FAIRMONT, W.Va. — Thinking back on the 2016-2017 basketball season, Fairmont State’s Kenzie Melko-Marshall can only smile.
Less than eight months earlier, Melko-Marshall was instrumental in helping Morgantown High win its first state championship on the hardwood, while becoming the first Class AAA team to finish unbeaten in 31 seasons.
After staying nearby to play at Fairmont State, Melko-Marshall was informed he would redshirt to start his college career under then-Falcons’ head coach Jerrod Calhoun.
“I wasn’t happy with the decision when it was made,” Melko-Marshall recalled. “I thought I deserved to be on the floor and thought I was good enough to be on the floor.”
A few weeks into practicing with several of the more decorated players in Fairmont State history, Melko-Marshall discovered why he had been asked to redshirt for a team that ended national runner-up.
“I quickly figured out that this level is really, really good,” he said. “I was behind an All-American (Matt Bingaya) and a first-team all-region guy (Thomas Wimbush).”
Three full years and three head coaches later, the 6-foot-4 Melko-Marshall has developed into one of the Falcons’ top players and recently wrapped up his best season yet.
“The redshirt season is the best thing that ever happened to me in my basketball career,” Melko-Marshall said.
As a junior, Melko-Marshall earned All-Mountain East Conference second-team honors after averaging 14.8 points and 4.9 rebounds. Earlier this month, he came the 51st player in school history to reach 1,000 career points.
“There were points of the season I was happy with how I was playing and I had a few really good games,” Melko-Marshall said. “Other games I didn’t shoot the ball as well, and towards the end of the year, I probably could’ve played better.”
The end of the year came sooner than Melko-Marshall and the Falcons could have ever envisioned. After setting a school record for regular seasons wins in a coach’s first year under Tim Koenig, Fairmont State (23-7) earned the No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament’s Atlantic Regional.
The Falcons, however, never got to to face Shippensburg in a first-round matchup after the event was canceled due to COVID-19.
“The good thing about our team was we had no seniors and everybody is coming back next year,” Melko-Marshall said. “I really feel for the seniors and spring sport athletes that don’t get to play their final season. I understand why they did it, and it’s important that we follow the regulations and things going on right now, but it definitely does suck.”
With seven juniors on this year’s team, the Falcons will be anything but short on experience for Melko-Marshall’s final collegiate campaign next season.
One of those juniors, guard Cole VonHandorf, was a first-team all-conference selection in 2020, as was fellow Falcons’ guard Dale Bonner — who claimed MEC Freshman of the Year.
“Our success came from having so many options,” Melko-Marshall said. “We had a different guy come at you every night and that’s why we were so hard to guard. With no seniors, it’ll be fun to see the chemistry we bring back.”