New chapters of a spectacular basketball journey are set to begin for Santa Barbara High alums and lifelong friends Amber Melgoza and Bolden Brace, as both have signed professional contracts with European clubs.
Melgoza signed with the team O.ME.P.S. Givova Battipaglia based in Battipaglia, Italy, on July 14. Brace joined the Den Helder Suns of the Dutch Basketball League on August 24. “She signed in Italy, so she’s not going to be too far away,” Brace said of Melgoza. “We are really good friends, and our parents are good friends as well.”
From playing together as toddlers, the duo dominated on the court in high school, ushering in a golden era of Santa Barbara High boys’ and girls’ basketball from 2012-2016. They lifted their programs to new heights, which included CIF championships, before Brace and Melgoza accepted scholarships to Northeastern University and University of Washington, respectively.
Melgoza’s success continued with All-Pac-12 honors in her sophomore season at Washington, where she finished second in the conference in scoring with 19 points per game. “In the beginning, it wasn’t easy,” she said. “I was behind some unbelievable players. For example, Kelsey Plum, who was drafted No.1 overall in 2017. I learned a lot from her.”
Melgoza’s sophomore season breakout was reminiscent of her high school career, when she went from being a part-time varsity starter as a freshman to CIF-SS Division 3AA Player of the Year as a sophomore. Her ascension continued all the way through college. She finished eighth all-time on the University of Washington scoring list with 1,717 career points and was the first Husky to score at least 30 points three times in the PAC-12 Tournament.
“She loved the biggest games, and you see that in the great players,” said Andrew Butcher, Melgoza’s Santa Barbara High coach. “She loved the challenge.”
Melgoza wants to play the highest level basketball possible, and Serie A1 basketball league in Italy is some of the best competition in the world. “I’m not done,” she said. “People are saying ‘You made it!’ but my goal is to make it to the WNBA and be a top player.”
For Brace, the journey to professional basketball was more of a slow build. “He really developed, and I think a lot of it was due to his hard work,” said high school coach Dave Bregante. “He’s a basketball junkie.”
Brace’s senior year was one for the ages as the Dons went 32-2 and captured their first CIF championship in 25 years. He was named CIF-SS Division 2A player of the year.
In Brace’s three varsity seasons, the Dons compiled an overall record of 87-12, but he was only a two-star recruit and lacked the attention from the elite West Coast programs, which opened the door for Northeastern. “My college experience was awesome,” he said. “I don’t think a lot of guys stay at the same school for four years and have the same coaching staff for four years. I was kind of lucky with that.”
Brace’s impact at Northeastern was immediate as he tallied eight double-figure-scoring games as a freshman, including a career-high 40-point game against Elon. In that game, he drained a school-record 10 three-pointers.
The sweet stroke that made him a dominant high-school player translated to the collegiate level, but what made Brace stand out at Northeastern was his all-around brilliance, which included excellent passing and a commitment to competing on defense.
“I had to find a way to separate myself because everyone that goes into a college program is normally the best player at their high school,” he said. “For a guy like me who isn’t crazy athletic but can shoot it pretty good, you have to find other ways to get playing time. For me, that was figuring out how to be a better passer, how to rebound, and play better defense.”
Due to their demanding schedules, Brace and Melgoza haven’t been able to see much of each other in recent years outside of a few passing seconds in a hotel lobby, but their friendship remains strong as they live out their basketball dreams.
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