JUST three days after returning for the first time to the land of his birth, Justin Melton has buckled down to work in his quest for a bigger purpose.
The 25-year-old point guard, who was born in Angeles, Pampanga but raised in the United States, is among a handful of players who showed up for Smart Gilas 2.0's first practice on Friday night at the Meralco Gym.
If he succeeds in impressing national coach Chot Reyes, the 5-11 Melton could earn a spot in the national team bound for a pair of tournaments overseas early next year and, beyond that, the Fiba Asia Men in Beirut in late August.
He wants the shot badly enough to sacrifice his Christmas holidays to join Gilas' three-week practice where he competes for spots in the team against a sprinkling of pros as well as amateur players from the national team's cadet pool.
"I feel blessed (and this is) a great opportunity," he said. "I’m just thankful to coach Chot for the chance to be here so I don't mind missing out on the holidays because of the practice."
Born to Cecilia Fortes and military man Donnie Melton, the guard played Division II basketball in the US NCAA for Mount Olive College in North Carolina and has spent most of his time playing as an import in Brazil since he graduated in 2009.
With the help of manager Joe Ramos, Melton now hopes to showcase his skills in his mother's homeland and hopefully be good enough to be part of the national team.
“I just figured I haven’t been back since I was born, because back then we left not too long after I was born,” he said. “So, I kind of want to give back and it’s sort of my motivation being able to share my basketball skills (to the Philippines).”
Reyes said he is familiar with Melton but wants to see how the Fil-American guard can fit into his system and blend with the rest of the players during the Gilas practices.
"Nakita ko na siya maglaro," said Reyes. "Gusto ko lang makita paano siya maglaro kasama ng ibang players."
Although a spot in the team is not guaranteed, Reyes expects Melton to have a "good crack" at it and is giving him a month to prove himself deserving of the opportunity.
"I think he’ll have a good crack pero ang dami pang factors niyan. Tignan natin sa ensayo niya siguro hanggang katapusan ng buwan," Reyes said.
Melton, for his part, vowed to give it his best shot.
"I’m gonna try to do everything on the court every practice. It takes a little bit getting used to something, getting used to everybody in the team," he said.
"I'll try to get the plays down right and start creating shots for other people. After all basketball is a team play; you can’t play with just one man. It’s collective, offense and defense, and encouraging others."