College Basketball

Ex-Blue Devil sees NBA draft from different new angle

Staff WriterJune 20, 2010 

When forward Lee Melchionni graduated from Duke in 2006, he had no real illusions of an NBA future - much less being part of the NBA draft.

Yet Thursday night, he could find himself in New York for the third straight year - as a junior agent for Arn Tellem's Wasserman Media Group.

"All of this just kind of happened by accident," Melchionni said in a phone interview this week. "When I was at Duke, I never saw myself being in this industry. ... But I really love it."

Melchionni, who averaged 5.7 points and 3.2 rebounds during his senior season with the Blue Devils, was playing for an Italian League basketball team based outside of Milan - a deal that Tellem helped him secure - when the influential agent contacted him.

"After a year overseas, I knew playing in the NBA was a long shot, so I had decided I was going to sell my soul to the devil and work on Wall Street," Melchionni recalled. "And then I got this call on my tiny cell phone, and it was Arn, asking if I wanted to work for him."

Melchionni had first gotten to know the agent when Tellem was recruiting former teammates Shelden Williams and J.J. Redick, and the Blue Devils alum jumped at the opportunity to work for one of the most powerful agents in his Los Angeles-based office.

Three years later, the Pennsylvania native still is working his way up - securing transportation, setting up appointments and attending events with players such as Joe Johnson, Williams and Mike Miller on a daily basis.

This time of year, Wasserman brings all of its potential draftees to Santa Monica, Calif., where they train, live and lift daily.

So for Melchionni, that means taking the athletes to dinner, making sure they make their yoga appointments and sometimes attending media training with them.

"The goal is, you want to put your player in the best position possible, ... and the most rewarding part of the job is to have that player succeed," he said.

And as if he wasn't busy enough, Melchionni also is attending law school part-time at night, at nearby Loyola. He has two years remaining, he said, before he earns his degree.

"Right now, I'm learning from some of the senior agents in our group - so one day, I can reach that, as well," he said.

After attending the NBA Draft for the past two seasons, Melchionni was unsure whether he would make the trip to New York this week. It all depended, he said, on how many of Wasserman's clients were invited.

"It's always an exciting time, though, wherever you are," he said.

Arriving early?

Touted forward James McAdoo won't decide whether to enroll at North Carolina a year early until mid-July, his father has said.

To do so, Ronnie McAdoo added, his son - an "excellent" student who boasts good standardized test scores - needs only to pass one summer online course to be eligible to enroll at UNC in August.

But under NCAA rules, there are two ways players can qualify:

Pass 16 core courses (including four English, three math, two science and two social science), plus have the combined SAT/ACT scores and GPA as stipulated by the NCAA. (For players wanting to enter a year early, that usually means taking an English class during the summer.)

Or, earn an exception known as the "early academic certification." That means a student has to have an SAT score of 1,000 or ACT of 85, plus have a GPA of at least 3.0 in 13 core courses after the equivalent of six academic semesters. The student still has to be a high school graduate in order to be accepted by a college, but some high schools require fewer courses than the 16 designated by the NCAA to graduate. So that's where the exception can work.

Amy Herman, the assistant athletic director of compliance at UNC, said it is becoming more common to have students who play fall sports - such as soccer and football - come to college a semester early.

"But to graduate in three years, that's still not as common," Herman said.

Dribbles

All but two Tar Heels will be on campus for second summer session, which began last week. Junior Larry Drew II will spend the rest of the summer in California, training with his dad (who was recently appointed the Atlanta Hawks' coach), and sophomore Leslie McDonald returned home to Memphis, where he has reportedly signed up for the Bluff City Classic summer league.

Looking for a piece of history? Squares (and rectangles) of Duke's national championship court are being sold online ( dukenationalchampion shipcourt.com ). Prices range from $129.99 to $749.99.

robbi.pickeral@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8944

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