“Hard work”. This was the term often used by Milwaukee Bucks’ do-it-all forward Giannis Antetokounmpo during his press conference with selected media outfits at the kick-off of his recent Manila tour. His ready reply whenever he’s asked about his recent achievements on the hardwood and his plans on becoming a better player in the years ahead, becoming at par soon with established names such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
And the man did toiled and pushed himself to the limit during the past NBA season. Playing team-best 80 games out of the Bucks’ 82 assignments in the regular season, the Greek wunderkind emerged as Milwaukee’s best player in 2016-17 after topping the team in points (22.9 ppg), boards (8.8 rpg), assists (5.4 apg), steals (1.6 spg) and blocks (1.9 bpg) while also rendering a team-high 35.6 minutes per outing.
Antetokounmpo’s dream run would continue in the postseason, as he anchored the Wisconsin side to the playoffs as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. Although the Bucks fell at the hands of the Toronto Raptors, Antetokounmpo was a picture of consistency by tallying team-best numbers of 24.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 40.5 minutes of action, also a team-high.
The rest of the NBA would take notice soon enough. Stamping his class all over the League at the conclusion of the 2017-18 season by becoming the first player in NBA history to finish the regular season in the Top 20 of almost every major category which includes total points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks, Antetounkmpo capped this milestone by copping the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.
SLAM PH caught up with the “Greek Freak” as he shares his thoughts on being named the 2017 MIP, the future of the Bucks, almost hanging out with teammate Matt Dellavedova in Manila and how the Greek squad will fare in the upcoming 2017 EuroBasket tournament, among others.
SLAM PH: How does it feel to be a recipient of the 2017 NBA Most Improved Player of the year, being the first Greek cager to do so?
Giannis Antetokounmpo (GA): It feels good that all my hard work has paid off. I’m really happy that by doing that, I’m representing my country (Greece) too. I really didn’t know that I was the first Greek player to win the award. So I just want to thank the coaching staff and my teammates for helping me win the award.
SLAM PH: Growing up in Greece, when did you discover that you have a potential career in the sport?
GA: In anything that I do in life, I always try and do the best that I can. I think was 14, 15 that I started to realize that I can actually be really good in this sport. I never knew that I might actually go to the NBA or play overseas. But I always knew that I can be really good in this sport by working hard.
SLAM PH: What is your favorite move on the court?
GA: I’m gonna go with the Eurostep. I also have another one in mind but I’m not going to give that out because my opponents will be able to guard me (chuckles).
SLAM PH: With the game evolving to a speedier pace and relying more on outside shooting, what adjustments did you made to your game in order to adapt?
GA: I just try to play hard. I’m not thinking right now about how I am going to adjust my shooting and the faster pace of the game, but just trying to get better everyday. Trying to help my teammates win by doing the little things constantly on the court.
SLAM PH: Your fellow Milwaukee Buck Matt Dellavedova is in town as well. Did you guys talked about your respective visits to Manila before flying over here?
GA: No, we actually did not talked about it. But he (Dellavedova) texted and told me that he was in town. I hadn’t got the chance to meet him because I flew in late last night and I think he leaves today (during the day of the interview). But we’re going to talk about our respective Manila visits. I think he had fun, seems like it as I’ve looked up his Instagram stories and stuff, so he was having fun. So hopefully I can experience some too. So far I’m having fun.
SLAM PH: How do you rate the Bucks for this upcoming 2017-18 season?
GA: I think we’re going to be really good. Our coach (Jason Kidd) is still here. We’re growing up as players. We’ve played together. For me, JP (Jabari Parker) and Khris (Middleton), this is going to be our fourth year playing together. I know that the Milwaukee Bucks organization is going to make the right move and bring the right guys to the team.
SLAM PH: How far do you think the Greek national team will go in this year’s edition of FIBA Europe?
GA: For the Greek national team, we have to find our (team) chemistry. We have a lot of good talent. The 16 players in the roster are some of the best in their respective club teams. When one is playing for the National Team, you represent Greece. You represent the whole country. You represent yourself. You represent the flag. We got to find the chemistry, but I think we’re going to do great. Day by day, we’re getting better. Training camp’s about to start in a few days and I think we can do great things in FIBA Europe.
Before he gets ready for another rigid season in the NBA, Antetokounmpo will be at the forefront of the Greek National Team’s campaign in the 2017 FIBA EuroBasket. Slated from August 31 to September 17 with four different host nations which are Finland, Israel, Romania and Turkey, the Greeks seek to end a eight-year medal drought in the biennial event. Bannered by a new coach in Kostas Missas and the newly-minted NBA Most Improved Player, Greece will be going up against Iceland for its opening assignment in the 2017 EuroBasket before mixing it up with 2015 bronze medalists France, Slovenia, Finland and Poland for the rest of its preliminary round matches in Group A. With the way Antetokounmpo is playing right now, a return to the podium may not seem a far-fetched idea for the Greeks.