Milan big man talks about his life and career with Joe Arlauckas
The Crossover welcomes Nicolo Melli
As the child of an Olympic volleyball player who grew up in basketball-crazy Reggio Emilia, Italy, and then found success playing basketball in four different countries, Nicolo Melli is now back in his native country with AX Armani Exchange Milan. Melli shares some stories from his childhood and the major moments of his career in this episode of The Crossover with Joe Arlauckas.
Melli came to basketball naturally, thanks to the combination of his father, who had played basketball, the influence of his hometown and his great size.
[10:25] “Reggio Emilia is like half an hour away from Bologna and Bologna is called Basket City in Italy because they have Virtus and Fortitudo. Reggio Emilia has a very long tradition, mostly with the youth program. And I was lucky to be born there, grew up there and, honestly, I was always the tallest guy in the classroom in school. It was a very natural and easy decision to play basketball,” Melli explained.
His career could have been over before it started; Melli was the victim of several injuries during his youth career. However, he persevered and was able to sometimes even beat the expected recovery times. The talent Melli showcased with Reggio Emilia led to EuroLeague club Milan signing a then 19-year-old Melli to a multi-year deal in 2010.
Melli’s career took a major leap forward when he went abroad to play for Brose Bamberg in Germany in 2015 under Coach Andrea Trinchieri. His role and his numbers jumped off the charts and in his second season there Melli was named to the All-EuroLeague Second Team.
[25:40] “That decision to go and play in Germany for Bamberg, for Andrea, that was the decision. Probably I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that decision,” Melli said. “I wanted to play. I wanted to prove, mostly to myself, that I could be something else than a three-and-D power forward. That was basically my role in my years in Milan."
By the team he finished his two-year commitment to Bamberg, Melli was one of the premier big men in European basketball. That’s when he fielded a call from defending champion Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul, where he slid right into the rotation for legendary coach Zeljko Obradovic. In their first season together, Fenerbahce reached the EuroLeague championship game in Belgrade and Melli shined with 28 points against Real Madrid, but it wasn’t enough to successfully defend the title. Nevertheless, Melli’s memories from that weekend will last a lifetime.
[47:10] “That’s probably the best weekend of my career. I’ll tell you this. Even though we lost the final, it was my first Final Four, I experienced so many emotions during those two days. It was just special,” he said.
[48:10] “We lost and then after, I was crushed, to be honest. If I still think about it, it still hurts and it will hurt forever.”
After two seasons with Fenerbahce, Melli went overseas and spent two seasons with New Orleans and Dallas in the NBA. And then over the summer, he was able to return home to Italy and play again for Milan, which has been a special experience for Melli.
[58:30] “What they’ve built here is unbelievable,” Melli said of the club. “Everything we need we have it. So, I am really happy to be back… I’m really happy to be a part of this group because I’ve found an incredible group, not as basketball players, but as human beings, as characters. Great guys.”
Rest assured, Melli does not feel that since he has come full circle and returned to Milan with a leading role, he can rest on his laurels. Just the opposite. He feels that he is only getting started, as he explained:
[1:03:45] “I don’t feel like I got here and, okay, it’s done… I want to do stuff. I want to win. I want to challenge myself. I want to challenge my teammates. I want to challenge my team. Mostly I want to win. And do I don’t feel, okay I got here, I’m good. No. Now we start to do stuff.”
With a one-hour format of exclusive one-on-one interviews, The Crossover with Joe Arlauckas goes well beyond the playing court with each podcast to delve into the life experiences that have made his guests protagonists and legends of the EuroLeague. The Crossover debuted in 2018 and has featured such current stars as Mario Hezonja, Vasilije Micic and Walter Tavares, coaching greats such as Dimitris Itoudis, Andrea Trinchieri, Pablo Laso and Zeljko Obradovic, and legends like Theo Papaloukas, Nikola Vujcic and Mike Batiste, among others.