Credit: FIBA
Credit FIBA

Giannis Antetokounmpo sets the tone for the national team as the Greek flag bearer from the first day of the training camp for the 2022 EuroBasket. Not so long ago, the NBA Finals MVP needed some time to be accepted among his Greek NT teammates.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis  Antetokounmpo
Position: PF, SF
Age: 27
Height: 211 cm
Weight: 98 kg
Birth place: Athens, Greece

Antetokounmpo landed in the first senior national team training camp after his NBA rookie year when he was 19 in 2014.

His teammates and head coach Fotis Katsikaris were slightly confused because of Giannis' seriousness. The Milwaukee Bucks forward didn't even smile in the first days.

As recalled in Mirin Fader's book "Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP," one Greek NT veteran took Giannis' seriousness for rudeness and was ready to fight him.

"Tell this kid to change his attitude because I'm going to punch his face," the player approached Katsikaris and told to head coach.

Some veterans thought that Giannis was cocky just because he was coming off the NBA.

"He was a high draft pick, but we didn't know how his game would fit. We didn't know if he could help up," Calathes was quoted in "Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP."

The first time Giannis met Katsikaris, Giannis asked if his older brother Thanasis could join the team.

The coach was surprised that the player who had just earned a roster spot asked not about his role but a family member. Katsikaris diplomatically explained it wasn't possible at that point.

"Where do you see me? What can I do to improve?" Giannis asked again.

He looked Katsikaris in the eye. Katsikaris later admitted he hadn't seen that kind of focus in a young player before.

"He absolutely wasn't ready to play, but he was a real diamond," Katsikaris recalled. "Greece is a small country, and of course, we have a great culture in basketball. But we never had a player like him. With his characteristics, with his raw talent. We needed to work with him."

Giannis didn't play a minute in the first preparation game for the 2014 FIBA World Cup. After the match, he stayed in the gym to shoot for hours.

Then he approached assistant Asterios Kalivas and said: "If I make three out of four three-point shots, can you please tell the coach to let me play a little bit more for the next friendly?"

When everyone else went to show after the practice was finished around 7:30 PM, Giannis worked on his shooting form with Kalivas. Giannis wouldn't leave until 9 PM, refusing to shower until he returned to the hotel.

"I have never seen anybody work so hard. If he could practice all day, he would do it," Kalivas recalled.

When Giannis suited up for the U20 national team a year ago, one of the players approached their head coach and complained about Giannis.

"Coach, I couldn't sleep last night," one of the players said to Kostas Missas.

"Come on, why?" Missas was surprised.

"Giannis was doing push-ups and sit-ups all night," the player responded.

Missas confronted Giannis about it.

"I'm sorry, coach, but that's the only way I'm going to play in the NBA," Giannis told him.

After a while, Giannis became friends with his Greek national team teammates and opened up to them about his dreams.

"I remember he was saying that he wants to be one of the all-stars in the NBA one day," former Greek NT captain Nikos Zisis was quoted in "Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP."

Giannis averaged 6.3 points and 4.3 rebounds in six 2014 FIBA World Cup games in his national team debut.

Greece went 5-0 in the group stage before losing to Serbia 72-90 in the eighth-finals.

Nikos Zisis was very emotional after the loss and burst into tears. 

Giannis grabbed him and hugged his captain: "Don't worry, don't worry. We got this next year."

Credit FIBA

When the entire Greek NT landed in Athens, Giannis had tears in his eyes, hugging his teammates, who became much closer compared to these first days of the training camp when some wanted to punch him.

A week later, Zisis heard Giannis saying in an interview that he learned what love truly means by wearing the jersey of this country and that he understood that lesson from Zisis.

As recalled in "Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP," Zisis cried listening to the radio interview.

"A nineteen-year-old kid whose parents are not from this country, and he really loves this country. He really understands."

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