By Nikos Varlas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
A big game awaits us on Friday night at Brose Arena. German champion Brose Bamberg hosts Turkish Airlines EuroLeague champ, Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul. The two sides have the same record (3-2) and Coach Andrea Trinchieri’s team is coming off three consecutive wins.
The clash has its own kind of symbolism, as we come across four players who will compete against their former team! On one side are Nikos Zisis and Ricky Hickman, and on the other, Brad Wanamaker and, of course, Nicolo Melli.
Hickman, who won the EuroLeague in 2014 with Maccabi Tel Aviv, played for Fenerbahce for two seasons and was a teammate there of Zisis, with whom he reunited in Freak City. In 2016, Hickman won the Turkish League and Cup double with Coach Zeljko Obradovic’s team.
Zisis, who has a EuroLeague title with CSKA Moscow from 2008 on his long list of achievements, played for Fener in 2014-15 and his presence coincided with the first Final Four in club history, in 2015 in Madrid. Zisis is a player of enduring quality with his own special history. Among other distinctions, he is ranked third on the all-time list of EuroLeague appearances, seventh in assists and 24th in scoring.
The comeback with a career best!
On the other side, we have Wanamaker and Melli – two players who were on the All-EuroLeague Second Team last season – returning to a familiar arena to play in front of fans that love them and against a team that helped their careers take off and with which they won titles.
The American guard won two German championships with Brose and made his first appearance in the EuroLeague in the 2015-16 season. After a great season, he signed for Darussafaka Istanbul and from there he switched to Fenerbahce in the summer. Wanamaker returned to Freak City for the first time as an opponent on March 30, 2017. He was cheered by the fans and he combined his team’s win with his own new career best in points in the EuroLeague, which he still holds. He went for 30 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists.
Nicolo Melli’s first return!
Out of this party of four who have played both in Bamberg and Fenerbahce, the Italian forward is the only one facing his former team for the first time. Now in his eighth season in the EuroLeague, it’s clear that his decision to move from Milan to Bamberg in 2015 worked well for his career. Last season especially was a breakout season, with Melli becoming a member of the All-EuroLeague team and proving that he’s a multi-dimensional player who can do everything on the court at a very high level.
Last season he averaged 11.5 points on 43.4% in three-point shooting, 7.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists for an average performance index rating of 16.9! With Brose, he won two German championships and one German Cup. On Friday he goes back to remember the good old times and he wants to combine his first return to Freak City with a win, just like Wanamaker did.
“Bamberg holds a special place in my heart”
How does Melli feel about his return to Freak City and what does he expect from the team and the fans in the way of a reception?
“I’m very excited! It will be a very special night for me. Even though at the end of the day, it’s a basketball game that we have to win, I believe that the way they will welcome both Wanamaker and me is going to be amazing! The fans were always great in the two seasons I played there. It will be a very beautiful experience for me and Brad.”
He joined Bamberg as a very good EuroLeague player and left having evolved into a star. What was the secret to this explosion as a basketball player?
“All the people who work in Bamberg helped me a great deal in these two seasons. They worked hard with me to develop my game and all together we achieved big things. The Bamberg organization is great and it means a lot to me. It will always hold a special place in my heart. This is why I’m eager to go back there, to see all those people again.”
Now, he plays in Fenerbahce, which started the season with the motto: “Never Enough!” Even though getting to the top is hard, staying there is definitely even harder. The Italian forward agrees with this view and believes the key for Fenerbahce to defend its title is hard work and maintaining high motivation.
“To hold on to the reins in this competition, it takes daily effort. Every day you have to step on the court and have in mind that everyone wants to take your crown away from you. We have to work very hard and consistently maintain the intensity in our game and our motivation at a very high level. Finding a way to have even greater motivation than our opponents is key.”