When De’Anthony Melton first heard the news he was devastated.
He got a phone call from one of his coaches as he left a class at USC informing him that he would be ineligible because of his connection to an FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball. Immediately, Melton said, his coaches told him that his best course of action would be to start preparing for the NBA. So after a little while longer in school, he did.
“Mostly I was, it was an emotional roller coaster,” Melton said about the last six months. “I was good sometimes and sometimes I wasn’t good. The big games were different. I just tried to keep myself sane. I shot a lot. Just got in the gym.”
On Thursday at the NBA draft combine, Melton had a strong showing in front of general managers, head coaches, assistants and scouts from every NBA team. He wanted to show them that he was still a player worth their trust.
He measured 6-foot-3 ¼ with shoes on, with his body fat at 5.2%. Melton weighed in at 193.2 pounds with a wingspan of 6-8 ½ .
“I mean I haven’t played in a whole year,” said Melton, who averaged 8.3 points and 3.5 assists in 2016-17 with the Trojans. “It felt good to get up and down, get out there, play with other players. … I was a little nervous. I’m not going to lie, I was nervous, but I just realized I gotta play the game, let it come to me, and just like I said, have fun.”
Melton withdrew from USC in February, two months after USC declared him ineligible as a precaution to avoid having to later forfeit games in which he played. Melton has never publicly been accused of any wrongdoing and Monday he said he never took money while in college.
The issue stems from an allegation by federal prosecutors that a close family friend, David Elliott, was paid $5,000 by potential agent Christian Dawkins and financial advisor Munish Sood. USC’s investigation later involved other improper benefits Elliott may have received.
“I was shocked,” Melton said when he learned of the allegations. “I was like there’s no way this is me. Come to find out, the school first brought me in. I got cleared of the $5,000 pretty quick and some more stuff came up that set it over the edge.”
Asked how the incident affected his and his family’s relationship with Elliott, Melton said they are no longer on speaking terms.
“It was [sad],” Melton said. “It was someone we really trusted and looked up to.”
Elliott and his attorney have denied any wrongdoing by Elliott.
Melton resisted getting back into the gym at first, but he soon realized he needed to focus on the next stage of his life rather than dwell on his situation at USC. He worked with trainers of NBA players. He sometimes played three-on-three or four-on-four. It wasn’t a substitute for playing on a team, but he did the best he could to make up for it.
“Everyone knows game shape is different from just being in shape,” Melton said. “I would say I was in shape, but game shape is a whole different ballgame. I felt like I wasn’t, I didn’t look too tired out there. I felt good right now. I just gotta keep my energy back and keep my wind up.”
Melton, who played high school basketball at Encino Crespi, had his first interview at the combine with the Lakers. Every team he has met with has asked him to explain what happened at USC. He has tried to show them his character and explain his emotions going through the process.
“I’m stronger than I thought I was,” Melton said. “Going through that, that was tough, but I realized something about myself. Never get taken off my guard again and take advantage of any opportunity.”