Carmelo Anthony was as accomplished a high school basketball player as any who preceded him.
He was a Parade All-American, a USA Today All-American, a Sprite Slam Jam Dunk Contest winner, a McDonald's All-American, a Wendy's, Arby's, Hardee's, Burger King, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell All-American.
You get the point.
Even out of high school, he could have been a top-two pick in the 2002 NBA Draft. Take a look at the top ten picks that year:
- Yao Ming
- Jay Williams
- Mike Dunleavy, Jr.
- Drew Gooden
- Nikoloz Tskitishvili
- Dajuan Wagner
- Chris Wilcox
- Amare Stoudemire
- Caron Butler
Tell me that Melo wouldn't have gone ahead of everyone of those guys except maybe Yao Ming.
Jumping straight to the NBA was a possibility.
But Carmelo was willing to wait.
April 7, 2003
Anthony had the type of freshman season that most kids could only dream about. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim gave him the keys to the car straight out high school.
With a little bit of help from teammates like Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara, Melo led the school to it's only national championship scoring 20 points, pulling down 10 rebounds, and dishing out seven assists in the 81-78 win over the Kansas Jayhawks.
He was on top of the world.
His decision not to enter the NBA straight out of high school had proved to be a smart one. His game had developed tremendously over the course of the season and his value increased.
June 27, 2003
It was a foregone conclusion that Melo's buddy LeBron James would be the top pick in the 2003 draft. The Detroit Pistons, already a powerhouse in the Eastern Conference, owned the rights to the Grizzlies pick thanks to a trade for Otis Thorpe that was made when the Grizzlies were still playing in Vancouver.
But the Pistons were dead-set on taking a Serbian forward/center named Darko Milicic who had impressed scouts while playing in Europe.
Melo didn't mind. He was willing to wait.
The Denver Nuggets took him with the third overall pick. He would be the franchise player on a team that was rebuilding from scratch. They had freed up cap space to sign Kenyon Martin and Andre Miller and traded Antonio McDyess to the Knicks for a Brazilian center/forward no one had ever heard of named Nene Hilario.
The Nuggets had even changed their uniforms to change the perception of a team that was mired in mediocrity.
Once again, Anthony was being counted to lead a team from the get-go and he seemed up for the challenge.
April 20, 2004
Anthony finishes a close second to James in the NBA's Rookie of the Year voting. He even received 40 of the 118 first-place votes. As good as James was that rookie season, people forget that more than 1/3 of the first-place votes went to Anthony.
But Melo was cool with it.
June 15, 2004
The Detroit Pistons close out the Los Angeles Lakers to win their first championship since 1990. The last man on the bench, Darko Milicic, wins an NBA title in his rookie season.
Melo could have been on that team.
But again he didn't care.
It didn't take long for terms like "not caring" and being "cool with it," which were once used as complimentary terms to describe his patience, to turn into criticisms.
Anthony was involved in numerous incidents, both on the floor and off, that made critics question his desire to live up to his potential.
It wasn't bad enough that Anthony had to watch as Dwyane Wade, the fifth player picked in the 2003 Draft, won an NBA Finals' MVP and James become a Finals' runner-up in 2007. He now had to deal with questions about his maturity and judgment.
October 21, 2004 - Anthony is busted with weed in his backpack. His friend takes the fall for him.
December 2, 2004 - Anthony is featured on a DVD entitled "Stop Snitching" that shows drug dealers explaining what happens to those who cooperate with the police.
December 20, 2006 - Anthony is suspended 15 games for sucker-punching Jared Jeffries in a game four days earlier.
April 14, 2008 - Anthony is arrested on suspicion of drunk driving on the eve of the playoffs.
April 28, 2008 - The Nuggets are swept by the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs.
Things got so bad that Anthony and his agent, Calvin Andrews, had requested a meeting with the Nuggets to discuss rumors that head coach George Karl wanted Anthony traded.
After five seasons in the league and two All-Star selections, the word "bust" was starting to follow him like the cloud that followed Schleprock in the old Flintstones cartoons.
Nobody thought that Anthony wasn't a great basketball player. It just seemed that way because of the expectations people had—especially when compared with James and Wade. Somewhere along the way, the expected James vs. Melo rivalry had turned into James vs. Wade.
The 2008-09 season has been much kinder to Melo.
It started with a gold medal Anthony helped bring back to the United States in Beijing. The Olympics forced him to forget about the previous season's failures and absorb as much as he could from the likes of James, Wade, Kobe Bryant, and Jason Kidd.
Gone are the trademark braids and mini boiler that seemed to stretch out over the elastic of his basketball shorts.
Anthony looks as if he's in the best physical shape of his life and surrounded by teammates who all seem to be fed up with their reputations for being knuckleheads.
The freakish back-up center who served a two-year suspension from violating the league's substance abuse policy now looks to be one of the biggest winners of this summer's free agent market.
The fifth-year shooting guard with limitless potential who amassed five driver's license suspensions in eight months and killed his best friend when he sped through a stop sign looks like he's finally taking responsibility for his life.
The former top pick in the 2000 NBA Draft who was suspended during the 2006 Playoffs for conduct detrimental to his team finally looks healthy after multiple knee surgeries.
The addition of Chauncey Billups has given the Nuggets their first legitimate shot at a championship since the days of Doug Moe and Alex English.
Denver is just four wins shy of putting Anthony back into the conversation as the best player from the 2003 Draft. While Nike and Vitamin Water have been doing their best to hype up a possible Kobe vs. LeBron match-up in the NBA Finals, Melo and the Nuggets will try their hand at bringing back the LeBron vs. Carmelo debate.
Sure Melo has a ways to go before surpassing James. But should Anthony win his first ring at the expense of denying James his, then Anthony will have finally proved all of the doubters wrong and put his career back on the Hall of Fame track.
There's an old saying that I like to throw out when I'm out to dinner with friends and everyone is tired of waiting for their food to arrive: "Starvation is the best sauce."
It might take Anthony six years to reach the mountain top, but you can be sure that it might taste better for Anthony than it would for James or even Kobe Bryant (should he return to the mountain top).
While Bryant's attitude and leadership ability have been questioned, he's never had to deal with questions about his talent, work ethic, or desire the way Melo has.
With eight more victories, Anthony can quiet all the critics and prove that it was all worth the wait...once and for all.