By Sean Hartnett
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Carmelo Anthony has always been mentally strong. Growing up in Baltimore instilled a toughness that Anthony has carried with him throughout his life. It's something he's had to call upon during the low points in his career and has fueled his motivation to prove an army of naysayers wrong.
There have been plenty of peaks and valleys throughout his basketball life. Early into his tenth season in the NBA, Anthony is finally putting it all together. From Day 1, it was apparent that Melo was extremely gifted on the offensive end of the court. Now, at 28, Anthony is combining elements of desire, defensive focus and selflessness to go along with his all-world ability.
It's been a long journey for Melo to finally mold himself into the player everyone expected. Anthony is leading the NBA with 26.8 points per game and is averaging 7.4 rebounds per game. More than that, he's inspiring belief into a Knicks club few believed would be the NBA's last standing undefeated team at 5-0.
CBS Sports college basketball insider Jon Rothstein, WFAN late-night host of "JJ After Dark" John Jastremski, and WFAN Knicks writer John Schmeelk have joined me to discuss Anthony's journey to finally reaching his full potential.
Melo Announced Himself To The World By Delivering The NCAA Title As A Freshman
West Baltimore courts educated and shaped Anthony's basketball education that took him all the way to Syracuse University, where as a true freshman he led the Orange to a memorable run toward winning their first-ever national championship under esteemed head coach Jim Boeheim.
It was at Syracuse that Melo announced his greatness to the world, but he was also challenged by Boeheim to embrace a leadership role as a freshman and understand how to play with other great players in order to fit into the Orange's team dynamic.
Rothstein: "Coach Boeheim gave him great freedom. It was freedom, but it was also responsibility because Carmelo was going to dictate where Syracuse went.
"I don't think anyone had any question that they good enough to win a national championship that entire year because they had the best player in college basketball and that obviously manifested itself in the NCAA Tournament."
Melo wasn't the only Syracuse freshman generating a buzz nationally as sharpshooting guard Gerry McNamara combined with Anthony to give the Orange a devastating one-two punch.
Rothstein: "You could tell instantly that he and Carmelo were in sync, and there were several games where that continued throughout that season. It really came to a climax in the Final Four. The great thing about great one-two punches is they don't have a problem allowing the other one to take center stage.
"He had to learn how to play with other great players and there were great players on that Syracuse team. Not just Gerry McNamara, but also Billy Edelin and Hakim Warrick. A big part of that Syracuse team being so successful was Kueth Duany, who was the elder statesman of that national championship team."
Anthony's role in delivering the Orange at National Championship boosted his stock ahead of the 2003 NBA Draft along with his 22.1 points per game and 10.0 rebounds per game. He was selected third overall following LeBron James and Darko Milicic by the Denver Nuggets.
Jastremski: "He was a big-time winner at Syracuse. That success for whatever the reason, mainly because of a tough Western Conference and partially an immature Carmelo Anthony was the main reason why he's only gotten out the first round once in his NBA career."
Melo produced elite offensive outputs in during his eight seasons in Denver, but received constant criticism for a lack of focus, poor conditioning and found himself in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Rothstein: "You get humbled when you're constantly being chastised for things you don't want to be associated with.
"He's at the point now where he's made a ton of money, he's played in the NBA for a long time, he's accomplished everything from a business perspective that he can want to accomplish. Now, it's about leaving his mark in the win-loss column -- and that's obviously what's most important to him."
Expectations were heightened when Anthony joined the New York Knicks in a multi-player trade which shipped popular Knicks Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler to Denver. Knicks fans salivated at the prospect of seeing Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire paired together, but injuries and chemistry issues dogged their partnership from fully blossoming.
Woodson's Philosophies Are Getting Through To Melo
In his first full season under Knicks head coach Mike Woodson, Melo is taking on responsibility on ends of the court. Woodson has gotten through to Anthony who is embracing the role as the Knicks' team leader and teammates are following his example.
Schmeelk: "I think you've seen a significant amount of growth this year under Mike Woodson -- who shows the type of 'tough love' that a guy like Carmelo Anthony needs to become the player he has the ability to become.
"Accountability is the word the Knicks and Mike Woodson like to use. I don't think Mike D'Antoni did a great job of yelling at the star player when he's not doing a good job. Woodson is doing it in a constructive way. It's teaching and at the same, it's scolding.
"Mike Woodson is getting him to give effort on the boards and on defense. He's connected with Anthony. Let's see him keep this up for the entire season."
Improved Point Guard Play Paying Off For Melo
After acquiring Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni this offseason -- the Knicks now have three savvy, experienced options at point guard and Melo is seeing the benefit of having a collection of talented point guards feeding him the rock.
Jastremski: "Last year, you saw it when Jeremy Lin went down and Baron Davis and Mike Bibby were running the point -- the Knicks really didn't have a legitimate option at point guard. It helps having a guy like Jason Kidd who has veteran leadership and Raymond Felton who was very successful with the Knicks two years ago.
"For some reason, this guy (Felton) brings his 'A-Game' when he comes back to Madison Square Garden. It helps having a guy like Jason Kidd in the huddle who brings leadership. It's going to keep a guy like Carmelo Anthony in line."
Schmeelk: "A huge difference with Carmelo this year has been point guard play. They can get the ball where he needs to get it. More importantly, he trusts those guys to do something good with the ball if he passes it to them.
"Last year, Melo's supporting cast was so inept at times -- he was afraid to pass the ball. He had to score 40. I think he buys into the fact that he passes out of double teams this year -- the Knicks can still succeed and score. Carmelo's not always the one taking the shots. Those point guards have instilled an unselfish nature in the team and a confidence in the team that has really made the difference."
When Comes Down To It, Playoff Success Is What Melo Will Be Judged By
Anthony has been outspoken about this season finally being his time. The same critics who've questioned Melo throughout his career are now using LeBron James' success as a measuring stick.
Jastremski: "Melo is realizing at this point in his career -- it's time to almost put up or shut up. Everything has been catered around him. This is his team and now he's got to go out there and deliver.
"If you look at Melo when he had his most successful season, it was around the same time as the Olympic games. Carmelo had a real good Olympics in Bejing and it translated into the regular season. The Nuggets got Chauncey Billups -- that team made it all the way to the Conference finals.
"I think you're going to see something similar here this year. Playing the Olympics this summer certainly helped him. He's got a little bit of extra motivation now, his buddies in down South Beach have a World Championship."
Rothstein: "In basketball, there's a good saying -- do what you do. When the time comes for those two play again potentially in the playoffs we'll see if Carmelo has augmented his game."
Jastremski: "They are placating this team around Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and around Tyson Chandler. The idea of going for it and winning now is a good idea. It's a 'put up or shut up' type period. If they don't go deep into the playoffs over the next couple of years, come three years down the line when their contracts all expire -- you're probably going to turn in a different direction.
"It doesn't make sense for the Knicks to not put their best foot forward. It starts and it ends with Carmelo Anthony. He's your 'Alpha Dog.' He needs to be successful if the Knicks are going to be successful. You might as well go out there and bring in as many veteran pieces that will help Anthony try to bring home his first NBA Championship."
The Time Is Now For Melo To Write His NBA Legacy
Winning titles are ultimately what Melo's career will be judged by and he knows it. It's been a long journey for Melo, but he's come out of it a more mature individual. All of his missteps are in the past. He's in his prime, he finally has a deeply talented supporting cast around him. As Jastremski said, it's "put up or shut up" time for Carmelo Anthony.
The ball is in his court.
Has Melo's time finally come? Sound off below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.
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