Fab Melo: A Shining Example Of Shifting Expectations

When it was announced that Fab Melo did not travel with the Syracuse Orange during the road trip that say them lose their first game of the season, the same ironic joke circulated through the SU fanbase.

The basis for the joke was that, had it been a year earlier, Syracuse fans would have been delighted to hear Melo was sitting a few games out.

It's funny the difference a year can make. In the case of Feb Melo, though, it's funny the difference a few weeks can make. Over and over and over.

No player in the history of the program vacillated between beloved, despised, admired and admonished quite as much as Fab. There were times we were sure they were going to rename The Melo Center, well, The Melo Center. And there were just as many times we were sure we never wanted him to put on a Syracuse uniform again.

As for the latter, that wish was officially granted Monday when word leaked that Melo was on the verge of signing with an agent and would be leaving SU after his sophomore season.

Melo leaves behind quite a legacy in just two seasons in orange, and not necessarily how he might have wanted to. Any Syracuse fan drooling over Nerlens Noel and considering him the biggest recruit in recent years has a pretty short memory since Fab was looked at in much the same way. When the Orange won his services over Rick Pitino and Louisville, it was a triumph for the ages. If Beano Cook cared about college basketball, he might have remarked at the time that, "It's not a question of if Fab Melo will win a Player of the Year Award, but how many."

In order to fit the legend, we called him Fab Melo even though his name was not Fab Melo. His name had been altered so that his place in Syracuse basketball folklore could be perfectly placed.

We loved Fab Melo.

In the summer leading into Melo's freshman year, Jim Boeheim, for whatever reason, declared that his new big man would be "a strong contender for national rookie of the year." With that kind of public backing, SU fans were ready for the 15 points-10 rebound-5 block nightly show to begin.

We would be disappointed, to say the least. He did not score 15 points a game or grab 10 rebounds a game or block five shots a game. Without checking his stats, those might have been his numbers for the entire season. I'm exaggerating, but it didn't feel like it. Melo played like, well, a freshman. He was out of shape. He was overmatched. He was not ready.

Melo started almost every game as part of Boeheim's "Must Start All The Tall People" theory and Syracuse fans were counting the seconds until we left the game so C.J. Fair or Baye Moussa Keita could come in and do the work that we were under the impression Fab would be able to do.

We hated Fab Melo.

Melo headed into the offseason with a directive. Improve. Lose weight. Build muscle. Improve. Develop a shot. Become a defensive presence. Improve.

By all accounts, he was doing this. And then he got arrested for fourth degree criminal mischief after allegedly getting into an argument with his girlfriend. And then all of a sudden stories of Melo's infamous temper began to surface, peeling back the image of the happy-go-lucky kid to reveal a troubled pain-in-the-ass underneath.

We really hated Fab Melo.

Somehow, someway, Melo was able to move past the incident and stay out of jail. He played for Brazil in the FIBA Championships and appeared to be in good shape. Fab's sophomore season was nearing and we started to hear about a rededicated Fab Melo. A kid with something to prove, a chip on his shoulder and a clear desire to improve. The season got underway and all of a sudden that freshman tiff was a sophomore stud. Not known for much in the way of defense as a freshman, Melo was all of a sudden a force to be reckoned with in the 2-3 zone. The hero we were promised had arrived, just a year late.

We loved Fab Melo.

The season rolled on and our adoration for the new and improved Melo only grew. We worried more about his hairstyle than his style of play. Melo had surpassed his freshman year stats before December was even over. Big East coaches were literally cursing his name. With the team at the top of the rankings and Melo leading the way, the sky was the limit.

We really loved Fab Melo.

Mid-January, rumors started to trickle in. Fab would not travel with the team to South Bend for the upcoming game against Notre Dame. And those rumors were true. Unofficially, academics were the culprit. Without him, the Orange lost their first and only game of the regular season. A couple nights later they escaped Cincinnati with a win and returned to the Dome where they stole a questionable win from West Virginia.A shaky 2-1 had revealed the Orange to be more dependent on their big man than initially-thought and opened the floodgates for doubters who wanted to prove that the Orange were pretenders.

We hated Fab Melo.

Melo returned just in time and went right back to business. The Orange kept winning and Melo remained a posterboy for the smothering 2-3 zone, even developing a knack for drawing charges and swatting everything in a 30-mile radius. The Orange won the Big East regular season title and, with Melo in the middle, looked poised to run roughshod through the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. For his part, Melo won the Big East Defensive Player of the Year Award.

We loved Fab Melo.

And then the bottom dropped out...again. Rumors swirled again that Fab would miss action just as the NCAA Tournament was about to begin. Rumors became reality. Some said it was the same issue that plagued him earlier in the year, others said it was something different. To this day we assume the former but don't know for sure. Word on the street was that not only that his season was done but his Orange career to boot.

The five stages of Fab Melo grief washed over the Syracuse fanbase as the familiar feeling of heading into the NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed without their star center settled in.

We hated Fab Melo.

The Orange barely, and I mean barely, survived UNC-Asheville in the first round. They struggled early with Kansas State but put them away late, though the Orange lucked out when the Wildcats had some big-man-eligibility issues of their own. Rakeem Christmas had a big game and all of a sudden we were like, "Fab who?"

We briefly stopped hating Fab Melo.

The Orange won a thriller against Wisconsin in the Sweet Sixteen and moved on to play the game they were meant to play all season against Ohio State. The Buckeyes were the team everyone said should be here from the start while the Orange were the team everyone said wasn't as good as it seemed. No more conjecture, only one winner and one loser.

Unfortunately, Fab Melo would not match up against Jared Sullinger and the OSU big had his way with Christmas and Keita. The Orange did not lose strictly because of Melo's absence but Melo's absence is among the chief reasons SU could not stand toe-to-toe with the Buckeyes on that day.

The season was over, just a bit too soon. And since we want, nay, need scapegoats, Fab Melo was the most obvious one. Selfish Fab. Dumb Fab. Jerk Fab.

We really hated Fab Melo.

And now comes the news that we all knew was coming. Fab Melo's career is done at Syracuse. His legacy is written. Unfortunately for him, history will not look kindly on his time here.

Melo's Syracuse career was loaded with good things and bad things. In fact, he had so many of both that the only way to put them in perspective, it seems, is to take the last instance and use that as our barometer. The last thing Fab Melo did was become ineligible right before the most important stretch of the season. With that, he tipped the scales towards "Bad."

So now when you bring up Fab Melo in a circle of Syracuse fans, they will mention his ineligibility, his poor freshman year, his arrest and his leaving too soon before they ever mention his defensive player of the year award, memorable plays and infectious smile.

Had the last thing Fab done in a Syracuse uniform been to play his heart out and lead the Orange deep into the NCAA Tournament, his legacy would have been flipped. His academic issues and arrest would be asterisks on a memorable career.

Fab Melo was the goofy big guy and Dion Waiters was the arrogant me-first guard heading into this season. Strange then that Syracuse fans will likely be rooting for Dion during the NBA Draft while secretly (or not-so-secretly) hoping that Fab flails wherever he ends up. Whether that's fair or not isn't really the point.

Take heed, future Syracuse players. You may do great things in a Syracuse uniforms. You may have more positives than negatives while wearing the orange. But your legacy may come down to what you did in the end. The scales of legacy are fickle and sensitive and the closer you are to the end of your career, the easier they tip in one direction or the other.

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