Entering the prime of his career at age 28, one-of-a-kind big man Nicolo Melli has tied his quest to become a Turkish Airlines EuroLeague champion to the same great ambition of Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul.
Already in his very first season with the club, Melli showed that his inspiration matches Fenerbahce's by breaking the all-time scoring record in a EuroLeague Championship Game with 28 points. Alas, he and Fenerbahce fell short in that effort to Real Madrid, which only means that Melli's motivation will be that much greater at the 2019 Final Four in Vitoria-Gasteiz.
The son of a Summer Olympic Games volleyball medalist, Melli chose basketball over his mother's sport, making his EuroLeague debut and scoring in double digits for Olimpia Milan while still a teenager in 2010. He was nearly a full-time starter and the team's best rebounder when Milan made its playoffs debut this century in 2014, but it took a move to Brose Bamberg in Germany from 2015 to 2017 to bring all his talents to light. There, Melli became a double-digit scorer, an even stronger rebounder and a sublime passer for a big man. He was rewarded with a spot on the 2016-17 All-EuroLeague Second Team at age 26.
Fenerbahce took notice and brought Melli in last season to help defend its 2017 EuroLeague title. He quickly made his mark with a buzzer-beating tip-in for an overtime road win against CSKA Moscow. He finished that first season with the most minutes on the floor of any Fenerbahce player, not to mention the most prolific scoring in a championship game during the Final Four era.
This season, Melli has started 33 of 34 games for head coach Zeljko Obradovic, which is 13 more than any of his teammates, no doubt due to unique attributes that make him valuable everywhere on the floor. Melli leads the team with the most wins ever in a EuroLeague regular season in both rebounds and blocked shots, while ranking second in steals and offensive rebounds behind his tag-team partner under the rim, Jan Vesely. Melli is no slouch as a shooter, either; just six players taller than his 2.05 meters have hit more three-pointers than Melli's 35 this season.
When the greatest coach in the game gives a player the most minutes on his team – whether coming off the bench most of last season or starting most of this one – the message is clear: Nicolo Melli is a major part of Fenerbahce's newest pursuit of the place at the top of the EuroLeague mountain.