Milwaukee’s Rising Star

Antetokounmpo selected to participate in All-Star Weekend

Giannis Antetokounmpo has experienced a multitude of changes during the past year of his short life.

A few of them have given him extreme exclusivity.

He became a multimillionaire when he was 18 years old.

He has traveled from the fringe of the global basketball landscape into the premier league in the world, where he ranks as its youngest player.

He has experienced life on his own for the first time while living over 5,000 miles from his home in Greece.

Expecting little when he arrived, he started more than half of his first 40 National Basketball Association games in which he played for the Milwaukee Bucks.

He has matched up against the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony with relentlessness.

And he continues to demonstrate an unending quest to learn more about the game every day.

The rewards are beginning to follow.

The Bucks announced Jan. 29 that Antetokounmpo has been selected to compete in the 2014 BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge as part of the 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend.

The Rising Stars Challenge, featuring two teams of NBA rookies and sophomores, will be played Friday, Feb. 14, at the New Orleans Arena.

Antetokounmpo, who turned 19 years old Dec. 6, is averaging 7.0 points (seventh among NBA rookies), 4.7 rebounds (second) and 1.8 assists (tied for ninth) per game in his rookie season.

Giannis became the youngest Buck ever to earn a starting nod when he entered the lineup on Dec. 18 vs. New York. Over a span of 20 starts, he scored in double figures 10 times and recorded his first two career double-doubles (16 points/10 rebounds on Dec. 27 at Brooklyn and 13 points/11 rebounds on Jan. 11 at Oklahoma City).

The BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge – televised live nationally on TNT at 8 p.m. CT and broadcast live on ESPN Radio, with live audio also available on in multiple languages – will feature two teams of nine rookies and sophomores mixed together, drafted from a pool selected by the NBA’s assistant coaches.

When Antetokounmpo was asked how he felt about the news that he was selected for the Rising Stars Challenge, he responded with one of the English words he uses most.

“Nice -- I feel very nice,” he said. “I’m very happy. I’m very excited to play in the game. It’s a dream come true for me.

“Last year, I was in Greece, in the second division. Now I’m in the NBA, going to All-Star Weekend and playing with the Rising Stars. So I’m very happy.”

Bucks Head Coach Larry Drew expressed his happiness, too, for his teenage prodigy.

“I’m really happy for the kid,” Drew said. “I thnk that’s a big accomplishment for any young player, certainly for him. Taking a kid that not knowing exactly how much he’ll be used this year, if we use him this year, could be using this year … kind of a lot of ‘what ifs’ at the start of this thing.

“Here he is, he’s been selected, and I’m sure he’s excited about the selection. I don’t think he quite understands the magnitude of it, but when he gets there during All-Star Weekend, I’m sure it will really slap him across the face.

“I know him. He’s a bubbly kid from the very beginning. When he gets there, he will really feel the magnitude of what All-Star Weekend is all about. When I got the email, I was just ecstatic for him and I’m really happy for him.”

Antetokounmpo certainly didn’t envision himself heading for New Orleans to take the stage with the NBA’s elite young players when he was toiling in relative obscurity a year ago. So he is counting his blessings now, but not resting on his laurels.

“I didn’t expect to be a starter,” he said. “I didn’t expect to play so much. I didn’t expect to make it to the All-Star Weekend. But I did all of that.

“Like the veterans, the big guys, you’ve got to put effort into it. You’ve got to watch the guys on the winning teams, what they’re putting into it, finding out what their secrets are. I keep watching them. That’s what I’m trying to do. I think it’s going to come.”

Antetokounmpo’s teammates are thrilled at his selection. And they have been impressed at his diligence, his performance and the intriguing upside he has flashed.

“Man, he’s improving every day,” center Larry Sanders said. “He’s getting better, learning a lot. I’m excited about his game. I think he’ll gain a lot of confidence by this chance to match up against the other top young talent in the league. When you do that, you learn how well you can play. He’s been playing really well for us.”

Sanders was asked if he has seen anyone enter the league with the fascination that Antetokounmpo shows every day.

“No, I haven’t,” he replied. “Tonight (during the Bucks’ Jan. 29 game against the Phoenix Suns), he took that big Eurostep and tried to dunk. I was like, ‘Wow!’ You don’t see guys do that. You don’t see guys long enough or athletic enough to make that move. To just see him try stuff like that is exciting.

“I’m grateful that I get to watch him. He’s an exciting guy.”

Bucks forward John Henson has noticed his young teammate’s quest to learn.

“He watches,” Henson said. “He watches and learns. Being as young as he is, he’s not really a guy who’ll come to you and ask questions. He takes things in like a sponge. We have some great, great vets on our team this year, so that’s really good for him.

“He’s picked things up. He’s a fiery player, too, and doesn’t back down from anyone.”

Even with the strange, new world spinning around him, Antetokounmpo has understood and embraced what it means to be a good teammate, too.

Following the Bucks’ aforementioned game against Phoenix, he was singing the praises of rookie teammate Nate Wolters, who contributed 11 points and four assists in a 19-minute stint.

“I love playing with Nate,” Antetokounmpo said. “He’s a rookie, too. We both try to build our confidence and help each other. Off the court, we may just go and eat somewhere. He’s a nice guy. I love him.

“He’s doing great. He’s building his confidence. When you look at the score when he comes into a game and when he comes out, it’s good.”

Antetokounmpo wishes the Bucks were enjoying more success than they are (8-37 at this writing), but he’s not about to give up.

“We’ll keep fighting through it, train hard, work hard and see when the season ends where we are,” he said.

When Giannis makes the trip to New Orleans for All-Star Weekend, he will have the opportunity to meet and visit with basketball greats from this year and yesteryear.

He was asked to choose the three players with whom he would most like to sit down and visit.

“KD (Kevin Durant), Tim Duncan and. … let me think. … (Manu) Ginobili will not be there for the game, but if he was there, I’d like to sit down with him.”

What about one more, from any era, even way back?

“Oh,” Antetokounmpo replied, striking his head as if his memory needed jogging. “I’d like to sit down with Kobe (Bryant), for sure. KD, Tim Duncan and Kobe.”

And what would they talk about?

“I don’t even know,” Antetokounmpo said. “I’d just be quiet and listen to what they say, because they are the best.

“Anything they tell me, I’d listen to what they have to say.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo has picked up a lot of things since his arrival in the United States and the NBA.

It’s obvious that a me-first mentality, a short attention span and a sense of entitlement are not among them.

Here’s hoping that never changes.


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