While some critics may complain, Ben Melmeth can't help it that he's not a born-and-bred American basketball player.
He grew up to his present 6-foot-10 stature in Australia before deciding two years ago that America was the place to be to further his basketball skills. He headed to California originally but ended up in Utah instead. And after less than two years in the state, the Judge Memorial senior has emerged with the top award a Utah high school player can receive - Mr. Basketball.Four Most Valuable Players, Viewmont's Don Faux, Lehi's Cole Cooper, Beaver's Nate Robinson and Valley's Wes Troy have been named along with Melmeth to head the annual Deseret News All-State teams, selected with the help of the state's coaches.
Melmeth joins such outstanding players as Shawn Bradley, Kenneth Roberts and JaRon Boone, who have won the coveted Mr. Basketball award in recent years. Like these players, Melmeth will be playing college basketball next season as he has already signed a national letter of intent to play for the University of Utah.
"The progress he's made has been remarkable," said Judge coach Jim Yerkovich. "He has so much potential. And it's not like he's leaving. He's going to be playing in Utah for four more years."
How Melmeth ended up in Utah in the first place in quite remarkable.
Yerkovich was in Australia doing clinics two summers ago when he met this big player named "Ben." He knew the big fella was going to Chico, Calif., to play, but was pleasantly surprised a few months later when he got a call from Melmeth saying things hadn't worked out and that he'd like to play in Utah. Yerkovich checked things out with Utah high school officials and then welcomed Melmeth with open arms.
Melmeth suffered through an injury-plagued junior season, but came on strong this past season, playing on a young, undersized Bulldog squad.
Despite being bottled up by a variety of zone defenses, Melmeth still managed to score 22 points per game this year. But where he really stood out was in the rebounding department.
For the season, he averaged an amazing 17 boards per game. Six times he grabbed more than 20 rebounds a game and after tying his school record with 28 boards against Tooele, he came back to break the record with 31 against Bountiful in the regular-season finale.
Melmeth nearly chose to go to Virginia after narrowing his choice of schools to Utah and Virginia. When Virgina head coach Jeff Jones was watching Melmeth one day, he told Yerkovich that Melmeth was "the best passing big man" he'd ever seen. Utah coaches say he runs the floor as well as any big man they've watched and rave about his innate rebounding ability.
About the only thing Melmeth didn't accomplish this year was to lead his team to the state championship. That's something the four MVPs from each of the state's four classes have in common.
Faux was one of several players who helped lead Viewmont to an unbeaten season and the 4A championship. At 6-8, Faux was a force in the middle for the Vikings and according to coach Clyde Nelson, was probably the team's most consistent player all year. He led the team with 9 rebounds per game and finished in a virtual tie with teammate Jared Peterson for scoring honors with 14.3 a game.
Cooper was Lehi's leading scorer on the year, but he really didn't come to the forefront until the final game against Ogden. After sitting out most of the first half with foul trouble, Cooper took over in the second half and almost singlehandedly brought the Pioneers from behind to victory, scoring 16 of his 22 points. Cooper was also a first-team all-state quarterback for the Pioneers in the fall.
Beaver's Robinson moved into the starting lineup as a sophomore and never left. His numbers, 13 points, 2 rebounds, aren't outstanding, but he was the main cog in the Beavers' run to the 2A title.
"He hasn't worried about his points," said Beaver coach Calvin Albrecht. "The outstanding thing about Nate is that he's done whatever it takes to lead the team to victory."
During the state tournament, Valley's Troy was only the fifth leading scorer for the Buffaloes after leading them during the season. But other coaches could see the worth Troy had to his team as did his coach, Jim Hoyt.
"He had a lot to do with this state championship," said Hoyt. "He played with a lot of determination. He's wanted this for a long time."
Besides contributing plenty of assists and rebounds, Troy anchored the Buffaloes' defense, which was a big key to their winning the state crown.
Among the other 4A first-teamers are such standouts as Viewmont's Peterson, East center Nate Gardner, Provo's David Liddiard, Davis' Ryan Halliday and Timpview's Matt Butler, who led his team to the state finals.
3A's top players were mostly guards, including a repeater from last year, Robbie Reid of Spanish Fork, one of the state's top scorers at 28 per game. Other first-team selections in 3A are West's Chris Stepan, Payson's Phil DeGraffenreid, Ogden's Brandon Fries and Tooele's Marc Lawson.
Among the other five players on the 2A first team are a pair who led Hurricane to the state finals, Mitch Bringhurst and Royd Darrington. Other first-teamers include Beaver's Josh Marshall, Manti's Steve Olsen and Richfield's Travis Christensen.
In 1A, Valley junior Jared Hoyt joins Troy on the first team, along with a pair of Mt. Vernon players who led their team to the state finals, Brandon Evans and Dave Burbank. The other first-teamers are Duchesne junior Brandon Rowley and Piute's Jared Robinson.