Melendez stars for the Builders

Published 11:58 pm Saturday, November 23, 2013

Sophomore shooting forward Jay Melendez is not a high school role player anymore. Formerly a Nansemond River High School Warrior, he is now the star of The Apprentice School basketball team.

Building block: The Apprentice School sophomore forward Jay Melendez looks for some of his career-high 27 points during Wednesday's win against visiting Mid-Atlantic Christian University. Melendez, a former Nansemond River role player, has become the Builder's leader. (Chris Oxley / Newport News Shipbuilding Photo)

Building block: The Apprentice School sophomore forward Jay Melendez looks for some of his career-high 27 points during Wednesday’s win against visiting Mid-Atlantic Christian University. (Chris Oxley / Newport News Shipbuilding Photo)

Entering Saturday afternoon’s game against West Virginia University Institute of Technology, Melendez had led the Builders to a 4-0 start. He was averaging 23.0 points and 9.3 rebounds per game while shooting 65 percent from the field and 63 percent from 3-point range.

“I feel pretty good about it,” Melendez said. “I was kind of expecting to do pretty well and take a bigger role on the team this year.”

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But he admits he has surpassed even his own expectations.

His performances in the first three contests this year netted him the United States Collegiate Athletic Association Player of the Week award. One of these games was the championship for the Penn State Greater Allegheny Tipoff, and he had a career night with 25 points and 15 rebounds.

Receiving the award was important to Melendez. “It means a lot,” he said. “It definitely was a goal of mine. One down.”

For Builders head coach Franklin Chatman, Melendez’ development to this point was all part of the plan.

“It’s not a surprise to us,” he said. “We knew that he had that in him.”

Last year, three-time All-American guard/forward Tevin Andrews was a senior and leader of the team. Melendez was brought in to replace him this year.

“That class he came in, he was our top recruit,” Chatman said.

The coach said Melendez has demonstrated an understanding of the sport. “He’s one of those kids that knows how to play, has a strong I.Q. for the game,” he said.

He combines that with a tenacious approach.

“Jay is a tough kid that rarely backs down from anyone, so his toughness is really what he brings to us,” Chatman said.

Last year, Melendez averaged 6.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game while averaging 10 fewer minutes per game, 20 rather than 30, and undoubtedly getting fewer touches.

Still, his success this year has a simple explanation beyond just court time and possession.

“A lot of his stuff is coming (from) him just shooting the ball well,” Chatman said, particularly on many open shots.

His jump shots have been falling, and Melendez said his shot selection has been much improved. He deflected some credit on that front.

“My teammates are definitely getting me open looks,” he said.

Included among them are two other starters who, with Melendez, form what Chatman called “the Suffolk connection.” They are senior guard Latrone Demiel (Nansemond River) and sophomore forward Rodney Goodman (Lakeland High School).

In a 101-60 win over Mid-Atlantic Christian University on Wednesday, the Builders set a new school record with 15 three-pointers. Melendez led the team, going 5-for-8 from downtown, contributing to a new career-high game with 27 points. He added eight rebounds, two assists, three steals and two blocks.

Melendez said when he was at Nansemond River, he was more of a role player.

“I’m trying to lead my team more so now,” he said.

Warriors head coach Ed Young is proud of the start his former player has put together this year.

“He’s put up some nice numbers, and he really focused on his play,” Young said.

The coach said he was confident Melendez could have a good career with the Builders, but he had a concern.

“At first, I was a little hesitant on how much he really wanted it, and we talked about that, because the Apprentice School’s a tough place,” Young said. “You’ve got a job to go to, you’ve got practice, you’ve got school things to tend to, plus play. So, I knew it’d be real tough for him, but in his second year, he’s really shown out, and I just hope it sustains.”

Melendez appears intent on ensuring it does, embracing his new role.

“I definitely do like it a lot,” he said. “I’ve always prided myself on trying to be a leader.”

He said it has come naturally on the court, but outside of that, speaking up a little more has been a challenge. “It’s not as natural, but I’m working on it,” he said.

He still has two other major basketball goals to accomplish.

“I want to be a USCAA All-American, and most importantly, I want to win a national championship with my team,” he said.

Coach Young will take the current Warriors team to see him play on Tuesday against host Virginia Wesleyan College, which includes recently graduated Warriors Kendric Washington and William Goodman.