February 5, 2012
Fab Melo Remakes Body, Reinvents Self
Back in the fall, as he sat behind his office desk inside his magnificent on-campus compound being chatted up by a newspaper pest, Jim Boeheim made it abundantly clear that a brand new Fab Melo was about to be unveiled before the basketball public.
"Fab is the most improved of them all," announced the Syracuse University coach, who'd been asked to appraise his athletes. "He's got a different body. He's lost weight, he's in better shape and he has a better understanding of what he needs to do. Wait 'til you see him."
Well, we've done that. We've seen the kid. And so, nearly every Orange fan up there on the tundra has been rubbing his or her eyes for going on three months now. We're 24 dates into this thing and Boeheim, who's sitting at the wheel of the No. 2-ranked club in the nation, has been made into a sage.
Importantly, we've gotten a look at this SU outfit with the big Brazilian, and without him.
And as was proved on Saturday afternoon when Melo returned to the Syracuse lineup after an academically mandated absence that lasted three games, the view is clearly better with him.
Now it's entirely possible that the Orange would have thumped that callow St. John's bunch in Madison Square Garden even if Melo, the 7-foot sophomore center, had still been up on blocks and left behind in the wilds of our Central New York frontier. But make no mistake that SU's 95-70 dunk-filled conquest of all those Red Storm freshmen -- and there were 11 Syracuse slams authored by seven Orange attackers -- was made that much easier thanks to his presence.
"Fab gives us those charges and blocked shots," offered Brandon Triche, the junior guard who led SU with five assists. "He protects the middle so great that the other team is a little bit nervous going down there, so that makes it easier for the rest of us. The last three games, you didn't see us get as many transition points and as many bench points. Everything seemed interrupted, but now that Fab's back everything is normal again."
Melo's stats? As they included a career-high 14 points, three rebounds and two blocks over 21 minutes, they'll blow little wind up anybody's bloomers. But those numbers, specifically the latter ones, do not reflect the St. John's shots that were (a) altered, or (b) discouraged altogether from being taken. Moreover, it is no coincidence that the Syracuse squad had been battered on the boards (118-86) during Fab's three-date banishment and that it dominated the Red Storm (42-31) with him.