Even after helping Old Town High School win the Class B state championship last season, Garvey Melmed was unsure what his basketball future might entail.
He decided to set his goals high.
Melmed has been rewarded for his talent and drive as he has earned a spot on the University of Maine roster.
“It’s really exciting,” said Melmed, who is among three nonscholarship players to make the team that is now under the direction of first-year head coach Bob Walsh.
The Black Bears’ other walk-ons are sophomore guard C.J. Ward and former Greely High School guard Peter Westra, who is a senior.
Melmed, a 6-foot-1 guard from Greenbush, said he looked at a lot of schools, but was encouraged to pursue basketball after he decided to attend UMaine as an engineering student.
“I got a lot of support from my friends and family and coaches and they all pushed me to try out here. It all played out really well,” he said.
Melmed, who also played baseball and soccer at Old Town, trained hard during the summer to prepare himself for the chance to impress the UMaine coaching staff.
Walsh explained that Melmed, Ward and Westra were among 8-10 players who went through the tryout process by working out and playing with the Black Bears during the preseason.
“It’s pretty simple, everybody who contacted us who was interested in trying out for the team got a chance,” said Walsh, who was hired at UMaine after leading Division III Rhode Island College to a 204-63 record and eight straight trips to the NCAA tournament in nine seasons.
“I’ve always felt like finding great walk-ons adds a lot of value to your team. Their role is to be on the team and, just like everybody else, to help us win,” Walsh said.
The Black Bears have 15 players on their roster, 12 of whom are on scholarship. UMaine has one available scholarship.
Melmed averaged 10 points, eight rebounds and three steals last season at Old Town for coach Brian McDormand. His efforts earned him the BDN’s William C. Warner Award as the most valuable player of the Eastern Maine Class B tournament.
Walsh pointed to Melmed’s basketball aptitude in adjusting to UMaine’s system as one of his strengths.
“He’s got a great feel for the game and he’s picked up our defensive stuff really quickly,” Walsh said. “I imagine he had a real good high school coach. He just seems more comfortable with all the stuff we’re doing than the average freshman, which is a good sign.”
That said, Melmed admitted there also are plenty of physical challenges in trying to compete with UMaine’s Division I athletes.
“They first day I got a screen set on me and no one called it out. It almost knocked me out when I hit into his chest,” Melmed said, laughing. “I’m a lot more comfortable on the floor now, but definitely at first it was a little tough getting used to.”
Looking back, he believes his experience at Old Town and his support system have been important factors in his ability to work his way onto the UMaine roster.
“Last year, that was a huge confidence booster for me,” Melmed said. “On top of that, everyone’s pushing me, everyone wanted me to do this and get this far.”
Walsh said UMaine’s nonscholarship players will practice and compete alongside the scholarship athletes with no distinctions drawn in terms of their status on the squad.
“We don’t treat them any differently,” he said.
Ward attended UMaine last year, but did not play basketball. The 5-11 guard played at Plymouth North High School in Massachusetts, then attended Tabor Academy, where he averaged 15 points, six assists and three steals under coach Chris Millette, who is a friend of Walsh.
Ward’s father, Chris Ward, played at Rhode Island College from 1977-1981.
Walsh explained that Melmed and Ward have similar attributes.
“Both of them are tough kids who compete hard, can defend (at either guard spot),” he said. “We anticipate they can help us a lot.”
Melmed said that while the transition from high school to college — both in terms of basketball and academics — is challenging, he is determined to make the most of the opportunity as UMaine begins a new era under Walsh.
“Hopefully I can work with it, stay with it and continue to earn a spot for the next few years and work and learn with this new coaching staff as well.”
Melmed will debut his No. 22 UMaine jersey on Oct. 22 at the “Black Bears Fan Jam” event scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
The Black Bears play an exhibition game on Nov. 1 at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham.
Open practice slated Sunday
The Maine men’s basketball team will hold an open practice Sunday, Oct. 19 at Memorial Gymnasium in Orono.
The practice will begin at 9 a.m. and typically lasts between three and four hours.
Fans and attendees will have their first opportunity to their first look at the 2014-15 Black Bears as they prepare for the season.