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THE GRIND: Lambert's Melms center of new-look Longhorns
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THE GRIND: Lambert Basketball's Andrew Melms

Shot by Paul Dybas Edited by Paul Dybas

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Andrew Melms is a hoops junkie. He doesn’t just watch professional basketball as a fan, but as a student—eager to absorb the tendencies of some of the NBA’s best athletes.

A few years ago he was keen of Rajon Rondo—a player who regularly made his way into highlights with a patented fake behind-the-back pass, turned layup. It was the move Melms wanted to pull off in a game the most.

His chance came against North Forsyth in the region tournament as a freshman. Melms corralled the ball, darted up the floor, knifed into the lane and went for the Rondo move. The result wasn’t anywhere near what he hoped.

“I got the ball caught in my jersey behind me, then tripped on myself and fell flat on the floor,” Melms recalls. “It was totally embarrassing. That was the moment I realized I couldn’t do what I was doing in middle school. I had to get better.”

His head coach, Scott Bracco, doesn’t remember that play. “That’s good,” Melms said in relief. Instead, Bracco is first to brag about his now-star point guard.

“He had 11 assists in our last game, nine the game before,” Bracco exclaimed, proudly. “He’s got some handles now.”

Since that fateful faceplant, Melms, a 5-foot-10 senior, has done nothing but show up opponents. In the next season, and last year, he started at point guard for the Longhorns and led them to the round of 16 in the Class 6A playoffs. Lambert went 24-6 his sophomore year and 27-4 last season, but Melms had the help of some star performers like Connor Mannion (Navy) and Ross Morkem (North Georgia).

This season will be different—Melms is the senior, surrounded by a group of unproven but talented athletes like Damon Stoudamire Jr., Musa Thompson and Jordan McIlwain. Even though Melms averaged a line of 10 points, 7.7 assists and 3.6 rebounds as a junior, he still felt there could be more pressure on him this season, but those feelings dissipated as soon as he realized Bracco didn’t have to have a one-on-one with him heading into the season.

“Honestly we didn’t talk about much this offseason,” Melms said. “I’ve kind of had the same role here the last two seasons and coach doesn’t see that changing. I’ve still got room to get better. I’m trying to add some weight, which should help for college, but now it’s just about gelling with everyone.”

Melms and his current teammates got a head start on team building this spring and summer when they played together on an AAU team called the Atlanta Warriors. Generally AAU teams feature some of the best players from multiple schools, but Melms felt like the current Lambert roster had plenty of talent to make a full team, so his recruiting efforts weren’t difficult.

“We liked Damon and Musa obviously. We feel like we built the best team we could out of the area,” Melms said.

This season is off to a fine start: the Longhorns (2-1) took down Duluth, 74-73, on a buzzer-beater from Melms.

“I got into the lane and one of their biggest guys was in the post, so I didn’t want to get blocked. I just double-pumped and floated one up,” he said.

Melms knows this year’s version of the Longhorns is a smaller version than before, but the team has adapted by out-running opponents. That’s where conditioning has come into play.

“We show up to practice and run a drill called Memphis where it’s back and forth across the court eight or 10 times, all while passing the ball,” Melms said. “Everything we do is running, even from drill to drill, so it’s exhausting but it helps us in the long run.”

Melms hopes the newly-branded Longhorns can make a run past the round of 16 in this year’s playoffs.

“We want to win state. Every year that should be our goal,” Melms said.

When it comes to observing players from the NBA, Melms admits that he’s drifted away from Rondo. He takes time out of his schedule to watch Damian Lillard of the Portland Trailblazers or Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers.

“I’ll observe the way Paul runs off defenders. He’s great at that and that’s something I need to get better at,” Melms said. “Lillard, I just love how confident he always is. He’s not afraid to shoot.”

Melms wasn’t against Duluth either, and he won’t be at any other point this season.