Giannis Antetokounmpo has put together a simply dominant 2019 NBA Playoffs, so far. Scoring 27.7 points a game (on 57.7 percent shooting from inside the arc), he has fueled Milwaukee’s first appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals since 2001.
The Bucks need him to outduel Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard to stand a chance at making the franchise’s first NBA Finals since 1974. Both were the No. 15 overall pick in the NBA Draft (Antetokounmpo in 2013, Leonard in 2011).
Whereas the Raptors star left San Diego State after his sophomore year, Antetokounmpo found his way to the pros without college. He didn’t even play high school basketball.
Here’s a look at The Greek Freak’s career prior to the NBA.
Giannis Antetokounmpo Greece & EuroLeague Career
The Greek Freak was born in Athens and grew up Sepolia, west of Athen’s city center. According to Neos Kosmos, he and his brother Thanasis joined a team in the Athenian suburb of Zografou called Filathlitikos in 2011. Giannis’ younger brother Kostas (now a forward with the Dallas Mavericks) joined the same club in 2013-14.
His family didn’t come from great means, but per a 2013 profile on NPR.com, one of his coaches named Spiros Vellianitis set up a situation to help him develop on the basketball court without financial issues.
Velliniatis also pushed the club to give the Antetokounmpo family a monthly stipend, so the boys wouldn’t have to work. The family moved to an apartment near the club’s gym last year.
Filathlitikos was affiliated in Greece’s third-tier level semi-pro league, the Greek 3rd Division.
In order to be eligible for travel teams in Europe, Antetokounmpo also needed help with his citizenship. His parents left Nigeria before he was born, so he was without a passport. NBA.com states that the Greek Basketball Federation “move(d) mountains” to make him eligible, eventually earning his Greek citizenship by 2013.
After reaching the top professional club at Filathlitikos in 2012, other European teams started to take notice. In Dec. 2012, the Spanish club CAI Zaragoza acquired his playing rights. With the contract starting in 2013-14, he decided to stay in Greece.
Shortly after, the Bucks drafted him. He still spends offseasons helping the Greek national teams. He participated for the Greek Under-20 national team at the 2013 FIBA Europe Under-20 Championships, 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, EuroBasket 2015 and 2016 Turin FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Greece failed to medal in each event.
He only averaged in double figures for scoring at Turin, tallying 15.3 points per game. His emergence as an international star will be a great asset heading into the 2020 Summer Olympics trials.
For right now, his goal is not the gold medal. It’s the gold Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the NBA Finals.