SILAS MELSON AIMS FOR HIGH NOTE
The final basket Silas Melson made in his final college basketball game in his hometown was a driving two-hand dunk.
But the Jefferson High grad's favorite play from Gonzaga's 95-79 win on Jan. 25 at the University of Portland was an assist — two of them actually.
Twice during the second half, Melson delivered a lob pass that Zags sophomore Killian Tillie rose up to collect and put down.
"My favorite moment was throwing it in to Killian and he makes some Odell Beckham one-hand catch and puts it in. That was real fun," Melson said following his fourth game playing for Gonzaga at the Chiles Center.
It's fitting that an assist would produce a lasting memory for a player who coach Mark Few describes as selfless.
Since arriving in Spokane, Melson has quietly gone about playing whatever role Few needed. His ability to defend kept him in the rotation as a younger player, even when his shot wasn't falling. Now a senior, the 6-4 Melson is starting and averaging 31 minutes and 10.2 points per game. He is one of the top free-throw shooters in the West Coast Conference, having made 34 of 38 (89.5 percent) in 23 games. He'd be tied for first in that category with more attempts.
In a blowout win over Portland in Spokane on Jan. 11 Melson scored a career-high 23 points.
Numbers aside, Melson says his biggest improvement from last season is in reading the game, understanding what is happening and the plays that need to be made.
When Few assesses Melson's impact at Gonzaga, it is intangible things that the coach points to first.
"He's really a quiet guy. But he's got the soul of what our program's all about," Few says. "He gets what the program is all about. What the pillars are and what we stand for.
"We've always had those guys that can pass it on to the young guys," Few adds. "Obviously, our best perimeter defender and he became a pretty reliable scorer for the most part this year, and he's doing a lot of good things."
Melson is acutely aware that his college career is almost over.
"Trust me, it's sunk in tremendously," he says. "But I'm still going to enjoy the ride and have fun."
Melson will graduate in May with a degree in public relations and calls school a blessing. But he hopes to find an opportunity in pro basketball before putting that degree to work.
For now, his focus is on making the most of his homestretch at Gonzaga. The Bulldogs are not the veteran team that last season played in the national championship game. They are chasing Saint Mary's in the West Coast Conference after the Gaels edged the Zags in Spokane on Jan. 18.
Melson says that loss was educational for a team that has five underclassmen in the regular rotation.
"Playing against teams like them, you've got to be detail oriented and stay locked in. That's something we did for the majority of that game, but we just couldn't close it," Melson said.
Few notes that Melson is a young senior age-wise. For that reason, the coaching staff initially planned to redshirt Melson at some point. But injuries to teammates kept Melson off that list.
Following the game at the Chiles Center, Melson thought about it being his last game in Portland.
"I'm feeling old thinking about it," he said, smiling. "It was special playing in front of family and friends and to come out victorious. That also made it special. These four years playing here is something I won't forget."
He also won't forget how senior players helped him adjust to Gonzaga basketball during the 2014-15 season.
"Coming in as a freshman and watching Gary Bell and Kevin Pangos, that helped a lot in becoming a defender. Gary, he helped me a lot on the defensive end," Melson says.
Now Melson is the mentor.
"I do talk a lot more than I used to. But leading by example is something I'm always trying to do," he says. "Being a four-year guy it's something I need to do."
Despite the three-point home loss to Saint Mary's, Gonzaga is 19-4 and ranked in the Top 20. Melson is confident this team can accomplish plenty.
"We have the capability of being right up there with the best basketball teams at Gonzaga," Melson said. "I wouldn't stand here and tell you that we're there right now, but by March we should be pretty darn close."