photo: jamd.com

March Madness is unequivocally my favorite time of year. For the next few weeks, we’ll examine some of the greatest performers who used the NCAA Tournament as their own personal playground.

Carmelo Kiyan Anthony, though most often associated with his hometown of West Baltimore, Maryland, was introduced to the game on the asphalt of New York City. His father, Carmelo Iriate, was a playground baller who, before moving to the Big Apple, grew up on the west coast of Puerto Rico. Melo was born in 1984 and, for the first eight years of his life, lived in Brooklyn’s Red Hook Projects.

His father was felled by liver cancer and transitioned into the spiritual form when Melo was still a toddler, but he passed on an enduring legacy that still shines today.

“My father was a ballplayer and I still have clips of articles about him and some leagues he played in,” Melo told me during our recent conversation for the story that appears in Bounce #19, the Puerto Rico Issue. “He was a 6′5″ scorer. It runs in our family.”


photo: enquirer.com

Before Mary Anthony moved her four children to Baltimore, Melo was an ardent St. John’s hoops fan. He also counted Brooklyn native Bernard King, the Knicks’ small forward extraordinaire and scoring machine, among his boyhood idols.

Young Melo hit the Red Hook asphalt, establishing the foundation that he would later build upon.

“I played in Red Hook, the I.S. 8 tournament, in Sunset Park and a lot of other tournaments around Brooklyn,” he said.


photo: suathletics.com

Upon moving to Baltimore, the young man frequented the outdoor courts in his new neighborhood. The area on the west side of town was known as “The Pharmacy” due to the thriving commerce of the heroin and cocaine trade.

The Myrtle Avenue that Carmelo settled into was far removed from West B’more’s glory days, where Jazz and entertainment giants like Satchmo, aka Louis Armstrong, packed the Royal Theater. The sparkling marble steps of once elegant homes, as well as the fabric of the family unit, were now in sad disrepair.


photo: suathletics.com

The drug culture, and its associated violence, had turned the once proud manufacturing and blue collar enclave into one of the nation’s murder capitals. In the shadows of Ravens Stadium and Camden Yards, parts of West Baltimore resemble war torn, third world disasters.

The neighborhood where Carmelo grew up was ground zero for H.B.O’s phenomenal series, The Wire. But even in the worst ghetto’s, bad guys do good things. “Drug dealers funded our programs,” Melo told ESPN The Magazine’s Tom Farrey. “Drug dealers bought our uniforms. They just wanted to see you do good.”

Mary Anthony would not allow the negative forces to swallow her son up without a fight. She insisted that his grades be maintained, especially when he showed glimpses of tantalizing athletic potential during adolescence. And the playgrounds of B-more nurtured his burgeoning genius.

“I credit a lot of who I am today as a player to my days playing on the streets in Baltimore,” Carmelo said in 2006 when he was chosen as the cover athlete for the NBA Street Homecourt video game. “My homecourt in Baltimore will always be a part of who I am, because that’s where I gained the skill and desire that has made me successful in basketball. NBA STREET Homecourt represents real street basketball and the place where it all started for me.”


photo: orangehoops.org

Melo, though talented, did not make his high school varsity team as a freshmen at Towson Catholic. The slight motivated him to get serious and put in more work. By his sophomore year, he was 6′5″ and his name began percolating in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast corridors. But the accolades went to his head.

“As a good player in the inner city, you’re always hearing people saying that you’re better than you really are and that you don’t have to do things like everybody else,” Melo told Sports Illustrated. “When I was in Baltimore I took all that talk and ran with it. It distracted me from my schoolwork. I started getting suspended.”


photo: jamd.com

He signed with Syracuse as a skinny, 6′7″ junior.

“He was basically a regional recruit,” Syracuse assistant coach Troy Weaver told SI in 2002. “But then in the summer he just blew up nationally.”


photo of melo at oak hill: media.collegepublisher.com

Melo started dominating at camps and tourneys and threw a national coming out party with a string of scintillating performances at an AAU tournament in Vegas. In the fall, he transferred to prep school hoops powerhouse Oak Hill Academy and, taking his profile oustide of Baltimore, became a top five national recruit. Sequestered in the rural Virginia mountains, he added 20 pounds of muscle and took his game to another level.

Melo led Oak Hill to a 32-1 record – including a victory over the Akron, Ohio, St. Vincent-St. Mary squad led by Lebron James – with 22 points and 7 boards per game. Melo thought about going pro, but his mom wanted him to get a taste of college life. The housekeeper at the University of Baltimore was unfazed about the potential millions her son was poised to earn.

“I didn’t want him to go to the NBA,” Mary Anthony told SI in 2002. “When you get all that fame and fortune, honey, you become a man, right then and there. I wanted my son to have a chance to be 18 years old.”


photo: jamd.com

His first basket as an Orangeman was a dunk against Memphis and Melo scored 27 points or better in his first three college games. He led the ‘Cuse with 22 points and 10 rebounds per game during the regular season. Then came Melo’s March Madness, where he put on one of the most dominating freshman performances ever in the rich history of the NCAA Tournament.

In the East Regional Final against Oklahoma, Melo had a double-double with 20 points and 10 boards in the 63-47 victory. Against TJ Ford and the University of Texas in the ‘03 Final Four (which was the first time casual fans ever heard the name of Marquette’s super duper star, Dwayne Wade), Melo set a record for the most points ever scored by a freshman in a national semi-final. He exploded on the grand stage with 33 points, making 12 of 19 shots, and 14 rebounds in the 95-84 victory.


photo: jamd.com

In the 2003 National Championship, Melo – with some assistance from Gerry McNamara, Hakim Warrick, Billy Edelin and Kueth Duany – delivered coach Jim Boeheim’s first NCAA title with an astounding 20 point, 10 rebound, 6 assist performance in Syracuse’s 81-78 victory over Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison’s Kansas Jayhawks crew.

The Sporting News gushed that “…Anthony played the college game better than any freshman in NCAA basketball. Ever.” Boeheim told SI that Melo was “the best player I’ve ever coached.”

He garnered First Team All-American honors, was the Big East Rookie of the Year and the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player.


photo: jamd.com

For those few weeks in March of 2003, Carmelo Anthony solidified himself as the greatest one year player in college history. For those who watched him as a college freshman, especially during the NCAA Tournament, we’ll never forget how he put the legacy of his coach and an entire program on his young shoulders, delivering a title and stretch of performances that will live on forever.


photo: si.com

And without the asphalt of New York and Baltimore supplying the proving ground, none of it ever would have happened. So as we anticipate the goodies to come in the NCAA’s in the upcoming weeks, as well as wondering what players will shine above all others this year, let’s take a minute to ponder and recognize the brilliance of Melo in 2003.

THE PLAYGROUND IS NOT THE PROBLEM. IT IS THE SOLUTION!”

19 Responses to “The Playground Gave Us Melo – The March Madness Edition”

  1. ali says:

    peep how melo gives props to his boyhood basketball idol, bernard king, 23 seconds into his b more melo nike, jordan brand commercial. subtle, but it says a lot.

  2. sure says:

    He had 27 points his freshman game and missed 10 free throws. Against a pretty good Memphis team. He said he didn’t have his wind. That’s when I knew he was going to be trouble for the college b-ball world. His body of work is serious. Please dont let the off court stuff taint his on court display. It’s a lot of bad players who have great images and great players who seem like they can’t do no right. It hard to get the complete package. We just hope that eventually they put it together and grow up to be responsible role models. Carmelo Anthony was unbelievable in college.

  3. ali says:

    yo sure,

    the crazy thing was that, in that first college game against memphis, melo had 21 points and 8 rebounds in THE FIRST HALF!

    and even though he’s made some missteps, he’s a genuinely good dude who’s given away close to $10 million over the years to help others. that’s some serious cake.

    melo will make his mistakes publicly as he grows into manhood, but there’s a sincerity about him that you don’t get from others, who are all image. and, sure, you ain’t never lied – the young fella was UNBELIEVABLE in college – a connoisseur’s dream.

  4. illest says:

    sure….no need to plea his case. off the court has nothing to do with on the court performance. only the white media cares about things like that.

  5. g says:

    I remember him as a kid. I played against his older brother Wilfredo aka “Wolf” out in the Mickey O in Red Hook. Wolf was real tough,big dude with a yo-yo and a ratchet and he got pockets. Couldve really done something with his game. Wolf would say everytime that his lil brother Lo-Lo was gonna be better than him. Lo-Lo was none other than Carmelo,who Wolf would drag to every game,and have on the sidelines watching,learning….shooting at the baskets at every dead ball,timeout or halfs. And he was a competitive kid,didnt want you to take the ball from him or block his shot,so thats how he learned the quick release,hi arching shot and got his yo-yo early. Mind you, Lo-Lo was maybe 4 or 5 at the time,lol!

  6. ali says:

    that’s what i’m talkin’ about G! you can’t get those flavors anywhere other than bouncemag.com

    thanks for adding that portrait to the story. my man!

  7. Jus' Joe says:

    Ali,
    I remember watching Melo’s first game against Kansas… I had heard about him… but, DAMN!… I remember thinking no way he’s an 18 yr old freshman (he was)… these are two top level d-1 schools going at it ,and, he was head and shoulders above anyone on that court in his first game ! I waited for him to “level off”- he never did…
    Great story

  8. ali says:

    word up jus’ joe. he was playing nba all-star type level at the age of 18 and hasn’t stopped since. now with the gold medal in hand and chauncey running things in denver, the next chapters on melo’s journey are starting to be written.

  9. jaquam says:

    melo is the epitomy of a impact freshman. his college career to me was like 4 years of hard work all rolled up into one i might seem crazy but when he first came out i thought he was a little bit better than Lebron but i start to regret that now they are both nice bron just has the edge because he made it to the finals and constantly left the first round in the playoffs melo played against big opposing crowds like it was nothing i seen an old game on SNY when he played at Michigan state as well as the championship game vs. Kansas that’s when i knew he was the truth and still is he will get that ring one day!

  10. Blk Caesar says:

    Man listen.. Melo was crazy in college. I have the “simply orange” DVD in the crib and of course watched the 2003 NCAA Tourney.. What nobody really talks about was that he was having fun torching dudes in that tournament. He would give little grins after spin moves and then canning the jimmy. You could see in his body langauge and facial expression that he knew he was the best player on the court no matter what the opposing jersey read. He was a freshmen with an array of moves that many pros don’t have. It was crazy and seemed effortless. I too thought that he was a more complete offensive player than Lebron going into the draft just from what I saw in that tourney at the time.. I knew Lebron was good, but I couldn’t fathom him becoming what he is now.

  11. Blk Caesar says:

    Yo Ali,
    I might be in Philly this weekend for the first and second rounds if you are in the area let me know. That VCU vs. UCLA game could be crazy.

  12. Blk Caesar says:

    oh and I peeped Marquis Daniels in the first picture.. He had a pretty decent tourney that year until he ran into Melo and the Cuse’

  13. Russ M. says:

    Illest:
    You suggest that “only the white media” care about how a baller handles himself off the court. Do you feel that more then just “the white media” should care, or that “the white media” shouldn’t?

  14. SpreadConsultants says:

    Nice blog, really interesting stuff to read. MM is a really great time, love all the action going on. Check my blog for some thoughts about the NCAAB, March Madness and other sports! http://spreadconsultants.blogspot.com

  15. ali says:

    man cease, unfortunately, i’ll be out of town this weekend. i’m planning to be in philly final four weekend.

    and the kid eric maynor for vcu, reminds me of rodney stuckey a little bit. that ucla vcu game will be serious.

    and melo’s body languiage and facial expressions did suggest that he was having some incredible fun out there. he was routinely exhibiting moves that good, 10-year pros don’t have in the arsenal.

  16. ali says:

    hey spread consultants,

    glad you like the blog and i encourage you to keep reading. however, we do not – in any way, shape or form – condone or encourage gambling.

  17. illest says:

    russ m…i say white media because the black media (barber shops, street corners, this blog and others) dont care as much. there arent many in the sports media that are black and they tend to give the black athlete more of a pass than the white media member. the white media will make sure to tear down the black athlete as quickly as they will build him up. im not saying black people shouldnt care but we understand the plight and usually give a pass.

  18. Russ M. says:

    I hear you, illest. Absolutely true that the media will tear the black athlete down as quick as they build him up, if given the opportunity. I suspect that those who are a part of the white media feel that once someone becomes a multimillionaire he is no longer a part of “the plight”, and therefore, all passes are null and void.

  19. HanSum says:

    I like how Melo shouted out where he was from Originaly as a child…Red Hook Projects, thats where Im from… & another thing I like how Melo looked out for us & held a basketball tournament in Red Hook!!! You a real man… I respect that

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