“He played not to pile up stats, but to win, period.”
Bob McAdoo at the Hall of fame 2003, Dino Meneghin enshrinement year.
Dino Meneghin is the greatest Italian basketball player.
23 years after he finished his career, this is still more than ever true. Dino was a unique player, not very tall at 2 metres and 4 centimetres, but he was fast, intelligent, incredibly strong and knew the game perfectly.
He was born in the North East of Italy, in Alano di Piave, in 1950 but moved to Varese, in Lombardy, when he was still a child. The local basketball team, called Ignis, from the name of the sponsor and owner, was one of the traditional powerhouses of Italian basketball. Dino was spotted by Nico Messina, who coached the team and was also a physical education teacher at school.
Messina understood immediately Dino’s talent and asked him to join the youth team. Under the guidance of Nico Messina and, later, Aza Nikolic, Dino developed his skill, guided by an incredible will to succeed. On the court, he was a natural leader, courageous, strong, technical.
Ignis Varese played an incredible streak of 10 European Champion’s Cup in a row. The first took place in 1969 in Sarajevo, where a 19 year old Dino Meneghin scored 20 points in the final against the heavily favoured CSKA Moscow.
Ignis won other four cups, losing 5 finals. Dino Meneghin was a key players in that incredible team, playing alongside some Italian greats, like Also Ossola, Ivano Bisson, Marino Zanatta, Toto Bulgheroni (later president of the team), and some of the best foreign players who played in Italy, like Manuel Raga, Bob Morse, Charlie Yelverton.
In 1970, the Atlanta Hawks picked him with number 182 in the NBA draft. But the USA was very far at the time, there were not many news about American basketball and in Europe he was considered among be best in his role, so he remained in Varese.
In the 70s Dino Meneghin was the quintessential “pivot”, as the role of centre was known in Italy at the time. That was a time of great pivots: Kresimir Cosic from Yugoslavia, Clifford Lyuik in Madrid, Alexander Belov in Saint Petersburg.
In 1980 Dino was nominate “Mr Europe”, as the best European player. At the Moscow Olympics, the Italian team upset the heavily favoured USSR team, led by Sergei Belov, in a very tight game. Thanks to that victory, Italy reached the final against the incredible Yugo team, losing it.
In 1981, in one of the most surprising moves of Italian basketball history, Dino Meneghin was traded to Milan. There, he played under Coach Dan Peterson, an American coach who came to Europe in 1973 called by Virtus Bologna. Peterson was a tough coach, whose most frequent instruction to his players was to “spit blood” in defence.
But Peterson was also a smart man, a jack-of-all-trades, an entertainer who later engaged in a very successful broadcasting career, and a great coach. He anchored the team to Dino and the leading figure of Mike D’Antoni, who became the mind and the arm of the team. Peterson developed a 1-3-1 defence, with Dino in the middle, D’Antoni on top and Vittorio Gallinari (Danilo’s father), under the basket.
The Italian basketball in the 80s raged a battle in every city. Pesaro, Virtus Bologna, Roma, Caserta, Torino, were all good teams and Milano played very tough games every Sunday. They played 8 Italian finals in a row, none of them easy. This made Milano’s team even stronger, ready to face the European competition. In fact, in 1987 and 1988, Milano reached the Euroleague (then Champion’s Cup) final, beating twice the formidable Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Dino scored 2 points in 1987 and 5 in 1988, but he dominated the game keeping Kevin Magee at his lowest numbers. At age 38, he didn’t need to be the cover man, but he’d do anything to win. Bob McAdoo was the scorer of the team, but all of Milano engaged in tough games against a great team with Doron Jamchy, Kevin MaGee, Micky Berkovitz. Standing on the free-throw line, Dino administered scientific picks, laser like passages and directed the team together with Mike D’Antoni, displaying one of the greatest examples of how you do not need to score to dominate the game.
In 1989, Dino won his last Italian title, playing one of the most legendary final series against Livorno. In game 5 Andrea Forti of Livorno, the team losing by one, ran to Milano’s basket and the guy running behind him, at 38 years of age and about 750 games behind him, was Dino. The story of that basket is too long to be told here, but Dino was there, incapable to give up.
In 1990 Bogdan Tanjevic , the former Bosna and Caserta coach, called him to Trieste, where he was coaching a group of young players in the serie A, due to become some of the best in Italy’s history. Bogdan wanted the boys to experience what it meant to play alongside a great player and person.
In 1991, Dino was the only Italian player, and maybe one of the few in the world, to play against his son Andrea, who was in Varese. An event that closed a time, and ideally passed the torch to the new Meneghin.
Dino retired in 1994, after another year in the struggling Milano team.
It’s impossible to list all his achievements. 12 Italian championships, 7(!) Euroleagues, 1 Olympic silver, 1 European championship gold and 3 bronze medals, 2 cup winner’s cups, 1 Korac. 28 years as a professional player. His legacy is unlikely to be ever surpassed by anyone.
In 2003 he was enshrined in the Hall Of fame.