccer player to a fully fluent, English-speaking, flashy-named giant with an NCAA Division I basketball scholarship to Syracuse University in hand.
He brings his story, his evolving game and his status as Rivals.com's No. 2-ranked center to the T of C, where Sagemont will face Memphis (Tenn.) White Station at 8 tonight.
Until age 14, Fabricio de Melo -- which is what his mother still calls him -- played soccer in Brazil. Once he was introduced to basketball, he said, he was hooked.
As he grew, so did his game. At 16, he was nearly his current towering height, and he wanted to test his game against better competition. That meant moving to the U.S. and leaving behind his mother, brothers and sisters. He moved in with south Florida relatives and found his way to Sagemont, a small school in a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, one that has approximately 400 students in grades 6-12.
When Sagemont basketball coach Adam Ross started working with him, Melo was not a "project."
"He's pretty darn skilled," Ross said. "He can do a little bit of everything, but his learning curve is through the roof. It seems like once I teach him something, or when he does something wrong, he doesn't make the mistake again.
"If he continues to learn at this pace, he'll catch everyone quickly."
Still, the guy who has gladly accepted the handle "Fab Melo," a flashier version of his given name, was slow to be discovered by college coaches.
It had everything to do with timing. Despite transferring to Sagemont in time for his junior year, rigid state athletic association bylaws kept him from playing. Until he hit the AAU circuit that spring, only coaches who were recruiting teammates like future Indiana Hoosier Will Sheehey and junior standout Rod Days discovered him.
And, after living in Brazil and being new to basketball, he didn't know Jim Calhoun or Rick Pitino from Jim Carrey or Rick Springfield. That's how he ended up at Syracuse -- that and the lure of Orange's trademark 2-3 zone.
He chose Syracuse over offers from Connecticut, Florida, Florida State, Kansas, Louisville, Miami (Fla.) and Texas.
"I love the way they play, the zone," Melo said of the Orange. "I will play in the middle of the zone and coach (Jim) Boeheim is a great coach. He's a legend."
Melo is a legitimate 7-0, 265 pounds. Ross said he loves to play with his back to the basket and is an improving shot-blocker and rebounder with an opportunity to play in the NBA someday.
"He can do things most people can't do athletically," Ross said. "His biggest thing moving forward is going to lie in his conditioning and his body. He has the body frame to put on weight that he doesn't want. He's such a physical presence and a big guy."
While Melo gets more than his share of attention, his teammates say they love to play with him. Sheehey, a 6-5 slashing forward, said if he works to get open, he knows Melo will find him with a pass.
"Fab has turned into a great player," Sheehey said. "When we first played AAU ball, he didn't fare too well. I thought he was scared, but it turned out he was just figuring out his place. Soon, he started dominating. Part of that was getting his teammates involved, too."
But, with all of that skill and potential, it's his personality that makes Melo a star.
"He's a goofball," Ross said. "He cracks jokes and they used to not be funny because his English wasn't quite right. (His teammates) would look at each other, like, 'What the heck is he talking about?' He couldn't even have this phone conversation.
"Now, he's great -- at everything."