It was the play that Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson used to run all of the time last year.
In Syracuse’s first possession in Saturday’s 72-49 win over South Florida, Jackson took the ball in the high post around the foul line. Current center Fab Melo streaked to the basket, and Jackson threw him a lob for an easy slam.
For one play, Syracuse fans could see the potential that Melo had that led the Big East coaches to name him preseason Big East Freshman of the Year.
“We got him a basket on the first play,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “The high-low worked and he got going. I thought he was more active.”
That being said, Melo has struggled through his freshman season so far. He’s averaging just 2.1 points and 1.9 rebounds in 10.2 minutes per game.
Melo would play 12 minutes against the Bulls, finishing with four points and three rebounds. But defensively, Melo continued his struggles.
He was immediately pulled in the second half after Augustus Gilchrist and Jarrid Famous each scored an inside basket off Melo.
“Playing the middle of the zone is not easy,” Melo said earlier in the season. “You have to move a lot. You have to have good footwork, and that’s been my problem.”
Another problem has been playing through an Achillies injury earlier in the season that has limited Melo’s practice time. That in turn disrupted his timing and conditioning.
He’ll have his work cut out for him in the offseason.
“He’s got to have a hard spring, summer and fall,” Boeheim said. “When he gets his conditioning there, he’ll be the kind of player that we think he can be.”
Fortunately for Syracuse, it has gotten a major contribution from its other freshman center, Baye Moussa Keita. Originally looked at as a project, Keita has given the Orange more quality minutes than Melo has.
In Wednesday’s win over Connecticut, Keita played 27 minutes and had four points, 11 rebounds and six steals as SU topped the Huskies 66-58.
Overall, Keita has looked more polished than Melo this season. It’s easy to explain why.
“[Melo’s] played one year of basketball,” Boeheim said. “You can’t make that adjustment to college when you haven’t played. Baye played at Oak Hill for two years — the best high school program in the county. That helped him. Fab’s just learning what to do.”
Until then, the Orange will just have to wait for Melo to break out.
Said Boeheim: “When he gets it, he’ll be the player people think he can be.”
Wesley Cheng is the Editor in Chief for The Juice Online.