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Gonzaga Basketball

John Blanchette: Silas Melson has been key part of Gonzaga’s winning culture since first day on campus

Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Silas Melson shoots a 3-pointer against Saint Mary’s during the second half last  Saturday  in Moraga, California. Gonzaga won  78-65. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Silas Melson is an old soul.

So says his mother, Deidre. His father, Tony, too. The description Mark Few summons is “throwback.”

If they’re not exactly the same thing, either fits among the greatest compliments that can be handed out among the values of Gonzaga basketball, where any thread to the program’s builders and benchmarks is prized. There are other compliments, too: sacrifice, toughness, teammate, winner.

Also applicable to Silas Melson, in multiples.

You might also throw in underappreciated (if anything about Zags basketball qualifies) and taken for granted, sort of a blanket condition wherever outsized success becomes routine. But then, that’s what Melson signed up for.

“Every player – every one – if you ask about their expectations, they’ll all say, ‘I want to come to college and average 25 points a game’ and that doesn’t happen,” he said. “But I did come expecting to win. And we have.”

He gets one last chance to do it in the McCarthey Athletic Center when the Zags face Pepperdine on Saturday, the Senior Night bow for him, Jonathan Williams and manager-cum-sub Brian Pete. If Melson’s outward emotions will be on mute – they usually are – be assured his feelings for his time in this place run deep.

“He’s just our kind of guy,” said Few.

The winning kind.

It’s a mathematical inevitability, given Gonzaga’s gaudy records over the past four years, but a slight surprise nonetheless: Five more victories will make him the Zags’ second-winningest player of all time behind Przemek Karnowski. Melson stands at 118, a constant in GU’s ongoing run if never quite in the same role.

As a freshman, he was an emergency responder, shedding his planned redshirt when teammate Josh Perkins lost his season to a broken jaw.

The next two seasons he was GU’s sixth man, giving up a likely starting role last year when the Zags landed graduate transfer Jordan Mathews over the summer.

And now he’s the veteran backcourt presence and defensive soul of a balanced team – one of six players who average in double figures – carving out its own identity after the school’s run to the NCAA title game in 2017.

His highs have been high – that Final Four, wins over 13 ranked opponents, that ridiculous shooting night last month against Portland. The low? A sophomore slump that could have broken him – 0 of 17 over a stretch of five games, more than a month with just a single 3-pointer – except he wouldn’t let it.

“It was tough on him and it was tough to watch,” Tony Melson said. We had some long conversations about finding something to get him out of it, and what he figured out was that his way to stay on the court was playing defense – making himself valuable that way. He had to learn to persevere, fight harder.

“He lost some of himself during all that, but he also found himself through that struggle.”

Melson’s natural reserve seemed to harden a bit during that time, but that’s all relative.

“I used to say, if you could get 11 words out of him,” said Tony, “he likes you.”

And yet he’s often the media’s first stop in the postgame locker scrums – thoughtful in unexpected ways, equipped to look at the big picture, capable of a dry line or unearthing a telling fact.

“When he was 3, 4, 5, he’d sit with his dad and his dad’s friends watching games,” Deidre recalled, “and in the middle of all their noise he’d be silent. They’d forget about him. And then at the commercial, he’d rattle off stats to his dad.”

The old soul – and a dedicated one. A talented quarterback and pitcher, he ditched those sports “when I realized my chances of getting to college could be pretty slim unless I got serious about basketball,” he said. Three blocks from his Portland home was Jefferson High School, and at Oregon’s best prep basketball school he carved out his own niche with a pair of state championships.

So he didn’t have to learn about winning at Gonzaga and has, as Few said, “made a lot of winning plays for us.”

A throwback? Think of the Ryan Floyds and Mike Nilsons at the start of this crazy GU story, or Gary Bell more recently. He’s of their kind, but part of the Gonzaga whole.

“It’s a culture here,” Melson said. “You see it at the big-time schools – Duke, North Carolina. Shoot, now we’re up there. You see former players at the games. You feel it here when you walk through the door. Robert Sacre’s here every summer. You run into Adam Morrison in the gym. John Stockton’s lifting weights.

“It’s hard to be a bad apple in that culture, the guy who’s not a Zag. It’s instilled in you and you’ll carry it with you the rest of your life.”