High School Basketball

With Arnold's leadership and Melchiorre's emergence, Mustangs boast district title hopes

By Dennis Silva II, Sports Editor
Posted 12/22/20

There are two major differences for Taylor’s boys basketball team this season. Two considerable dynamics that have the Mustangs brimming with district championship aspirations.

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High School Basketball

With Arnold's leadership and Melchiorre's emergence, Mustangs boast district title hopes

Posted

There are two major differences for Taylor’s boys basketball team this season. Two considerable dynamics that have the Mustangs brimming with district championship aspirations.

One is the addition of 6-foot-4 sophomore center Elijah Melchiorre, whose energy and passion have been welcomed. The other is the evolving leadership of star senior guard Jake Arnold, whose commitment to making those around him better has propelled the Mustangs another level.

Taylor is 8-2 overall, 2-0 in District 19-6A. In a wide-open district, the Mustangs are confident the 19-6A title can be theirs.

“Experience is the biggest thing,” said Arnold, averaging 26 points per game. “We pretty much returned all of the guys from last year, and we just have a lot more confidence. We have a great core that gets along and we all cheer each other on. These guys just fight really hard for each other.”

Arnold returns as Taylor’s go-to guy, one of the top scorers in the Greater Houston area for the second consecutive season. But he has more help around him, including Melchiorre, who has emerged as an invaluable contributor.

In the Mustangs’ 54-50 win over Mayde Creek on Dec. 22, Melchiorre had 13 points and seven rebounds. He finished well around the rim and attacked the glass.

But the youngster’s major influence has come off the court. Melchiorre’s enthusiasm and positivity have been infectious, coach Matthew Brayton said.

“Elijah has fit in really well,” Brayton said. “The guys embrace him because he’s the loudest guy on the court all the time. He’s the loudest one in practice, in games. In my 20 years of coaching, I can count on two hands the guys who are as loud as he is all the time. It’s amazing. Everyone just starts following.”

Brayton said, skill-wise, Melchiorre has a lot of room to improve. That’s expected of a player who was suiting up for the freshman ‘A’ team last season.

“But he competes,” Brayton said. “He’s not afraid of this level. He’s got a chance to be pretty special.”

Melchiorre credited Arnold and the rest of his teammates for helping him become mentally tougher and find his way in the varsity game.

“Last season, I wasn’t very tough,” Melchiorre said. “Then, when I got into the offseason, those guys like Jake pushed me. I started to understand I had to take it up a notch. Credit to those guys, man, they pushed me to the limits. Now I’m tougher and I’m a lot more confident. I just can’t let my guard down.”

Arnold said Melchiorre brings a “fire” to the team that it didn’t have last season.

“I was raised to never slack, never settle,” said Melchiorre, who is averaging 12.5 points per game in district play. “Always work your hardest, no matter the situation. It doesn’t matter what I’ve got going on behind the scenes. When it’s game time, it’s game time.”

But perhaps the biggest difference in this year’s Mustangs, Brayton said, is in Arnold. Of course, the 6-3 sniper is a natural scorer and skilled playmaker. But the Houston Baptist signee has taken a step forward as a leader.

Just as Arnold has aided Melchiorre’s cause, he has made sure to do that for all of his teammates. Brayton said Arnold focused on making everyone around him more confident during the offseason. That meant sacrificing open shots to pass off to another open teammate during scrimmages or practice drills, not the easiest decision for someone Brayton calls the most competitive payer he’s coached.

“He wants to do everything he can to help this team,” Brayton said. “That’s his biggest growth, which is saying something because his game is pretty good and has improved so much since his sophomore year. But the way he leads this team, always talking to guys and making sure they’re watching video and staying focused, it’s impressive to see.”

Arnold working tirelessly to engage his teammates is paying off. Take the Mayde Creek game, for example. When Arnold sat most of the second half due to foul trouble, senior guard Luke St. Julien and junior guard Brett Wakefield stepped up.

Wakefield, in particular, was exceptional, scoring seven points in a close game in the fourth quarter to keep Taylor afloat.

“It all starts in practice,” Wakefield said. “There’s times when Jake won’t be in certain drills and we know how to step in and play. When one guy goes down, we can’t give in. Everyone has to do something to step up.”

When the game remained tight in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, Arnold was inserted back in. Down the stretch, whenever the Rams got within a bucket of the Mustangs, Arnold responded. He scored six of his team-high 18 points in the final two minutes, finishing off what Melchiorre and Wakefield helped start.

“It began in the beginning with us, from offseason to practices to games,” Melchiorre said. “We have what it takes. We have the skills, we have the leadership in guys like Jake. All I know is we’re on the way. District champs, man. That’s the only thing on our minds right now.”

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