A glimpse of “G.A.”

18-year-old Bucks phenom driven to achieve greatness
Giannis Works Out at the Bucks Training Facility
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The Milwaukee Bucks media – those members who showed up early, at least – received their first extended glance at Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The intrigue will no doubt continue to build around the 6-foot, 9-inch, 205-pound forward out of Greece, chosen by the Bucks with the 15th overall selection in the 2013 National Basketball Association Draft.

There are plenty of reasons for the fascination.

He’s only 18 years old.

He possesses a 7-3 wingspan and immense hands that envelope an NBA basketball like it’s of Pop-A-Shot size.

He spent his one season of professional basketball in the Greek A2 League, so he played not only below the radar of many NBA scouts, but a lot of European ones.

His physical attributes, skill set, fluid ballhandling and passing skills and his ability to thrive in the open court have prompted scouts’ comparisons ranging from Thabo Sefelosha to Nicolas Batum, to yes, Hall-of-Famer Scottie Pippen.

From this vantage point, though, the most compelling sides of Antetokounmpo were revealed during his brief appearance at the Bucks Training Center on Aug. 1.

The first came during his workout with player development coach Josh Oppenheimer and Cody Ross of the basketball operations staff as he tackled each challenge and reacted with a few loud, choice Greek words when a shot or two didn’t drop.

The second came after the workout, when he was asked whether he was pleased with his performance in the Under-20 European Championships in Estonia last month.

Giannis Makes a Pizza at Palermo's
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“No,” Antetokounmpo said flatly, dropping his head a bit. “I was not satisfied with my performance. What can I do? I’m going to try next year.

“If my team had taken a medal, maybe I would have been OK. But we didn’t take a medal … I didn’t play.”

For the record, Antetokounmpo averaged 8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists in leading Greece to an 8-2 record and fifth place. He was the tournament’s second-leading defensive rebounder, averaging 7 per outing.

He came off the bench to score nine of his 14 points in the fourth quarter and collect five rebounds, two steals and a block as Greece rallied from 11 points down for a 79-73 victory over Serbia. He finished 4 of 6 from the field, 2 of 2 from 3-point range and 4 of 6 from the free-throw line in that contest.

He later totaled 20 points in a 65-56 triumph over Germany, hitting 4 of 9 treys and 6 of 7 foul shots.

His disappointment with his play and his quest to improve, though, were refreshing, particularly in a league where so many players swagger around with over-inflated self images rather than recognizing the flaws in their games, working hard to correct them and earning their paychecks.

Antetokounmpo plans to use his tournament experience constructively. Its physical and mental grind compare to what he will face in the NBA.

“It helped me a lot,” he said. “I had never played against the best players in Europe before, to see what I’ve got. And I played 10 games in 13 days.

“It was stronger competition than I'’e played against before, with bigger and faster guys. It was a good experience for me to play against the best guys in all of Europe.”

Rather than sulk over not being the go-to guy in his Greek team’s playbook, Antetokounmpo embraced his role and tried to fill it to the best of his ability.

“They ran plays to the other guys, and we had other guys on our team who were very good shooters and scorers,” he said. “I like to score when I can, but if I can’t do that, I like to do the other things -- defense, blocking, rebounding.

“If I can't score, I do whatever I can to support my teammates. I’m OK with that. I was happy to do that.”

He still regrets, though, that he didn’t convert more of the opportunities that did come his way.

“If my scoring had been a little higher, I would have been more satisfied,” he said.

Antetokounmpo was heartened by the fact that the Bucks’ first-year head coach, Larry Drew, traveled to Estonia to see him perform.

“It’s good to know that your coach cares about you,” Antetokounmpo said. “He wanted to know things about me and he wanted to see me play. We didn’t talk a lot. He told me that we would meet back in Milwaukee and talk about things there.”

Antetokounmpo ought to know the way there and back by now. His life has been frenetic since the days leading up to the June 27 NBA Draft.

"My life has changed a lot,” he admitted. “It has been exciting. It’s very nice. I am a little bit tired. Starting before the draft, I was in preparation, then I went to draft night, came to Milwaukee, went to Greece, went to Slovenia and then Estonia. Then I came back to Milwaukee, and I’ll be going back to Greece to take care of my family.”

Antetokounmpo said his first contact with the Bucks came about an hour before the draft, but he is glad he wound up in Milwaukee and has tried to make the most of the time he has spent here.

“I’ve been back for four days,” he said Aug. 1. “The city's nice. The people are nice. The workouts are very nice. The coaches working with me are nice.

“My immediate goal is to train and play hard and listen to what the coaches say about everything. I have to go back to Greece and bring my family back here. I’ve signed my contract, so I’m excited about that, and I’ll be working out this summer.”

Antetokounmpo knows he needs to gain weight and strength to be able to contend with NBA players. He’s not yet sure what that process will entail.

“I don’t really know,” he said. “That’s for the coaches and the trainers to decide. Anything the coach or the strength coach tells me to do, I’ll do. I hope to put on some weight and get stronger so I can play in the NBA faster.”

A work in progress can be a wonderful thing.


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