To see Melody (Mel) Khlok on the basketball court, you'd likely notice the freshman guard's never-back-down attitude toward the game. What you wouldn't immediately know, however, is that the Sacramento native has brought that same determination to overcoming struggle after struggle to become the first in her family to attend college.
The third oldest of eight children born to Cambodian refugees, Khlok, 18, often missed class in high school to help out in her family's doughnut shops. Yet after Khlok's mother suffered a stroke toward the end of her sophomore year in high school, tight finances forced the family to sell its shops. No shops meant no income. Three months after the medical crisis, the family was kicked out of its home and forced to move three times in one month. Khlok ended up living with a friend's family for most of her junior year.
When she was with her family, Khlok often found herself sharing a bedroom with several siblings—the family's four-bedroom house was usually home to 17 immediate and extended family members. Throughout, Khlok focused on school and basketball, a sport her uncle taught her when she was in second grade.
"Giving up is not always the solution to things," she said. "You always want to work hard, not just for yourself, but for others around you."
During her junior year, Khlok almost called it quits when the stress became too much, but she ultimately rediscovered her internal motivation. That drive paid off, with Khlok serving as captain of the basketball team her senior year and leading fellow players to a section win. She was also named MVP and had her name placed on her school's gym wall. On top of that, she graduated from Sacramento's John F. Kennedy High School with a 3.5 grade-point average and a scholarship to USF.
"Mel is a competitor who will not back down from anyone," said Tanya Haave, USF's women's basketball head coach. "She doesn't care who you are, what you have done. She once guarded an All-American post player who is now at North Carolina and stopped her until she got so frustrated the girl fouled out of the game."
Still, few teammates know about Khlok's off-the-court determination. Khlok knows it's unfortunate that shes had such weight to bear on her young shoulders, but instead of talking about it, she simply accepts it: "It's what I've got to do."
Part of what keeps her upbeat is the desire to make her parents proud and to set a good example for her younger siblings. A business administration major, Khlok looks to her past for dreams of her future—she hopes to one day open her own business. That, coupled with basketball, is all part of why she's at USF.
"I'm here for myself, of course, but also for my family," Khlok said.