Off the Court: Pelicans forward Nicolo Melli

A native of Italy, Nicolo Melli has a unique background compared to his New Orleans teammates, as the only current Pelicans player born outside of North America (Nickeil Alexander-Walker was born in Canada). Melli is also the only member of the roster who did not play Division I college basketball, instead turning pro in his teens and spending a dozen years in leagues overseas. Although he’s an NBA rookie, the 29-year-old is the fifth-oldest New Orleans player, younger than only JJ Redick, E’Twaun Moore, Darius Miller and Jrue Holiday. The sharpshooting forward, who joined the club as a free agent last summer, discussed his background with Pelicans.com:

Best moments as an athlete: “Every time my team won a championship (in Europe).”

How he chose his current uniform number of 20: “I chose this because my old number, 4, wasn’t available, so I had to find a new number. Twenty was a number I liked as a kid. It has a special meaning for me, a private meaning for me.”

One thing fans might be surprised to know about him: “That my mom is from Nebraska.”

Favorite thing about New Orleans: “That there is no traffic. Coming from Istanbul, I like that. (Editor’s note: After Melli was told how many teammates said New Orleans food was their favorite aspect of the city, a smiling Melli joked, “I’m from Italy, so my standards are pretty high!”)

Pregame ritual: “I have one, but it’s not something where I think if I don’t do it, that we won’t win or something. I try to always have the same brand of chewing gum during pregame (warmups), but then I don’t play the game with the gum (still in his mouth).”

Favorite athlete as a kid: “My idol was Mike Mitchell (an American who played in the NBA and later excelled as a pro in Italy). He played in my hometown and was the best player on the team.”

Unique childhood basketball memory: “My first jump ball. I was always one of the tallest guys on my teams, so I would do the jump ball. I was so excited that I hit the ball with my fist (which is not allowed in basketball). I still have the picture of that.”

What he’d be doing if he weren’t an NBA player: “I’d be a veterinarian.”

Closest friends currently playing on other NBA teams or in other pro sports: “The best man in my wedding is not an NBA player, but he’s an NBA scout.”

Nicknames: “Nick, Nico.”

Biggest lessons learned from basketball: “Sports in general teach you many things. One of the biggest is you have to work every day to reach the goal that you set and want to reach. Also, you never take anything for granted. Every day is a new fight to establish yourself.”

Favorite healthy food: “Watermelon during the summer.”

Biggest mentor: “If I had to choose one, it’s my grandma. We talk about everything, every day, from everything from shopping to politics. I understand my grandma better than I do many of my friends. It’s kind of weird and something that I’m proud of. I’m blessed that I have my grandmother.”

Actor who’d play him in a movie: “What’s the Baywatch actor’s name? David Hasselhoff.” [smiles]

Favorite podcasts: “I listen to Italian radio podcasts, just to keep up to date with what’s happening in my home country.”

How he’s most likely to spend a day off during the season: “Doing whatever my wife wants.” [smiles]

Sport he’d most likely try to play professionally besides basketball: “Beach volleyball.”

Most underrated player in the NBA: “Jrue Holiday. That’s a smart answer right?” [smiles]

Best uniforms in the NBA (besides the Pelicans’): “New York Knicks.”