PBA player Justin Melton examines options after retirement

His American father inspired him to play basketball. Photos courtesy of Justin Melton

By Wendell Gaa

Basketball is a sport which is practically ingrained in the blood of Filipinos and FilAms alike. Whether or not we may be active players  — I’m not one myself unlike my late father Ambassador Willy Gaa and younger brother —  it is the one sport which bonds Filipinos globally, from the arena to the family living room. 

Meeting a former professional FilAm basketball athlete is surely not something I get to experience every day, let alone here in Ankara, Türkiye, where I am currently assigned with the Philippine Embassy.  Yet that is exactly what recently happened upon my meeting with Justin Melton, a recently retired FilAm player for the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA).

Justin’s professional basketball career spans a total of 12 years in different parts of the globe, during which he had played for such teams as the Clinesp Artur Noguiera in Brazil, the Philippine National team in Dubai and Hong Kong, the Westport Dragons (ABL) in Malaysia and the San Mig Coffee/Magnolia and Blackwater Elite in the Philippines.   

He was born in 1987 in Angeles City, Pampanga to an American father Donnie Melton and Filipina mother Cecilia Fortes, who had first met in the Philippines and then were married in Germany.  Donnie Melton had been stationed with the U.S. Air Force at what was then Clark Air Force Base in Pampanga, hence his father’s job required geographic mobility for Justin’s family akin to that of a diplomatic lifestyle.  Justin spent part of his youth growing up in South Carolina and Okinawa, Japan.  But it was in Yorktown, Virginia where he had spent his formative years, right where he attended Tabb High School before studying at the University of Mount Olive.

The author with Melton at the Philippine Embassy in Ankara. Photo courtesy of Wendell Gaa
A basketball player for 12 years, Melton played across the globe including Dubai and Hong Kong.

From a very young age, Justin’s father had inspired him to play basketball. 

“He used to take me with him to the gym and I’d sit and watch him play for hours,” he fondly recalled. “It planted a seed in me at a young age and I’ve been obsessed with playing basketball ever since.”      

His proudest accomplishments as a professional player have been winning a Grandslam tournament with the San Mig Coffee Mixers, winning a Slam Dunk Contest, and being able to play as a professional for a long period, which for him is a huge achievement unto itself. 

Justin officially retired from playing professional basketball just last January 2023, and as of last month just made a big move here to Türkiye, where he is currently based in the beautiful city of Izmir along the country’s western Mediterranean coast. 

“My plan now is to stay involved with basketball from a coaching or agent position while also using my background in design,” he said. 

“I have been fortunate to travel and visit a lot of different countries, but Türkiye has a special place,” he added.  “The vibe of the country is what really attracts me.”

Justin’s plans for the moment include receiving his International Basketball Federation (FIBA) license, start a training position/coaching and jumpstart a business as well.  In a country which like the Philippines is home to many basketball aficionados, Justin’s prospective career here seems promising.  

As for what advice he has for anyone who wishes to pursue a career in professional basketball, he can only say, “Don’t stop.  You will come across a lot of things that will discourage you, but learn to be resilient through it all.  Develop a habit of setting small goals and reaching them.  The work it takes to get there is not easy and there are no shortcuts, but if you are possessed with this dream, that in itself will propel you to always push yourself to be great.” 

With Justin doing his part in contributing to the greatness of the sport, along with the fact that the Philippines will be co-hosting this year’s FIBA World Cup in August-September 2023 together with Indonesia and Japan, there can never be a more exciting time to be a basketball fan!

(C) The FilAm 2023

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