|18 September 2013|
|"It's hard. I have to push ten times more than them. I have to run ten times more than them. So it's hard. It's not my position but I'm trying my best." - Nicolò Melli on playing out of position for the greater good of the Italian team |
You'd have to forgive Nicolo Melli if he looks at the Lithuania roster for Italy's EuroBasket 2013 quarter-final showdown and think to himself - "Man, I cannot get a break."
Lithuania are well known for their excellent group of centers, with the group in Slovenia featuring Darjus and Ksistof Lavrinovic, Robertas Javtokas and Jonas Valanciunas.
A rash of injuries in the build-up to the tournament has left Italy coach Simone Pianigiani with only one real serviceable center in Marco Cusin. His back-up is the 22-year-old Melli.
Melli's problem is that he's only 2.05m tall - and not really a center.
But it's been the Olimpia Milano player's heart and energy that has helped up-start Italy to the final eight and remain in the running for their first medal since collecting bronze in 2003.
"Nic is a power forward playing on big men. He's using the opportunity. He's showing great energy. Sometimes he's even dominating the boards also against players bigger than him," said Italy's starting power forward Luigi Datome.
Over the course of Italy's eight games, Melli has as backup center seen time trying to fend away from the basket and rebound over the likes of Russia's Dmitry Sokolov, Ömer Asik and Semih Erden of Turkey, Greece's Yannis Bourousis, Joakim Kjellbom of Sweden, Mirza Begic and Gasper Vidmar of Slovenia, Croatians Ante Tomic and Luka Zoric, and NBA superstar Marc Gasol from Spain.
"You see that my size is not there. I'm doing it with all the energy I have. But I just say I'm tired," Melli said after Italy's surprising win over Spain.
"It's hard. I have to push ten times more than them. I have to run ten times more than them. So it's hard. It's not my position but I'm trying my best."
In 16 minutes-per-game as Cusin's backup, Melli has averaged 4.6 points and 4.1 rebounds.
"It's normal that he goes against Gasol and every kind of big we have here," said Pianigiani.
"We talked together two or three weeks ago and we said there is no other chance for us. Nicolo tries to stay very focused on little details he can do. But we cannot compete one-on-one. It's a team defence."
Melli said it has been clear to this Italian squad from the first day of training camp that they would have to beat teams on energy and will.
"This was the only way. We have talent but not enough to compete with the other people. We have bodies but every time we are shorter than the others. So it's the only way to do it," said Melli.
"Run twice as hard as them, push twice as hard as them, have twice the energy of everybody else. It's the only way we can reach our goals. And keep this dream coming true."
While a medal would be a dream for Italy, even a spot in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup would be a huge result for this Italy group.
"We came here just to pass the First Round, so everything we gain now is something more," said Melli.
But when asked if his strong showing as a backup center would mean he should get time at the position this season at Milano, Melli just laughed, shook his head and said: "I hope not."