Jack Melen

Year: 1965 - 1969
Position: Guard
Hometown: Hackensack, NJ

Jack Melen was a Guard for the UConn Huskies from 1965 – 1969. He was known as one of the M & M boys, along with Fred Malan. Jack was captain of the team his senior year, and he averaged 10 points and 10 assists per game. I spoke with him in August 2004, about his memories of basketball at UConn, and his post-collegiate experiences.

Jack started playing basketball when he was around five years old. His dad had built a basketball court in the backyard that became like pavement even though it was built on grass. Jack played in a lot of basketball youth league programs, and when he was at Hackensack High School, his team won the league championship, and Jack was the leading scorer of the team. He was recruited to play basketball at several colleges, but only wanted to go to Duke University.

Jack decided to go to Fork Union Military Academy and Prep School in Virginia, named the Blue Devils (Duke Mascot name). While there, Jack made contact with a coach visiting the Prep School, by the name of Fred Shabel, who was then a coach at Duke, and later became a coach at UConn. Coach Shabel was interested in Jack, along with coaches from North Carolina, Univ. of Miami and South Carolina, all offering Jack a scholarship. When Jack went on a recruiting visit to UConn, he really enjoyed the atmosphere, seeing a game at the Field House, and a tour of the campus. Jack thought UConn was fantastic, and made up his mind he was going to UConn. At the time, UConn was ranked 18th in the country, higher than Duke and North Carolina.

“When I got to UConn I played freshman ball. We couldn’t play varsity as freshman. I was a starter, and was really thrilled with the whole Field House experience, watching the enthusiasm of the fans, and watching people sleep out for tickets. It’s like one of my biggest thrills, running out on the court for warm-ups at UConn, to that crowd. They used to have police line the entrance where we came out, and the place used to just go crazy with the pep band. I get goose bumps just thinking about it now. It’s just unbelievable.” The following year, playing on the varsity team, Jack said he had the opportunity to play with some real legends, Bill Holowaty, Dick Thompson, Tom Penders and Wes Bialosuknia, and was able to learn a lot. That team went to the National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament, but lost to Boston College in the first round. The following year the team played well, and Jack had an excellent game against Syracuse with 21 points in the first half. UConn won, and it was a big upset because Syracuse was a ranked team. Another good game for Jack that year was against Rhode Island, he had scored 25 points and UConn won, knocking Rhode Island out of the Yankee Conference Championship. His senior year was a bit of a disappointment. Even though he was captain of the team, he only played five games, due to an ankle injury. It was a rebuilding year for the young guys coming up. It was the start of many good years to come. “It’s still a thrill when I look back, to have played at UConn, and be a part of that great tradition that they have in basketball, and I must say in baseball too.” While at UConn, Jack played basketball and baseball for four years.

There was quite a transition between high school/prep schools to the college level. “When you’re All-State and all this…when you go to college you can really throw all that out the window because everybody is All-State, and everyone is pretty similar, so it just comes down to who hustles more, who wants it more, and the competition was that much better at the college level.” Two memorable games were playing in the games when Wes Bialosuknia set the record for the most number of points in a game, with 50 points, and when Bill Corley broke that record with 51 points in one game, which is still the record today.

Comparing coaching styles between then and now, the difference is that Coach Calhoun has such great talent that he can play the pro style. Back when Jack was playing, they played according to the opponents, and each game they tailored things. With Coach Calhoun, the team plays his style, and the other teams have to cope with it.

Jack and his co-captain backcourt teammate Fred Malan were known as the M & M boys. It was during the time that Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, both players for the New York Yankees, were trying to break Babe Ruth’s home run record. Someone put in the CT Daily Campus Newspaper that UConn has its own M & M boys. He still runs in to people, and they’ll say, “Hey the M & M boys, right?”

Jack graduated from UConn with a Bachelor’s Degree in Education. He was an ROTC member, and went from UConn to Fort Benning, Georgia. After the military he started a career in sales. He was also going to start coaching basketball at his former high school, but he was doing so well with his sales position, and enjoyed it, so he stayed with the sales only. Jack sold defibulators and pacemakers. He ran his own company, and had about 25 salesmen working for him representing St. Jude Medical, and they were number one in the country. After 25 years, he retired and sold his company to St. Jude Medical, but after three years, Jack was bored, and missed the action of what he had been doing for so long, so he came back as a consultant and Northeast director.

Over the years Jack coached some community teams in Ramsey, New Jersey and he coached a traveling team for six years. The traveling team was called the Huskies. “We were champs every year and I got a kick out of that. The kids got a kick out of it. They were playing for Mr. Melen who went to the University of CT. They thought it was great.”

Jack got married the year after he graduated from UConn to Judith, his high school sweetheart who used to visit him at UConn a lot. They have two daughters, Janet, age 30 and Jaime, age 27 and two grand-dogs. One daughter is a UConn graduate, and is now going to nursing school, the other is a paralegal, considering going to law school.

“I have a lot to say about UConn, all good. Coach Shabel was a real great influence on me. I kept in touch with him, and have made it known to him that he was a great influence in my life, and where I’ve ended up. My baseball coaches Baylock and Panciera were also great influences, and all the guys I met at UConn were equally as good, and the lasting friendships I think say all there is to say about that.”

Going to UConn contributed to Jacks life in several ways. It had a big influence on his career in sales, knowing how to compete, knowing how to take some failure. Going through tough losses, and being an athlete, you learn how to rebound, and being in sales he got a lot of rejection, and having been in sports helped him tremendously to stay positive, and focused which he believes has made him very successful.

I asked Jack if he watched the Final Four this year, and he proudly said absolutely! He thought for sure they would win with Emeka and Ben, and the whole team playing good basketball down the stretch. “It’s so exciting because when they do win, you get a million phone calls because people knew that you had gone to UConn, and it makes you feel real proud that you had something to do with this tradition.”