UNTIL he made that highlight-reel alley-oop dunk off a feed by Alex Mallari in the dying seconds of a game against Petron last January, San Mig rookie Justin Melton was largely unknown among local basketball fans.
Look at him now:
Asked how he feels being a ‘rock star’ in basketball-crazy Philippines, Melton, who was born in Angeles City but grew up in the US, was quick to play down his sudden popularity.
“I am not the rock star… James Yap is our rockstar!” he said while breaking into his infectious smile.
Asked if he was surprised by his growing popularity in the PBA, the second-round pick at 13th overall of the last rookie draft said he is now a bit "conscious with my looks when going around the mall."
“Everything was pretty new when I got here. But I love it. There’s no other place I’ve been who loves basketball more than the Philippines,” said the former Mount Olive College guard, adding he felt like he achieved his "NBA dream" while playing in the local pro league.
“My popularity is because I am a part of this team, popular team and San Mig, it all comes from San Mig, I am just a part of the big picture,” Melton claimed.
The 26-year-old former star of the Malaysian Westport Dragons in the ABL admitted it was that one alley-oop dunk in 'garbage time' of the game against Petron that changed his career, for the better.
“It was that one dunk a couple of months ago … ever since then people started approaching me and saying, ‘Hi’ and things like that,” said Melton, who stands a shade below 5-9.
And in the coming All Star weekend beginning on April 3, Melton will look to seize another moment to shine in his blossoming career when he takes on the league's high leapers in the slam dunk contest.
Melton said he is excited to compete in the slam dunk contest against highly touted flyers like Ginebra’s Japeth Aguilar and Chris Ellis, Meralco’s Rey Guevarra and Clifford Hodge and Alaska's sophomore star Calvin Abueva.
“I am really excited to compete against both Ellis and Japeth and the rest, they’re high leapers. It should be a good show,” he said, adding it will be his first ever official dunk contest to play on.
“This is my first official dunk contest. I am just used to doing the stunts around the neighborhood with friends … nothing serious,” he said. “But I really don’t have any expectations. I am just gonna go out there and do whatever dunks I can.”
“The fans should be ready for my electrifying dunks,” added Melton, who has drawn comparisons with former NBA slam-dunk king Spud Webb owing to their stature (Webb is 5-7).
Melton claimed his game revolves around his best asset which is his jumping ability, something he inherited from his dad Donnie, who taught him the basics of the game.
“My jump is the biggest part of my game. I am not very blessed with the height but I think I can jump with the best of them,” said Melton, who can reach a high of 11 feet, four inches with his vertical leap.
“I inherited it from my dad, my dad was a basketball player too. I was 16 when I did my first dunk back in Virginia,” said the son of a retired US Air Force officer.