At around 6’9 without shoes, with good athleticism and plus-length, NBA prospect Leo Menalo has been developing his game these last three years with Stella Azzurra in Rome. Originally from Croatia and having previously spent time with Cibona Zagreb, Menalo played real minutes this year for Stella Azzurra in the Italian Serie A2 league. He is a combo forward with an ability to stretch the floor and possesses some requisite ball skills to make plays on the perimeter.
With some time before he is automatically eligible for the draft, he has NBA aspirations and is likely to make the move to a Euroleague-level club in the near future. He has developed his game a great deal with Stella Azzurra through their training and youth program, where he has really expanded his skill set over time. With his ability to score, pass and handle the ball, he is certainly a prospect to watch in high-level basketball circles.
In this interview, Leo Menalo breaks down his roots in Croatia, his time in Rome with Stella Azzurra, what he has worked on in terms of skill development, his hopes for his basketball future, and more.
For the next installment of the Pro Insight Q&A series, we present 2002-born prospect Leo Menalo, from Zagreb, Croatia:
Pro Insight: Tell us about yourself, your family, where you are from, etc.
Leo Menalo: So, I was born in Zagreb, Croatia. That's my hometown. I come from a pretty big family. I have two brothers and two sisters. I have an older brother. And then I have two younger siblings, and the youngest one is 12. Everybody is into sports, except one of my brothers. I actually started to play basketball because of my older brother but he quit when he was still young because of injuries. But my sisters – they're really good! I am so proud of them!
PI: Did your parents play basketball?
LM: No, not really. They played handball, but really only like in high school. But they were sporty and active people.
PI: So you have good genes.
LM: Yeah, I guess. Everybody in my father's family has good size. My dad is like 6-6, maybe 6-7. Close to two meters.
PI: And how tall are you?
LM: I am about six-nine without shoes. I think I have good size (smiles).
PI: So your whole family is back in Zagreb?
LM: Yes. Everybody still lives in Zagreb.
PI: And your parents, what do they do for a living?
LM: My mother used to have a beauty salon but she sold it. And my father is a building engineer. Like, he helps construction and procurement of the materials for the building.
PI: When was the last time you saw your family?
LM: So the last time was actually like a month ago. I went there. For two days, it was my only opportunity during the season. I didn't see them for like six months. And I still didn't see my mother because she was in the hospital at the time. She had a surgery done on her knee.
PI: How did you get recruited by Stella Azzurra? You were at Cibona before?
LM: Yeah, I was in the youth system of Cibona. My father was helping me look for some opportunities elsewhere too, though. My former agents, they actually put me here. And I thought it was a good opportunity. They (Stella Azzurra) play good tournaments and have quality training facilities. Unfortunately, during the second season, coronavirus hit, so we didn't have any more competitive tournaments. But otherwise it has been great here in Rome. I had the opportunity to go to another country in a great city like Rome and a great organization like Stella Azzurra. And I learned another language, too.
PI: You played with Roko Prkacin while with Cibona Zagreb?
LM: Yes, we used to play together when we were very young. We were friends when we were younger but then we kind of grew apart. I remember we basically played the same position and we would guard each other a lot. With Cibona though I felt I kind of got left behind. The coaches didn't play me much and I kind of felt that I wasn’t improving enough in Cibona so I started to consider playing elsewhere.
PI: Your team was hit by coronavirus too during the season?
LM: Yeah in February it was like the whole team. I was okay luckily, like for just one day I had a fever and was feeling weak but then the next day I was already feeling better. But a couple guys I know were sick for a couple of weeks. It was frustrating for me because I felt okay and was ready to play but we couldn’t. I was actually called up to play for the Croatian Senior National Team for the first time in February but unfortunately I was still quarantined due to COVID protocols so I missed out on a great opportunity.
PI: This is your first season playing major minutes (before your injury) and you were playing quite well. You started most of the games this season, too. What has changed from last year to this year?
LM: The first thing I would say is a change on a physical level. I really thought my skills would be enough when I first debuted at the pro level in Italy but instead I struggled a bit adapting to the superior physicality at the pro level. I couldn’t keep up initially and this was eye-opening for me. So over the summer I worked a lot on my body and I got stronger. I still think I will have to get even stronger to play at higher levels of competition but I feel that I am on the right track. I think I already have a pretty good knowledge of basketball, I can recognize what's happening during a game and then like after a game I always re-watch the match so I can see wh