Giannis Goes Global

How many 20-year-old world travelers do you know?

That is the latest exclusive group in which Giannis Antetokounmpo has become a member.

The Milwaukee Bucks forward returned to the Brew City shortly before his third NBA training camp opened its doors, having completed a summer adventure that took him to Johannesburg, South Africa. He competed in the NBA’s first game in Africa and participated in a Basketball Without Borders event there in early August.

Five weeks later, Antetokounmpo began playing for the Greek National Team, which took part in Eurobasket 2015. The 39th annual event, organized by FIBA Europe, was played for the first time in more than one country, making stops in Croatia, France, Germany and Latvia. The competition ran from Sept. 5-20.

When Antetokounmpo took the podium in Milwaukee for Bucks Media Day on Sept. 28, he opened with a plea for his interviewers.

“You guys take it easy on me, because in the two months I’ve been in Greece, I forgot how to speak English,” Antetokounmpo said with a big grin.

Basketball Without Borders, an instructional camp series organized by the NBA and FIBA that began in 2001, has visited 23 cities in 20 countries for 41 sessions that have drawn more than 2,300 participants from over 120 countries and territories.

Thirty-three of the participants – including former Bucks forward and Cameroon native Luc Richard Mbah a Moute – have been drafted into the NBA.

Antetokounmpo’s visit to South Africa was the first he has made onto the continent where his mother, Veronica, and father, Charles, were born. The family immigrated from Nigeria to Greece, where Giannis learned the basics of a game he now plays against the best players on the planet worldwide.

The “Greek Freak” did everything he could to send the local partisans home happy, scoring a game-high 22 points for Team Africa, but Team World, led by Chris Paul, strung together 14 consecutive points in the fourth quarter on its way to a 101-97 victory.

Antetokounmpo said the experience meant a great deal to him because it came during his first trip to his parents’ homeland.

“It meant a lot to get to play this game and represent Team Africa,” Antetokounmpo said. “I grew up in Greece, but this was a chance for me to represent my parents by playing for the African team, so I was really excited for it.”

Mbah a Moute, who joined Antetokounmpo on Team Africa, opened the 2015 game with a dunk. African legend Hakeem Olajuwon, at 52 years old, came off the bench and successfully performed his patented “Dream Shake” for two points in the second quarter to the delight of the crowd.

Team Africa captain Luol Deng complemented Antetokounmpo’s 22 points with 20 of his own, but Team World – getting 18 points from Bradley Beal and 12 from Paul – came away with the victory.

The game illustrated the development of Antetokounmpo’s game in several facets.

“Little things – the post, my shot, which I’ve been holding the ball and shooting the ball a little bit higher; also my body – not getting specifically bigger, but stronger,” Antetokounmpo said. “Hopefully all of this will help me get better.”

That progress was on display again during Eurobasket 2015 as well.

The competition was a quantum leap from what Antetokounmpo experienced while playing in Greece prior to being drafted by Milwaukee in 2013, but he was up to the challenge. He averaged 9.8 points and 6.9 rebounds and shot 49.2 percent from the field and 38.5 percent (10-for-26) from 3-point range to help lead Greece to a fifth-place finish.

Antetokounmpo achieved three double-doubles and grabbed 17 rebounds in the quarterfinals against Spain, but the Spaniards advanced with a 73-71 victory behind 27 points and nine rebounds from Pau Gasol and went on to win the tournament.

“It was a great experience” Antetokounmpo said.  “I’m very happy that I was able to represent Greece in the championship. I learned a lot. I played seven games in 10 nights. That helped me a lot to get better when I came back here.

“I was disappointed because I thought we were a better team than Spain. I don’t know what happened that night. That’s basketball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. Congratulations to Spain. It feels a lot better to know that you lost to the best team from the Euro Championship.”

Antetokounmpo embraced a prominent role in Greece’s offense, and he hopes the experience benefits him in his third NBA season and beyond.

“For sure, I became more comfortable,” he said. “My experience helped me a lot. It got me more ready for training camp and the season.”

One of the most-improved elements of Antetokounmpo’s game is his perimeter shooting.

“I think I’ll be allowed to shoot the 3-point shot this year,” he said. “I think it’s going to take my game to the next level by bringing the defensive guys so far out there. It will allow me to go to the basket and score or create for the other guys.”

Antetokounmpo averaged 12.7 points and 6.7 rebounds in his second pro campaign – numbers up considerably from his 6.8 points and 4.4 rebounds as a rookie.

He also paid his first visit to the NBA Playoffs last spring, averaging 12.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists during the Bucks’ six-game First Round series with the Chicago Bulls.

Antetokounmpo believes Milwaukee’s two victories in that series were vital to the Bucks’ development.

“For sure that was big,” he said. “It was really big. For us, the younger guys who’d never been to the playoffs, it helps to have that experience.

“Hopefully we’ll work hard during training camp and the preseason and try to improve our mistakes and get better. When we get to that stage again, hopefully we’ll correct our mistakes and win a series.”

That would be a shot heard ’round the world.