|14 July 2013|
By Dimitris Kontos
|'Please put some photos on the website! Put four or five! That's me, Greece's number 11,'|
After their first game at the Sportland U20 European Championship in Tallinn, a jubilant group of Greece players located the FIBA Europe photographer and put him under siege - Giannis Antetokounmpo was leading the chorus.
'Please put some photos on the website! Put four or five! That's me, Greece's number 11,' he pleaded with the photographer.
Scenes of benign mobbing like this take place in many a youth tournament every summer and photographers are quite used to them - no one gets harmed in the process.
They are however much more frequent though at U16 championships and mostly with girls' teams.
It is certainly the first time that a player which has just been picked with the 15th overall pick in the NBA draft has led the 'attack'.
"It was my first official game with the national team, my first game at a European Championship and I wanted to have some memories of this special moment," Antetokounmpo explained to fibaeurope.com
"I like game photos, I have plenty of photos of me playing, but I didn't have any photos of me playing for the national team."
Antetokounmpo's incredible rugs-to-riches story has been well documented. From one day to the next, it seems, he has suddenly become the centre of world attention.
As much as he likes to be in the photos though, he doesn't enjoy being in sharp focus.
"I don't like it, there is too much publicity now, there will be something all the time about me, either good or bad," he says.
"I would definitely prefer it, for sure it would be so much better if I was playing in the NBA but without all this [media noise]."
So, ideally, without journalists?
"Yes," he confirms with a shy smile.
Antetokounmpo's family were facing enormous financial difficulties just three years ago, when his basketball talents were discovered quite by chance and he ended up playing in the second Greek division with Filathlitikos.
After the end of the championship in Estonia, he will join the Milwaukee Bucks and a totally new life awaits him in the United States, at the tender age of 19.
"For sure it's soon to go to the NBA, I used to think that I am not ready still and I need to improve further.
"But, firstly, I want to believe in myself and secondly I know that I will work as much as I need to, in order to be able to play there," he says with conviction.
"I think that in this way [by making the jump to the NBA immediately] I will improve even faster, especially since I am still at a young age.
"Just by being an NBAer it doesn't make me better than the others.
"It's simply that instead of going to CAI Zaragoza I chose to go to Milwaukee so that my body builds up faster and I get to play more years in the NBA, which was my dream."
This is not however the realisation of an 'American Dream'.
Not so long ago, this Athens-born son of Nigerian parents was preoccupied mostly with making a living, and his dreams were miles away from the Greek national team, the NBA or anything related to the orange ball.
"Basketball for me was just a sport like anyone else, I don't know, like hockey or baseball," he says.
"I started playing only because of Thanassis [his elder brother, who is also a basketball player] and later on as a means to make a living.
"But it's impossible not to fall in love with this game once you pick it up, you start getting very passionate about this sport very fast."
THE NATIONAL TEAM EXPERIENCE
|Alway good for a highlight-worthy play: Giannis Antetokounmpo |
Antetokounmpo is definitely passionate about playing for the Greek U20 side in Tallinn, and he enjoyed every minute of their campaign so far, as they topped First Round Group A undefeated.
"It's very nice, it's wonderful with the guys, we are having a great time," Antetokounmpo says.
"I didn't expect us to start by winning four out of four but we have a good team and I was certain that we would start well and make it to the Second Round.
"We did not play so well in the friendlies (before the tournament).
"But it was obvious that this was just a question of us gelling together, and that once that happened it would all fall into place.
"There is a great atmosphere in the team, we've bonded together very fast and a different player can lead the team at any given game.
"We have so many talented players like...[he goes to name every single one of his team-mates] and people can come off the bench and make the difference."
Is it an experience he would like to repeat in a few years time, as a member of the senior national team?
"For sure I want to play with the senior team in the future.
"If I can play, I would love to. I will try 100% to build up my body and become a man, physically speaking, as fast as I can.
"If everything goes well and I stay healthy, I hope I will play for the senior team one day."