Fab Melo may be Just That
December 21, 2010
Monday's game in the Carrier Dome was 31 seconds old when Brandon Triche drove the lane and lofted up a floater. The ball rolled around the rim and into the waiting hands of Fab Melo, who converted the shot and was fouled on the play.
So began the basketball night for Melo, the 7-foot freshman from Brazil who arrived on the Syracuse campus laden with lofty expectations.
For the past few weeks, Melo has gingerly tested his right leg as it heals from an injury that requires plenty of attention from SU athletic trainer Brad Pike. And incrementally, as each day progresses and each treatment ends, Melo inches closer to the player SU coaches want him to be.
On Monday, against Morgan State, Melo reached an SU career high in points with nine. He sank three of the four shots he attempted from the floor and three-of-four from the free throw line, where he had previously converted just 3-of-13. He assisted on two SU baskets and blocked four shots. He still struggled on the defensive end and with the task of rebounding, where he grabbed two missed shots in 19 minutes.
But after SU dismissed Morgan State 97-55, SU coach Jim Boeheim proclaimed that Melo "did a great job tonight." Boeheim was pleased with Melo's movement and thrilled that his young center (and his tag-team partner, Baye Moussa Keita) got involved in the Orange offense.
"I warmed up really good," Melo said. "In the beginning, I was real aggressive and running the court."
Melo has adhered to a rehabilitation regimen that requires he arrive at the Dome early to begin pedaling the stationary bike in an effort to warm up his legs. He described his injury as a tear to his right calf muscle. Soreness seizes his calf when he allows it to rest for prolonged periods.
When Boeheim removed him from the game with 11:55 left in the first half, Pike wrapped Melo's calf in a Hydrocollator hot pack designed to keep the calf warm. At halftime, Melo climbed back aboard the bike.
"He's getting better each day," Pike said. "We were pushing real hard in practice yesterday. He did great today. So he's definitely on the mend."
He felt good enough to play 19 minutes Monday, the most playing time he has logged since Nov. 30 vs. Cornell. He made two nice entry passes to Rick Jackson from the high post on consecutive plays that Jackson converted to points. He finished a pass from Kris Joseph, was fouled on the play and sank the free throw.
But the offensive play that could define him this season happened early in the first half. Scoop Jardine drove the lane, drew the Morgan State defense and lofted the ball toward the rim, where Melo slammed it to give the Orange an 11-6 advantage.
"I told him, like, when he cuts and my center goes to guard him? He should just throw the ball up," Melo said. "And I will dunk it. We practice that a lot."
"I'm gonna tell you one thing about Fab that people don't know," Jardine said. "That alley-oop that we throw? That's his play. I don't think nobody can go up there and catch that with him. It's great to have a play like that for a guy like that to get him going."
Melo is still learning the fundamentals of zone defense. He still struggles to understand where to move when the ball moves and how to monitor players roaming the baseline. Boeheim wants him to "play the middle, he's gotta protect the basket, he's gotta block shots." These are tasks, the SU coach said, that every Orange center must master.
But Melo, with his limited basketball background, is learning on the fly.
"Playing in the middle of the zone is not easy," Melo said. "I have to move a lot. I have to have good footwork. That's been my problem. I have to move a lot. I feel like I've been getting better. Like every day, in the practice, in the games."
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