So on Thursday Fab Melo declared for the NBA draft, officially ending his Syracuse career (which had, of course, unofficially ended several weeks ago). The rumors are wild and varied about what, precisely, he did — or didn’t do — to get suspended. We will never get an official statement from the university about it. Maybe one day Fab himself will spill the beans; until then, we’re stuck with speculation. The general consensus, though, is that the cause of the suspension was something that was under Fab’s control, and that the suspension could have been avoided if he had acted differently. The strongest public evidence for this (i.e. not just rumors) is that he apologized to his teammates when it all went down a few weeks ago, which indicates that he was ultimately at fault.
This perception that Fab allowed this to happen, thereby costing the team a chance at a championship, has led to a lot of vitriol being directed Fab’s way by a large portion of the SU fanbase. You see it on Twitter, on syracuse.com boards, and in blog comments. He’s been called selfish and lazy. People vow to boo him violently if he ever makes an appearance in the Dome again. I saw one person suggest that Fab is this generation’s DeShaun Williams. (And if you don’t know about DeShaun Williams, check out this D.O. story. It begins with a sex scene. Honest.)
But in my opinion, this hate directed at Fab is way overblown. I can understand some amount of anger, but not the intense hate that is out there in a lot of corners. I will grant that Fab’s actions were ultimately detrimental to the team’s chances in the NCAA Tournament. Maybe if he’d played, they’d have beaten Ohio State. (Or maybe they’d have lost to Wisconsin; who knows?) But to hate Fab is to ignore all that he helped the team achieve this season.
I am on record as saying that regular season accomplishments are very meaningful in college basketball, moreso than in most other sports, because of the unique nature of the NCAA Tournament. Cinderellas and so forth. And by any measure, this was the greatest regular season in SU basketball history. And Fab was an integral component thereof. He clearly put in a ton of work over the summer to get in shape and to mold himself into a better basketball player. By all accounts he was a great teammate and a good guy to have in the locker room. This team had excellent chemistry — they had to, in order to excel at their brand of “ten starters but no stars” basketball. And Fab was willing to play the role the coaches laid out for him, even if he was personally convinced he was capable of more (like shooting 18-footers). Hell, he was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year. You don’t get to that level by being lazy.
If you are one of the people who thinks the national championship (or making the Final Four) is the only thing that matters, then this argument may not sway you. And you probably hate Fab for blowing SU’s chances at this season’s title. In that case, your perspective is so far from mine that I don’t know what I could say to you to convince you to lay off Mr. de Melo. You’re entitled to believe that, of course, but that also means you’re going to go through your Syracuse fan life being bitterly disappointed just about every year. Good luck with that. For my part, I harbor no ill feelings towards Fab, beyond a subtle disappointment that his career didn’t turn out to be as spectacular as we’d hoped two years ago. I’ll look forward to watching him play in the pros, and I’ll be laughing mightily when he dunks on Roy Hibbert. And if by chance he returns to the Dome for a Legends game in 20 years I’ll certainly be cheering him, for his role in this special season.