Nicolo Melli of EA7 Emporio Armani Milan is one of the most promising young centers and the bright rising stars of the Turkish Airlines Euroleague. Son of two former athletes, 22-year old Melli is versatile and dangerous on the court, while outspoken and communicative off of it. He is one of the young faces his club is really proud of, after acquiring him as a teenager in 2010, and giving him time to develop into a key contributor on the team.
Little did we know, however, that almost none of it happened. Not long before arriving to EA7 Milan, Melli who was always considered one of the biggest, most promising talents, was also really close to leaving the sport of basketball and pursuing a career in volleyball.
“I played a lot of beach volley during the summer, and I started thinking about changing sports”, remembers Melli, who made his professional basketball debut when only 14 years old, before injuries during junior years slowed him down a little bit. Had that near change-of-heart happened, it would have been a huge loss for the Italian basketball, and Euroleague would miss on one of its brightest young stars of today. “But basketball is my first love, I always played this sport.”
Many athletes get interest in sports from their parents, especially if parents are former athletes. And so did Nicolo Melli, who actually got his interest early. Very early.
“I have a picture when I was less than 1 years old, with basketball in my hands. So, maybe that was the time my parents pushed me. Maybe that was a signal”, Nicolo says through laughter.
All the kidding aside, Melli’s parents did push him into sports, but without any pressure. It makes all the sense now when Nicolo grew into 2.05m, and with such size still has the ability to dribble down the floor like a guard. But back when he was a child, parents gave Nicolo a chance to choose a sport. Neither parent lobbied for its own sport, because for them, it was all about the other benefits that come with playing and practicing.
“Obviously, my father and my mother pushed me to do something, not basketball or volleyball, but to keep me in shape. They were not pushing me to reach certain results or goals, but just to exercise and do something else outside school.”
For some, Melli’s love for basketball could be somewhat of a surprise because his mother Julie Vollertsen Melli was a very successful professional volleyball player in her days. She is the one with great results in the family, being an Olympic silver medalist in 1984. She came to Reggio Emilia later that same year, and ended up leaving big mark in Italian volleyball during the years she played.
She also met her husband Leopoldo there, and after getting married the two stayed in Italy where their son Nicolo ended up taking basketball, following the footsteps of his father who played for Italian club Reggio Emilia. But Nicolo always had great admiration for his mother. He is aware it was pretty spectacular for a woman in the 1980s to accomplish so much, and hearing about her accomplishments certainly inspired Nicolo.
“Back then, it was hard for women to reach certain goals. As an athlete she was incredible, determined, she would go straight to her goal. She is still incredible like that. That helped me.”
Melli is lucky enough that a person that inspired him as a role model, is at the same time his mother, and his number one fan. She was there for him in the toughest times of his career, when injuries hit him, and she was the one that helped him get through it.
“She was always competitive, and that aspect of her behavior was an example that helped me a lot. She is not a person that talks a lot, but she gives examples, by facts more than by speaking. The way she behaved about it gave me a path to follow, that was good for me.”
Now, Melli has more than tripled his numbers, and is showing flashes of brilliance in the early parts of this Euroeague season, his fourth in the competition. After years of injuries, and some limited playing time, Melli seems to be back on a path to stardom that many projected for him long time ago. It also means he has truly followed a path his mother set for him, despite he chose a different sport.