Jared Leveson (@jared_leveson)
NEWTOWN — Luke Melniczak’s childhood went against the grain. His mother, Dana, homeschooled her four sons and started with the oldest, Luke.
Instead of taking the bus or getting dropped off every morning, Luke and his younger brothers Ryan, Trey, and Justin started their day with chores like sweeping the floors, wiping down tables, and cleaning toilets.
“Which was never fun,” the sophomore guard said about bathroom duty.
Then the brothers situated themselves at their individual desks in the living room and cracked open their subject books that were bought from an online curriculum. They worked through them from 9:00am to 1:30pm under mom’s guidance and once they were finished: no homework.
More free time meant more play, thus more basketball, and Melniczak fell in love quickly.
The 6-foot-2 guard has always dealt with being the “homeschooled” kid and the transition to The George School’s 265-acre campus was unsurprisingly difficult. But basketball has always helped Melniczak fit in. The Langhorne native is coming off the bench this season, but he’s doing whatever is needed of him, whether it be guarding Christian Bliss in practice or knocking down 3-pointers to help George School win games.
Melniczak, who’s averaging 10 minutes per game this season, made his largest impact of his George school career in their biggest game of the season so far.
The sophomore came off the bench and scored 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point land and added three rebounds in George’s 75-52 win over the Academy of the New Church, taking a huge step toward securing the FSL regular-season title on Tuesday night.
Ben Luber (above) has George on the verge of the FSL's top seed. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“We didn’t really have that all year,” Luber said about Melniczak’s sharpshooting. “(His) teammates trusted him after he hit one and it was contagious.”
“It’s a beautiful thing because he’s prepared for a moment (like this) and he wasn’t greedy along the way. He kept working and he’s been a great teammate.”
“I try to come off the bench to give out energy,” Melniczak added. “Once I hit that first shot, everything fell. I felt comfortable out there, felt confident, and then the next ones came, and it was a good feeling.”
He always used basketball as a tool, helping him feel confident and make friends, something that is hard to do when your only classmates are your younger brothers.
“Every time I say it people are always surprised,” Melniczak said. “My mom was originally a teacher and when she had me she stopped teaching and (my parents) decided to homeschool me and my brothers.”
Melniczak didn’t have recess or questionable cafeteria lunches like the other kids in his neighborhood. Snow days were also few and far in-between.
“If everyone was outside on a snowy day she’d give us that day, but most of the time we had to do the work because we didn’t need to go anywhere.”
But he could not avoid the dreaded quizzes and tests that keep students up at night. He got tested on every subject each week and got graded accordingly.
Along with tests, organized sports were a traditional experience that Melniczak participated in.
Basketball is in Melniczak’s blood. Both mom and dad, Dana and Steve Melniczak, scored 1,000 points at Division III Cairn University. Melniczak got introduced to basketball in the first grade. He played soccer too, but each sport offered him more than exercise and fun. It gave Melniczak camaraderie.
“If it wasn’t for sports,” he said. “I probably wouldn’t have a lot of friends. If I didn’t have sports, I don’t know…”
Playing grassroots basketball in the summer was never an issue because his teammates went to all different schools. But everything got harder for the naturally shy Melniczak when he played for Maple Point middle school. Melniczak commuted to the school and joined the team for practice and games.
“That was weird,” Melniczak said. “Because they are all going to school together and I would come in and nobody knew who I was. But I got used to it.
“People would give me weird looks because they don’t know what (homeschooling) is but for the most part people were accepting about it.”
The urge to think about how things could’ve been different if Melniczak attended a traditional school is irresistable. But he’s grateful for the decision his parents made because of the strong bong his family created during their time together.
“I feel like I would’ve been different if I went to normal school,” he added. “There were moments where I thought it would be cool to be at a school with friends and all that, but I loved the experiences that I had.
“(Homeschooling) has brought me close to my family and we all have a great relationship with everyone. (My parents) grew me into a strong person that way.”
The plan was always for Melniczak to attend a traditional school and play high school basketball. Steve, now an assistant coach at George, got the ball rolling when he heard Ben Luber was taking over the George program and asked for Luber to workout with Melniczak.
Melniczak was in 8th grade at the time and worked out with Luber four different times and eventually recommended that he consider attending George. The decision to attend George was an easy yes with the prospect of playing under Luber, a former point guard at Penn State.
“I saw a great kid who loved the game and wanted to compete at the highest level,” Luber said over text.
Melniczak competed against ANC, jump-starting a 10-0 Cougars’ run by draining a corner ‘3’ off an assist from Dante Weise during the opening minutes of the second quarter. He hit another from the same spot later in the quarter, helping George out-pace ANC (12-3, 5-1) at the halftime break, 40-30.
Bliss and Kachi Nzeh took over and put the game away in the third quarter, combining for 19 points. But Melniczak’s contributions were critical for George’s (16-3, 6-1) success against first place ANC and emblematic of the program that Luber had built at 1690 Langhorne Newtown Rd.
Luber’s core foundation is becoming good teammates going “all-in” for one another whether your number is called or you're sitting on the bench. Melniczak got to play the role of contributor on Tuesday night.
“Luke Melniczak deserves to be talked about,” Luber added. “He hasn’t shot like that and (he did it) against the FSL’s first-place team.”
“He let things come to him and that's what happens to good teammates who work hard. His teammates rewarded him by finding him. He’s been waiting for that and some people act a certain way when they don’t get (the ball), he doesn't, and that's what you get in return. He’s been putting his time in.”
The sophomore has taken his lumps guarding Bliss and Weise, both scholarship-level guards, every day in practice. But Melniczak is learning from each time he gets crossed over, blown by, or clamped up. Bliss and Weise both offer their advice and describe their process when Melniczak asks questions.
“I’m not taking Dante and Christian out and he knows that,” Luber said about Melniczak’s approach. “Playing against those two everyday helps develop and prepare (him) for (more) moments like this.”
“I know when I’m in there I’m not going to be the ball handler,” Melniczak added. “I try to play off them, get to the open spots for their assets and bring energy when I'm out there. Right now my role on the team is a big 3-and-D guy.
“I think I can definitely be a ball-handler for the team and a slasher.”
Melniczak understandably arrived at George as a shy and nervous freshman, adjusting from eating lunch with his three brothers everyday to sharing a dining hall with around 600 other students.
But even though his school environment changed dramatically, one thing stayed constant — basketball.
“I didn’t know anybody,” Melniczak said. “I wasn’t used to this big environment, but after a few days I got comfortable (because) the players were great. All the players reached out to me, telling me if I needed anything or had any questions about the school that I could ask them.
“They are all great teammates.”
ANC: 14 | 16 | 9 | 13 || 52
George: 15 | 25 | 21 | 14 || 75
ANC: Tavarez 17, Keel 16, Waldon 10, Carter 5, Laster 4
George: Bevilacqua 17, Bliss 16, Nzeh 16, Melniczak 12, Mastin 7, Weise 7