ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — Giannis Antetokounmpo sprinted around a cone set up along the baseline, powered up and threw down a monstrous one-handed dunk. Then it was off to the opposite baseline to repeat the same thing.
After making a few free throws the instructions for the Milwaukee Bucks rookie were simple. Do it again, but two-handed dunks this time.
Those dunks came with a few screams of emotion, but Antetokounmpo had a giant smile on his face walking off the court. The 18-year-old knew he just put on a display of his vast potential.
“He has a lot of potential man, a lot of ability,” Bucks center Larry Sanders said. “He has a lot of things you can’t teach, as far as length, size and quickness. His ability to learn and his ability to be a sponge and absorb everything he can is really what’s going to take him over the edge because he has all the attributes to be a great player.
“If he comes in and simplifies the game a little bit and trusts that we are going to lead him in the right direction and becomes a sponge, he’s going to be a great player.”
Though he’s confident in his abilities, the Greek small forward knows the road to realizing his potential in the NBA is going to be a long one full of challenges. He’s spent the last four days working out on the court and in the weight room at the Cousins Center.
It’s the first time the Bucks have got to work with Antetokounmpo since they drafted him 15th overall in June. Because of a commitment to the Greek national team, Antetokounmpo couldn’t play for the Bucks in summer league, but gained valuable experience in the U20 European Championships.
Greece finished with an 8-2 record in the tournament, finishing in fifth place. Ask Antetokounmpo if he was satisfied with his play — he averaged 8.0 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists — and he’ll fire back with “no” before the question is finished.
“I wasn’t satisfied with my performance,” Antetokounmpo said. “What can I do? I’ll try again next year … If my scoring was higher, I’d be satisfied. If my team took a medal, I’d be satisfied.”
Though he wasn’t pleased with the end result, Antetokounmpo gained plenty from competing against the best under-20 players in Europe. The competition was raised quite a bit from where Antetokounmpo played in Greece last season.
“It helped me a lot,” Antetokounmpo said. “I think it was a very, very good experience. I never played the best guys in Europe before to see what I got. It was a really good experience.”
Officially signed with the Bucks, Antetokounmpo isn’t quite settled in just yet. He’ll return to Greece soon to help his family pack up for their late August move to Milwaukee.
Antetokounmpo’s parents and his two younger brothers are coming to Wisconsin, while his older brother, Thanasis, is currently training for the next step in his basketball career at the IMG Academy in Florida. At 11 and 15 years old, Kostas and Alexis will attend high school in Wisconsin and are likely to become hot commodities on the prep basketball scene.
“They are looking forward to coming to the U.S.,” Antetokounmpo said. “They haven’t left Greece before. It will be good for them.”
It’s quite evident Antetokounmpo isn’t ready to play a big role in the NBA just yet, but he’s hoping to put in the time to make quick strides in his game. At 6-foot-9 and just 205 pounds, his biggest area of need may be his strength.
Weight training is something foreign to Antetokounmpo, so he’s deferring to new Bucks strength and conditioning coach Robert Hackett for help.
“I don’t really know (how to gain strength),” Antetokounmpo said. “That’s the work of the strength coach. Anything the strength coach tells me to do, I’m going to do it. I hope I put some weight on fast so I can play in the NBA faster.”
Antetokounmpo has began the learning process on and off the court, learning post moves from Sanders and going to dinner with Bucks coach Larry Drew and guard Gary Neal.
He’s earned the nickname of “rook” from Hackett and “GA” from others, and he’s quite alright with doing the tasks associated with being a rookie.
“I’m a good guy,” Antetokounmpo said when asked if he will carry the bags and get the veterans coffee. “I’m going to do it.”
The last four days have started a journey, one every person associated with the organization is excited to track.
“My immediate goal is to train hard every day,” Antetokounmpo said. “When the season comes, let me play. Hopefully the coach will let me play. That’s my immediate goal.
“I think I’m going to have that chance (to play) because if you work hard every day, one day the coach will give you the chance.”