Having come up as a product of NBA-sponsored youth camps in Europe and other parts of the world, Mavericks’ second-year big man Kostas Antetokounmpo took extreme pride in what happened with the league’s annual awards.
It wasn’t just his brother Giannis, a.k.a the Greek Freak, winning the MVP trophy. It was the clean sweep that players from outside the United States had that made Kostas bust his buttons. That list of award winners included Mavericks’ rookie of the year Luka Doncic of Slovenia, as well as most-improved player Pascal Siakim of Toronto via Cameroon and defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert of France and the Utah Jazz.
If anybody needed more proof of the global nature of basketball, this was it.
““International basketball,” Kostas said with a big smile on his face. “Luka won rookie of the year, Siakim, Gobert, Giannis … I’m really proud of that. It shows how much impact the NBA has globally and it shows players are playing at a high level all over the world.
“People like Dirk (Nowitzki) and Hakeem (Olajuwon) opened up the door for international players. They just have to work hard now and keep their heads down.”
Antetokounmpo, who attended a Basketball Without Borders camp six years ago in South Africa, attributed the success of this generation of international players to the work that the NBA has helped get done with all the camps and initiatives they have worldwide.
It has helped the 6-10 Antetokounmpo head into his second season hoping to build on last year, when he spent virtually all of his time with the Texas Legends in the G-League. He averaged 10.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 25.4 minutes, seeing action in 49 games for the Legends.
While his contractual situation has yet to be addressed he will head to the MGM Resorts Las Vegas Summer League with the Mavericks and he feels considerably more comfortable now than he did a year ago as an untested rookie.
“It’s a little easier when you know what you’re doing and what’s ahead of you,” Kostas said. “I feel I’m better prepared and hopefully we can do good in summer league. My main focus is just playing hard and having a high motor, (being) elite defender and elite shot-blocker.”
Antetokounmpo guesstimates that he has added 15 pounds since the beginning of camp last year. Hopefully, he said, “it’s muscle.” He hopes to continue growing as a player this summer and the Mavericks are hoping he does, too.
“We’re excited about what he can do,” said Mike Weinar, one of Rick Carlisle’s assistants who will serve as head coach of the summer-league squad. “But he’s just got to continue to build his game, like everybody else. So many players nowadays have to be multi-dimensional. The floor is spaced, we’re all over the place with fours handling it, fives handling it. That’s the way it’s going. So continue working on all those skill sets.”
This is an important summer for him. He needs to catch the eye of teams, including the Mavericks, during the summer league. But no matter what, it figures to be a busy couple of months coming for Kostas. After the summer league, he hopefully will have a new contract, but he for sure will join his brothers Giannis, Thanasis, Francis and Alexis at camp for the Greek national team that will play in the World Cup in China.
Kostas, who played on Greece’s junior national team in 2016, is hopeful he will make the national team along with Giannis. Kostas said he’s already spent a fair amount of time this summer working out with his MVP brother.
“Until I got (back) here, we were together all the time, him and all my brothers,” Kostas said. “When the season ended, right away, I went to Milwaukee and worked out with my brothers. After that, we were traveling the whole time.”
So what did Giannis think about losing in the conference finals of the playoffs to the eventual NBA champion Toronto Raptors?
“He was a little upset, but that’s all part of becoming a better player,” Kostas said. “It’s part of him growing. He’s going to work and be back there next season. I’m proud of him. But when you get that far, you can taste the championship. So when you get that taste, you’re going for it.”
The highlight of the offseason, of course, has already happened for the Antetokounmpo family when Giannis won the MVP, announced last month on a made-for-TV awards show.
“It was a crazy experience,” Kostas said. “It’s a goal he’s worked for his whole life. Seeing him win that makes me really proud and I’m happy for him. When you see a really skinny kid from Greece becoming that level, I feel like my brother gave hope to a lot of kids who want to learn how to play basketball.
“And he has no limits.”
That’s a level Kostas continues to aspire to during an important summer.