SYRACUSE, N.Y. – A year ago, Fab Melo was crowned before he even stepped on Jim Boeheim Court.
Recruiting services anointed the 7-foot Brazilian one of the top players in his class, a can't-miss. He was voted Big East preseason rookie of the year, then went out and only displayed flashes of excellence in what turned into a so-so season of learning with Syracuse.
One year later, Melo is in the best shape of his life after an active summer and seems ready to live up to the hype. He had 14 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 18 minutes to lead the fifth-ranked Orange past Division II Cal State-Los Angeles 79-49 in an exhibition game on Tuesday night.
"It felt different," Melo said. "I feel lighter on the court. I can move better. That's what made the difference tonight."
It showed right after the opening tip. Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine fed Melo lobs for consecutive dunks, and Melo converted another feed from Jardine for an easy lay-in to help the Orange to an early lead.
"He almost had a double-double," said Kris Joseph, who is recovering from a sore right knee but finished with 11 points. "We need him to be that high-energy guy for us, that big 7-footer down there. Guys need to fear him down low. We had Rick (Jackson) as an inside presence last year and we need Fab to do the same for us this year."
Jackson, defensive player of the year in the Big East, had a stellar senior season, averaging 13.1 points and 10.3 rebounds in a team-high 35.6 minutes per game. He also blocked 86 shots while rotating between power forward and center.
"Every rebound, that's my focus," said Melo, who dropped 18 pounds in the offseason while playing in the World University Games. "I think that was the problem I had last year. I wasn't hitting the glass."
Syracuse, which hosts Fordham in its season opener next week, led by as many as 15 points in the first half. It let the Golden Eagles back in the game with some sloppy play, then took charge in the second half as coach Jim Boeheim substituted often, giving the entire bench some court time.
Jardine finished with nine points and seven assists. Freshman Michael Carter-Williams had six points, five assists and three turnovers in 20 minutes, and 6-10 center Baye Moussa Keita had a team-high nine rebounds.
"I thought Fab and Baye were real good," Boeheim said. "They were really active. They showed a lot of advancement from last year. I think it was a good game. I think it'll really help us and our preparation going forward."
The Orange finished with 20 assists on 30 baskets, and registered 12 blocks and 11 steals. They also outrebounded the smaller Golden Eagles 53-38. But Syracuse also committed 17 turnovers against a lower-division foe.
"There's still some chemistry that we need to build, and that'll come with more practice and more game time," Joseph said.
Quinton Watkins had 15 points and Carl Hoffman added 11 points and eight rebounds for Cal State-Los Angeles, which is coached by Stephen Thompson, the Orange's seventh career leading scorer.
Thompson played for Syracuse from 1986-90 and is in his seventh season with the Golden Eagles. He was impressed by his former team.
"This team has so much talent," Thompson said. "It's going to be a hard test for any team they play. If these guys start clicking, I see a machine."
Leading by only seven points at the break, Syracuse used a 16-6 spurt to take control early in the second half as the Golden Eagles found it difficult getting an open look. Cal State-Los Angeles went more than 8 minutes between baskets, converting nine free throws as the Orange fouled often while pulling away.
Melo's follow off a miss by Trevor Cooney gave Syracuse a 60-40 lead with 8:49 left.