Looking for answers


The losses for the University of Hawaii at Hilo men’s basketball team have piled up, but each one has taken on a unique form all of its own.

Some, such as a 34-point loss to Urbana, appeared effortless. Others for the Vulcans, who are coming off a two-point defeat to St. Edward’s 10 days ago, were more agonizing.

There’s a funny thing about momentum, though. The avalanche of bad vibes could turn just as quickly in favor of UH-Hilo (1-8), forward Mike Melonas said.

“We’re waiting for the click to happen,” he said. “When we’re all going to buy in and go team over everything.”

The holidays came at an opportune time, giving the Vulcans a chance to catch their breath as they try to change their fortunes just before the new year. And a victory at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the UH-Hilo gym against Champion Baptist, a 1-9 NAIA school from Arkansas, would work wonders.

“I think this little break is really going to help us out,” the 6-foot-6, 257-pound Melonas said. “I just think we need to get that one win, so we can know what it feels like. We can sort of get a feel of how things are supposed to go when we’re winning.

“It’s going to start us on a snowball effect, and we’re going to keep rolling.”

It hasn’t been the senior season Melonas envisioned so far, but he’s used to changing and adapting on the fly.

Basketball always has been his favorite sport, but he was better at football in high school, drawing all-state honors and the attention of college recruiters as an offensive lineman at Ventura High (Calif.).

“It was crazy. I have a shoebox full of recruiting letters back home,” Melonas recalls. “I’d get called out of class in high school to talk to (then-USC coach) Pete Carroll. I couldn’t believe all these schools wanted me.”

Melonas was headed to UCLA, or so he thought.

Rick Neuheisel, then the coach of the Bruins, asked him to attend junior college for a year to work on his grades. But when Melonas got to Ventura College, there was a big roadblock standing in his football future.

“They had this guy who was 6-8, 375, who started over me,” he said.

Melonas still had the sport he’d always loved to turn to, so he slimmed down, refined his low-post game and truly dedicated himself to basketball for the first time.

Melonas wasn’t such a high-profile recruit the second time around, but UH-Hilo coach Jeff Law was among those who took notice, luring Melonas and guard Paul Batausa, also a senior, from Ventura before the 2011-12 season.

In a reserve role last year, Melonas averaged 6.7 points and 4.5 rebounds.

Always able to bang inside, this season he’s trying to play more fluid. He’s started all nine games and is tied for second on the team in scoring (10.9 points per game) with a team-best 7.2 rebounds per game.

“My game is more a push-you-around-under-the-basket type. I worked in the offseason, slimming myself down a little bit for more jumping ability,” he said.

“I try to be better going both ways. I can jump high, and I can be strong. I feel like it’s been going a lot better. I made some improvements from last year.”

He’s come on strong of late, recording two double-doubles in the last three games. That post production has helped complement the guard play of seniors CJ Brown, who averages a team-high 12.7 points, and Mychael Hearn (10.9).

Still, it hasn’t been enough to stop the Vulcans’ eight-game losing streak. UH-Hilo has shown it can compete and battle back, but it hasn’t had the answers when games have been on the line.

Melonas sees what’s missing when he watches NBA stars such as Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony.

“It’s a clutch gene, something the superstars have,” Melonas said. “They all have these clutch genes where they step up when the time comes.

“We don’t have those on our team, but we’ve talked about learning to play toward the end of the game. We need to learn how to play under that pressure.”