The quick rise of Justin 'QuickMelt' Melton
MANILA, Philippines – Justin Melton always looks forward. He rarely if not never takes a second look at the past. Whether it's a good day, a terrible lunch hour or a bad play in a basketball game, Melton gets over it as soon as it happened.
And it's this attitude that has made him quickly rise up the Mixers roster and into the main stream of consciousness of the 'San Mig Coffee Planet'– his team's fan base. But let's not forget that he's also insanely athletic.
Drafted 13th overall by the San Mig Super Coffee Mixers in 2013, Melton, 26, moved to Manila just last year after his stint with the Malyasian Dragons in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) early in 2013. He then joined the PBA Rookie Draft and turned heads during the pre-draft biometrics when he jumped high up and recorded an 11'4" vertical leap, the third highest among the applicants. (READ: Melton eyes building courts, houses after PBA stint)
Melton sees the world from a 5-foot-9 vantage point and occasionally, on a good night, he looks down on everybody as he soars just above the basketball ring.
The Angeles, Pampanga-born guard showed a glimpse of that athleticism at the tailend of San Mig Coffee's 112-93 win over the Petron Blaze Boosters at the end of eliminations, where he went sky high for an alley-oop jam that put the exclamation point on their dominant triumph.
It didn't take long before his impending breakout game finally materialized.
In the all-important Game 3 of the Mixers' quarterfinal match-up against 3-time Philippine Cup defending champions Talk 'N Text Tropang Texters, Melton caught fire from rainbow country and drilled in 4 treys to make up his 12-point contribution to his team's 90-82 win for a spot in the semis.
His accurate shooting bore no signs of the fracture he sustained on his left ring finger early in the season.
Since his breakout game, Melton is fast growing as one of the Mixers' reliable guards.
"We had a secret weapon, Justin. But I guess he's not a secret anymore," Mixers head coach Tim Cone said after Melton's breakout game. "He was really, really key for us."
Even Cone's son, whom Cone says has Melton as his favorite player, inquired whether Cone was going to play Melton that night against Talk 'N Text. To which Cone responded, "Possibly, you never know with guys coming off the bench."
Eventually, he used the Mount Olive College alumnus for 20 minutes. "He was fighting so well, we tried to find time for him on the floor," Cone said. "He gives us a whole new dimension, a quality player coming off the bench."
Two games on, Melton says his mindset following that kind of performance is simply to "value every possession." And even in the hyped up semifinal series they're currently playing against rivals Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, Melton sees it like any other normal game.
"It's really to keep calm and play every possession, value every possession," he said. "It's no different than any other game. Just sometimes you get hype coz the media [is saying] it's Manila Clasico, so many people are involved."
He added: "But at the same time all you need is your team, your coaching staff and staying focused. Mindset is just like it's any other day at work."
As a result of that, Melton finds himself being deployed by Cone even in the endgame, which he admittedly finds surprising.
"I was a little surprised," he admitted. "But I trust coach Cone completely. If he wants me in the game that late, I'm gonna go out and do my best."
His teammates, however, saw it coming.
Learning the triangle offense
As is the system of Cone for his rookies, Melton was assigned to playmaker Mark Barroca for a kind of buddy system so Melton can adapt swiftly to Cone's famed triangle offense. In the process of passing on knowledge to the rookie, Barroca saw the potential waiting to explode.
"Si Melton sobrang athletic, may opensa talaga eh. Malaking tulong sa amin. Kaya fino-focus namin na makuha niya rin yung ginagawa namin," he said. (Melton is very athletic, he really has offense. He's a big help for us. That's why we give focus on him to learn what we're doing.)
For his part, Barroca continues to build on the confidence of the budding guard, especially when it comes to settling into the triangle.
"Sabi ko lang sa kanya, nung past games kasi wala pa siya gaanong confidence tumira, yung triangle darating rin yan," Barroca shared. "Sabi ko 'Timing ka lang. Makukuha mo rin yan. Hindi mo mapapansin yan na biglang makakatira ka na, flow with the game ka na.'"
(I just told him, since in the past games he still didn't have that much confidence to shoot, the triangle will just come to him. I said, 'Get your timing. You will get it. You won't realize you're already taking shots, and you're flowing with the game already.)
Meanwhile, slotman Marc Pingris thinks Melton's edge is his energy, speed and pesky defense.
"Although nag-struggle pa siya kaunti sa opensa, andoon talaga yung depensa niya," Pingris said. "Tsaka mabilis siya na point guard eh. Shooter din. Siguro konting panahon pa." (Although he still struggles a little with his offense, his defense is really there. And he's a fast point guard. A shooter, too. Maybe he needs a little more time.)
Melton's speed and athleticism has already earned him a monicker from his teammates.
One day, teammate Rafi Reavis began calling him 'QuickMelt'– a play on Melton's name and his quickness, which is conveniently also the name of a brand of cheese.
"Mabilis kasi siya," Pingris said. "Kesong mabilis." (It's because he's fast. Fast cheese.)
Though if he had a choice, Melton admits it would've been nice to be nicknamed with something more imposing, perhaps even deceiving of his height. But he welcomes the monicker nonetheless.
"I enjoy it I guess. It's a cheese, right?" Melton chuckled. "Cheesy game, I guess that's what he [Reavis] meant by it. I was hoping for something a little more intimidating, but cheese is okay."
One moment that reveaed Melton's no-look-back-move-forward attitude was late in Game 1 of the semis. With 40 seconds left, and San Mig Coffee's offense in disarray, Melton drove down the lane but ran into Japeth Aguilar. Consequently, the ball was stolen by Mac Baracael and it led to an LA Tenorio go-aheaed fastbreak layup.
As he looked up to see a sprinting Tenorio on the other end, he made no gesture of frustration. Not even a look of fear because of his costly turnover. He just trooped back to the bench as the timeout was called like a good soldier.
"Not at all, not at all," was his answer to the question of whether or not he was affected by the mistake he made. "After playing for a while you just learn not to panic regardless of what happens, whether you hit a big 3 or you make a turnover. That possession was over with, go play the next one."
He still went back into the ballgame after that play.
In the same vein, Melton says a major bulletpoint on his things-to-improve list is limiting turnovers. Another point is creating more for his teammates now that he has a better feel of the triangle.
"I think realizing how I can get my teammates open. Now that I have a feel for the triangle, now it's learning how to play to my teammates' strengths."
He explained further: "For example, if I see a mismatch with Joe [Devance] in the post, through the triangle I can learn how to get Joe in the post for that mismatch as opposed to just running any random play."
He says the triangle is slowly embedding itself into his system already.
"I'm very comfortable with it now. I don't have to think anymore, which is huge. Everything's reaction now versus earlier in the season. Just like coach Tim said, it takes time."
Believe it or not, before heading to a semis game, the only pre-game rituals he would engage in are cleaning his house and doing some laundry. To him, whether he plays like he's 7-feet tall or not, it's "just another day."
While he does admit to some excitement going up against Ginebra, he chooses to tone it down still. Not getting too excited is the best case scenario for him to have a good night on the hardwood.
"I felt a little bit excited. But I've learned in the past getting too excited can get you out of your own game."
But there's no holding back the excitement behind the possibility of Melton going up against Slam Dunk champion Chris Ellis in the All-Stars.
The high-leaping guard was asked if he could beat Ginebra's Ellis. To which he answered with a grin, "I'm gonna try to. He's a great dunker. I've seen his highlights on YouTube."
Justin Melton doesn't look back. He doesn't dwell on the minute that had just passed. He doesn't dwell on the last play he orchestrated, the turnover he committed, or the laundry he just finished. He looks ahead, he pushes forward, he moves on to the next one.
"That's the thing I don't look back at the last game," he said. "It's over with. Just like today will be over with at 12 o'clock.
"It's always pushing forward and never being satisfied until we get that championship." – Rappler.com