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Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Updated: March 15, 10:22 AM ET
Syracuse stands behind Fab Melo

By Dana O'Neil
ESPN.com

PITTSBURGH -- A tight-lipped Jim Boeheim would not elaborate on the suspension of center Fab Melo, but insisted neither he nor his players were disappointed in their sophomore big man.

The Syracuse coach took his turn at the podium for his required media session on Wednesday, the day before his top-seeded Orange face UNC Asheville in the second round of the NCAA tournament. But, he could offer little in the way of clarification on Melo's ineligibility.

"I can't talk about any of this but I will say he didn't let anybody down in my opinion, all right?" Boeheim said. "I know that's out there. I don't believe that to be true."

Syracuse on Tuesday announced Melo had been declared ineligible and would not be available for the rest of the season.

Sources have told ESPN.com the suspension is an academic issue related to the one that kept Melo out for three games earlier this year. A source confirmed Wednesday the NCAA also is involved.

Boeheim, however, declined comment when pressed on the particulars, reiterating only that he learned of Melo's ineligibility Tuesday.

Asked if he was concerned his team could be punished retroactively for using an ineligible player -- Melo played 10 games between the first and second suspensions -- Boeheim shrugged.

"We'll see what happens," he said. "I can't comment on anything about this."

The players learned they would have to move on without the Big East Defensive Player of the Year in the huddle at the end of Tuesday's practice.

"We were upset, especially since this is the last ride," Dion Waiters said. "We would love for everybody to be here."

Afterward, Melo addressed the team.

"He apologized to us for not being able to be here," Brandon Triche said. "But we're not angry. We're a family; we're a team. We always have everybody's back."

Adversity is nothing new to this bunch.

The Orange have managed to win 31 games despite a myriad of off-court distractions.

In December, associate head coach Berne Fine was accused of sexual abuse and subsequently fired, though no charges have been filed. Melo was suspended in January, and just last week, on the heels of a Yahoo! Sports report, the university admitted it was under NCAA investigation for possible infractions involving its drug-testing policy.

"We don't pay it no mind; we play basketball, that's it," Scoop Jardine said. "We go to class and play basketball. Everything off the court, it doesn't even matter. If we do that, everything will take care of itself. We did it all year. We're 31-2, right?"

But the loss of Melo is a little different because it is not merely an off-court distraction. This directly affects one of the national championship favorites on the court. Syracuse is not a particularly great team offensively, riding the back of its zone defense to a record-setting season.

Melo, who alters as many shots as he blocks, serves as the anchor on the back line of that zone. His replacements, Baye Keita and Rakeem Christmas, have experience but neither has the bulk of Melo.

Compared to the 7-foot, 244-pound Melo, Christmas, a freshman, is 6-9 and only 222 pounds and Keita, a sophomore, checks in at 6-10, 213.

"Everything that happens affects you in some way," Boeheim said. "Life's about trying to overcome whatever has happened to you and getting yourself ready to do the next thing. The players, all they can do is go to practice and work as hard as they can in practice. They've done that. But as far as their innermost feelings, I have no idea exactly. Obviously nobody likes to not have their teammate with them. That's going to have an effect on them mentally. But it's my job to get them to play at the highest level they can tomorrow."