Melo Trying to Erase Question Marks

by Jeff Tzucker

Conrad Brunner Caught in the Web banner headline

Melo Trying to Erase Question Marks

by Conrad Brunner || Caught in the Web Archive ||

June 19, 2012

What once was a position of great wealth suddenly finds its account drained.

Jeff Foster was forced to retire. Roy Hibbert is a restricted free agent. Lou Amundson and Kyrylo Fesenko are unrestricted free agents. The only certainty at center for the Pacers is Jeff Pendergraph, who's really more of a power forward.

Which is why pre-draft workouts such as the one Tuesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse pique the interest. Fab Melo, the 7-footer from Brazil by way of Syracuse, is that rarest of prospects these days: a true center. As such, he merits close examination by the Pacers, who expect to re-sign Hibbert but are looking for another big body to complement their 7-2 All-Star in the middle.

Their five workouts thus far have featured 30 players. Melo is one of two 7-footers in that group and the only one (the other being Travis Hyman of Bowie State) that could be a possibility when they pick No. 26 in the first round on June 28.

One prominent mock draft ( projects Melo to the Pacers. That's about as low as he has been projected, and his name has been as high as the middle of the first round.

What Melo has is obvious: a long, strong body, obvious athleticism and a proven ability to block shots.

He also has a long list of question marks.

Is the sophomore with just six years of basketball experience ready for the NBA, or is he more of a project?

"I'm still developing," he said. "I think in my first year I will be a defender. I think I can go to any team right now and help the team with defense. And I will improve my offense along the way."

Will he be an offensive liability, or can he develop some kind of go-to move?

"I want to show my offensive game, that I can move well with my feet, I have post moves," he said. "It's just experience for the game. I've played basketball for six years. I just want to show I can get better."

Did his academic problems at Syracuse -- he was suspended twice during his sophomore season, including the NCAA Tournament -- raise a red-flag for his pro prospects?

"It was very difficult to not be there with my teammates and help my team to win," he said. "But that was a thing I couldn't do anything about and now it's just move forward."

After playing in Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone, can he adapt to the man-to-man principles of the NBA?

"My reactions for the zone, that's the thing I did good in Syracuse," he said. "I still have a little trouble to adjust but when there is a one-on-one and a coach can teach me I will learn because I'm very coachable."

Melo leaves a good first impression both on and off the court. He has obvious potential, particularly in his ability to explode around the basket, and his personality is open and upbeat. He said fellow Brazilian Leandro Barbosa is "the man" and hopes to join him on the national team for the 2012 Olympics in London.

Though his sophomore season was very much a mixed bag, Melo did make remarkable progress. He shed 30 pounds, committed to a conditioning program, improved his agility and averaged 7.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocked shots, earning Big East Defensive Player of the Year along the way. He had 10 blocked shots, a school record, against Seton Hall, and shot 56.6 percent from the floor.

But when the team needed him most, he was not there. Syracuse won a school-record 34 games and was ranked No. 1 in the country for more than a month but without its center wound up losing to Ohio State in the regional final. Even so, the Orange ranked No. 2 in the final poll, behind only tournament champion Kentucky.

"Everything changed at the end of my freshman season," he said. "I learned how to be a professional, how to change my lifestyle and learned how much I had to work to be where I am right now.

"I think I can help the team on defense, running up and down the court. I don't know about the team. I'm new to the team. I came to the United States four years ago and I didn't know anything about the NBA. I'm still new to the NBA but I'm looking forward to learning."

In the meantime the league, and the Pacers, will continue to learn about this intriguing prospect.

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