FAIRMONT — Going from a state champion and physically dominating the competition to sitting on the bench with no chance of entering a game was a difficult transition for Kenzie Melko.
In March 2016, Melko helped lead Morgantown High to the program’s first state championship and unbeaten season. His athleticism was a step above the rest and it showed for the Mohigans, playing above the rim and finishing several highlight reel dunks. Melko also finished his senior campaign at MHS as a second team all-state captain, averaging 15 points and over six rebounds per game.
Melko decided to stay close to home to play college ball, signing with Fairmont State and coach Jerrod Calhoun, but it wasn’t the start Melko was hoping for.
He was injured twice in the preseason, which kept him from playing early during his freshman year. A decision was later made that he would take a redshirt and save a year of eligibility.
“It was a rough year knowing I couldn’t go out there and suit up with my brothers every night that I practiced with,” Melko said. “But I definitely needed redshirting —last year had really helped me when it comes to playing this year.”
Although he didn’t get to play, Melko watched his team reach the Division II national championship, eventually falling to Northwest Missouri State. Not long after, Calhoun left Fairmont State to become the head coach at Youngstown State. There wasn’t panic within the program or with Melko, because the replacement was obvious.
“We knew when Calhoun was leaving that Joe (Mazzulla) was getting the job,” Melko said. “He was the main reason I committed in the first place, so it worked out well.”
Through nine games this season, the Mazzulla-Melko combination has worked out well for the Falcons. Melko is one of two players to start every game, averaging 8.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game
Mazzulla was an assistant for the Falcons when Melko was at MHS and was key in helping Melko choose D-II Fairmont over other Division I schools.
A former WVU point guard who helped the Mountaineers reach the Final Four, in 2010, Mazzulla was watched closely by a young Melko.
“They were tough, hard-nosed teams,” Melko said. “I remember admiring how Joe could lead the team and affect the game without scoring a lot of points. That’s something I’ve always tried to implement into my own game.”
Melko was never the leading scorer while with the Mohigans — that went former high school and current college teammate Steven Solomon.
Even now, Melko is fifth on the team is points per game, taking a backseat and doing whatever the coaching staff asks him to do.
Primarily a power forward at MHS, Melko has moved all around the lineup for Mazzulla.
“Depending on our lineup and the match-ups, I could potentially play anywhere [from shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center],” he said. “I can post up smaller guards or take on slower bigs off the dribble. It took a little bit of time learning all the plays from all four spots, but my coaches and teammates have been a huge help communicating with me on the court and watching extra film before and after practice.”
Melko’s versatility has helped FSU to a 6-3 mark, including a career-high 22 points and 10 rebounds against West Virginia Wesleyan, on Dec. 2. The Falcons are trying to re-establish themselves as not only a contender in the Mountain East Conference, but at the national level.
“We’re a young team and we still have some figuring out to do,” he said.
“But I know once we do, we’ll be right back in Sioux Falls (S.D.), competing for a national championship again.”