Mavs’ redshirt freshmen continue to show growth
Sitting on the sidelines for an entire year can be tough for someone used to being a go-to player.
Although Daniel Estes, Mike Melillo and Landon Vermeer are glad to be on the basketball court playing for the Colorado Mesa men’s basketball team, they continue to learn the college game. The Mavericks (11-10, 9-8 RMAC) host New Mexico Highlands (10-11, 8-9 RMAC) at 7:30 tonight and Western New Mexico (10-11, 8-9 RMAC) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Brownson Arena.
All three of them came from high school programs, where they started at least two years and in Estes’ case all four years. Although they practiced with Mesa’s team last season, they didn’t play in any games, redshirting to preserve their four years of NCAA eligibility.
“Having to watch last year was really tough,” Estes said. “You grow up wanting to play college basketball your whole life. Redshirting was probably good so you can get used to the practices and what the games were like.”
The redshirt freshman from Laramie, Wyo., went from being the first scoring option in high school to being a point guard looking to pass first in Mesa’s motion offense, which revolves on swinging the ball around the perimeter quickly to create a high-percentage shot.
“For me it was a big change, because here it’s all about the flow of the game,” Estes said. “In high school, I was definitely more of a scorer and here I’m more of a distributor. I like that. I’m happy I have guys here I can pass to that can score.”
Mesa coach Jim Heaps said Estes had possibly the toughest transition because of the significant role change.
“It’s very much share the ball and get the ball in and out of your hands,” Heaps said. “It’s a tough adjustment.”
This season has been a big learning experience for Melillo and Vermeer as well.
“All three of us would like to play better than we have,” Melillo said. “Everyone’s a lot bigger and stronger than they are in high school. You get your shots blocked a little more than usual, but I think we’ve adjusted.”
Melillo, who is from Boulder, has started every game for the Mavericks and leads the team in minutes played, rebounds, steals and turnovers.
“Mike is a very talented kid,” Heaps said. “He struggled shooting the ball early, but his shooting percentage is coming up steadily. Mike can pass and he rebounds really well. He shoots the ball well. His biggest thing is consistency.”
Vermeer, who is from Littleton, injured his back in practice last season and is behind a senior and fourth-year junior on the wing.
“I’ve learned a lot this past year, especially last year redshirting,” Vermeer said. “I’ve learned a lot from being here. This year, finally getting some playing time. That hard work paid off. All the other guys have been great, teaching us since we are young.”
He has played in 18 games, and scored a career-high 10 points against the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.
“A lot of times what happens, especially when you’re on that verge of playing or not playing and you have a fourth-year junior and a senior playing, you lose your spot in the rotation then you start falling behind almost immediately,” Heaps said. “There’s no doubt in my mind Landon’s going to get an opportunity these next five games. He’s got all the tools. By next year, he’ll be a really good basketball player for us.”
Heaps believes this group could be as good as a whole as he’s ever had.
“To have one starting is one thing, but to have three in the top 10, that is unheard of, you haven’t seen that with us before,” Heaps said. “It’s a growing situation. We just have to go through it.”