NEW YORK — With a name like Fab Melo, he ought to play in the NBA someday.
But anyone suggesting that the 7-foot Syracuse sophomore from Brazil should head to the league next year is sadly mistaken.
“The fact that he’s gone from a complete non-factor as a freshman to a guy that could help contribute to a very, very good Top 5 team is a credit to him,” ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla told SNY.tv.
“His conditioning obviously has transformed his game and I think his ability to defend the rim in the middle of the zone is tremendous and he should concentrate on becoming a good college player.”
Added Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com: “He looks much better physically. He’s still a work in progress skill-wise. It’s too early to tell how he projects. It will probably be at least another year until we really have a better idea about that.”
After coming in with much hype last year as the Big East Preseason Rookie of the Year, Melo averaged just 2.3 points and 1.9 rebounds as a freshman.
He shed some 30 pounds in the offseason and played with Brazil in the World University Games in China, where he spent time with teammate Scoop Jardine.
Now he’s averaging 6.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.8 blocks and appears to have much more energy running up and down the floor.
“I knew he was in better shape watching him practice,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said after the No. 5 Orange beat Stanford , 69-63, to win the Preseason NIT Friday at MSG. “We knew he was going to be better. He still gets a little tired. I think he’s going to be really good. He’s not there yet. But he’s getting better.”
Melo posted six points, nine rebounds, three blocks and three steals against Stanford, and had six points, two rebounds and five blocks in the semifinal win over Virginia Tech.
In that game, Melo thrilled the Orange faithful by blocking a shot from Cadarian Raines, running the floor and then thowing down an alley-oop from Brandon Triche for a monster dunk on the other end.
“Fab has been awesome for us the whole year,” Jardine said. “He’s controlling the paint. He’s bringing energy. He’s blocking shots. He’s changing shots. He’s just playing basketball. He’s having fun with it. He’s going to be a great force for us down low. We’re going to have to do a better job of trying to find him ways to score. But he’s doing a great job on the defensive end. We’re going to need that all year.”
Still, Melo’s offense lags behind his defense and one NBA draft expert said it would be a “tragic idea” for him to leave college after his sophomore year “unless he’s going pro in Brazil.”
Boeheim clearly thinks Melo has a big upside — one that he should work on achieving in college.
“He’s only going to get better,” the coach said. “People forget that he didn’t play in Brazil. He played that other game with the round little ball. He came here and sat out here, he played one year of high school. So he really is a very, very young basketball player right now.”
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.