After lengthy layoff, Nicolo Melli thrilled to be back on the court

As he jokingly detailed his quarantine experience from the past three-plus months, the often self-deprecating Nicolo Melli sounded a lot more like a 20-something slacker Wednesday than an NBA player.

How did he spend most of his time at his residence in downtown New Orleans?

Melli: “Sitting on the couch.”

His diet?

“I was eating like a bull.”

Any attempts at cardio?

“I wasn’t going outside. I tried to run a couple times on the balcony, but I looked too much like a hamster on a wheel, so I went back on the couch and watched The Last Dance and Netfix.”

Despite Melli’s seemingly lax routine, the New Orleans rookie forward is optimistic that he and his teammates will be ready to perform July 30, when the Pelicans face Utah in Orlando. The 29-year-old native of Italy was able to squeeze in twice-daily workouts, as he and his wife waited for word from the NBA on the status of the 2019-20 season. Due to COVID-19 making a major impact in their home country, the couple decided to stay in the Crescent City, instead of trying to return to Europe. Melli was also concerned that if he left the United States, he may not be able to return to America for the NBA’s resumption, due to travel restrictions. Fortunately, he indicated that none of his family members or friends contracted the coronavirus.

“Everybody was affected from this virus,” Melli said. “Luckily all of my family and friends were healthy and are still healthy. I feel very lucky about it. It was a tough period (this spring).”

Melli is particularly close with his grandmother in Italy, with whom he speaks regularly under normal circumstances. Via FaceTime, he was at least able to see her on a daily basis. She continues to take precautions to remain safe, having spent about 90 days at home alone.

“Luckily, she’s good with FaceTime and the iPhone, so that was a pretty good upgrade from the basic phone call, so we could see each other every day,” Melli said. “(She was) able to stay in touch with me, and also the other parts of the family she couldn’t see in the same town. She’s a little bit older and was and still is at-risk. To FaceTime each other was cool. It was not enough, but somehow it was enough.”

Although the Pelicans and other NBA teams are still not holding full practices, Melli was excited to begin seeing some teammates again on a limited basis, after the Ochsner Sports Performance Center reopened.

“It's nice to be back. As soon as they gave us the green light, I was in the gym,” Melli said, before smiling and joking about how stir-crazy one can get while staying indoors 24/7 during a pandemic. “I love my wife and she loves me, but… it’s nice to be back here (in the gym). This is our habitat, this is our environment. It’s nice to see all of my teammates. I saw a couple. It’s nice to be back here and be back on track.”

One goal now is to return to the form that made Melli the NBA’s second-best three-point shooter in January and February (trailing only Seth Curry) and a key bench spark for the Pelicans. Although he went two months without touching a basketball, he conducted workouts in a guest room of his NOLA home, featuring “a Peloton bike and a couple dumbbells.”

Asked whether he’ll be able to reclaim his shooting touch (36.1 percent this season) after a long layoff, Melli again joked that based on his initial results, maybe a lack of reps is actually for the best.

“The first shot I took (in the practice facility) was a three-pointer and I made it,” he said, grinning. “So I said to myself, the next time I have to prepare for an important game, I should not practice for two months.

“(The lengthy hiatus) was weird, but hopefully it’s not going to take long (to readjust to playing). We will see in the first official game. Hopefully I can go back and (make) threes.”