Silas Melson was recruited to come to Gonzaga because of his scoring prowess and hard-nosed defense. The big guard was a leader for Jefferson High School in Portland, Oregon, and the hope was that his arrival would give the Zags a stellar scoring compliment to Josh Perkins in the backcourt.
"Silas will remind people of Gary Bell Jr., a lot," said Coach Mark Few after Melson committed to Gonzaga.
Melson "can really shoot," Few says. "He's already an excellent on-ball defender, and he's only 17. He's got a lot of potential and will have a real bright future here. He has a good feel for the game and is another guy with a good stroke who is a very good athlete."
That is what the dream was. Dreams, however, tend not to transpire the way we imagine them, and Melson's struggles and re-emergence are the perfect example of that.
First off, to look at the evolution of Melson, we need to go all the way back to November 26, 2014. The Zags were facing off against Georgia and were on their way to a tidy victory until Kenny Gaines jump kicked Perkins in the face. Perkins went down for the season, and suddenly the Bulldogs had to burn Melson's planned redshirt.
From the beginning, Melson might not have been completely to step into his role. But at that moment, he didn't have a choice. Melson hopped in, but was also used quite sparingly. With Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. in the backcourt, he was more of an insurance option than anything else. He averaged a mere 9.6 minutes per game, but as the season progressed, those minutes dwindled. From February on last season, he saw the floor for just six minutes per game.
This season, with the departure of Pangos and Bell, Melson was once again thrown into the fire, and once again, he might not have been ready for it. He held his own for the first month of the season, but then his shot disappeared. Over the course of December and January, he shot 26.3 percent from the floor and just 32 percent from beyond the arc. Melson, on the offensive end, was visibly floundering.
It was painful to watch, for the fans and for Melson himself. Melson is a good shooter, he showed that in high school. Teammates knew he could drain his shots in practice, but for whatever reason, that wasn't translating to the games. His confidence was shot.
Then finally, against the University of San Francisco, on Jan. 30, 2016, the shot came back. Melson drained 5-of-9 threes in the game, and everyone, including Melson, were refreshed by the results.
"It felt a lot better than what it has been feeling," Melson said of his performance on Saturday. "I've just been staying in it mentally. I know I'm a better shooter than what I've been displaying all season. I've been in the gym a lot more than I usually am because I want to get my shot where it usually is."
In February, the shot finally started to become consistent. Melson shot 51.9 percent from the floor this past month on his way to 10.9 points per game. He shot 44 percent from beyond the arc and was 20-of-25 from the free throw line. In the prior three months of the season, he made it to the free throw line just 31 times.
Melson was also hitting big time shots in big games. Against SMU, when the Mustangs looked well on their way to starting the rout that would eventually kick Gonzaga out of the arena, Melson kept them in the game with two huge second point three pointers.
Finally, after a long slog and a lot of extra hours at the gym, Melson finally looks like he has hit his stride. In the past nine games, he has been a key contributor in all but one--the game against Saint Mary's. It is hard to fault him for that one as well, considering much of the team hardly did anything in the loss.
Melson deserves props for his emergence this season. He has worked hard to get to this point, and considering how much he struggled at the beginning of the season, it almost seems a miracle that he was able to turn it around. Few told Jim Meehan of the Spokesman Review that Melson's emergence has been an X-factor for the Zags late in the season.
"He's been playing great pretty much this whole month," Few said. "He's been playing great on defense, giving us great effort pretty much all year. Now his offense is coming around and he's still giving us that phenomenal Gary Bell-type attention to detail. He's been a big key."
Having Melson as a key contributor, especially on offense, is exactly what Gonzaga needs at this point in the season. Any and all offense is welcome for the Zags, and Melson is priming himself, hopefully, for a big WCC Tournament.