It’s quite possible Samil Melo was born with a basketball in his hands. When asked when he started playing, he throws his head back and laughs:

“I don’t know. Elementary school? I’ve just always played.”

What You Need To Know

  • Superb basketball athlete Samil Melo plays at the Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice

  • Came to understand what it means to overcome his fears

  • Looks to reach out and teach others how to believe in themselves

In middle school, Melo remembers his gym teacher running morning clinics to help amateurs learn court fundamentals. That’s what inspired Melo to join an after school program in eighth grade to further his skill set.

Despite the hours of practice and ample time on the court, the Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice graduate did not consider himself a “real” basketball star.

“I ended up not trying out for the basketball team my freshman year because I believed I didn’t have any real experience. Our school doesn’t have a junior varsity team, and I was just too scared to try out for varsity because they’re a really big deal and a pretty good team,” Melo said. “I just didn’t feel like I could play at their level.”

However, Melo’s skills did not go unnoticed by the high school gym teacher. He approached the varsity team’s head coach, Ben Shea, and told him about the talented freshman.

“I reached out and invited him to one of our spring training sessions,” Shea remembers. “I wouldn’t normally do something like that, but Samil [Melo] came so highly recommended by my assistant coach. He’s just a really good kid. He’s grounded and just knows what he’s doing and he’s just someone you want on the team.”

When Coach Shea asked Melo why he had not tried out for the team his freshman year, Melo admitted his fear of not being good enough.

“I told him the first time I saw him that he had a lot of potential and I was really going to push him to make sure he reached it. For someone who’s never really been taught basketball, he did a lot of things that were super impressive,” Shea remarked. “We always looked towards big-picture and what he could be his senior year. It was all about development and becoming the greatest he could be in the end.”

A senior year that “was supposed to be their year,” before the coronavirus pandemic came and changed those plans. As captain of the team, Melo led his squad through the Elite Eight. They were on their way to the Final Four when sports were suspended and school doors were forced to close across the city.

“You never know what’s gonna happen, but I believe we would have won that game,” Melo reflected. “It was our year.”

Even with a canceled season, Melo said the lessons learned from basketball have had a huge influence. Once, he was uncertain about getting involved, then he became a coach himself in an after-school program run by his own varsity coach. Melo said he saw himself in those kids and hoped to pass on important techniques, skills, and confidence.

“They’re just starting out, but they have so much potential and really could become great,” he said. “I just hope they have the drive to try out even if they don’t think they’re ready. I hope they don’t let fear and uncertainty get in their way like it did for me.”

Melo is rewriting the past, and has committed to play basketball for St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn as a freshman. He is excited to pursue academics and to continue to fill his free time with activities allowing him to be a bigger part of his community.

“Basketball has taught me that things that are worth it cost a bunch of time and endurance. I want to make sure I put that kind of commitment into other parts of my life.”


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