ST. FRANCIS, Wis. -- Giannis Antetokounmpo is like the kid of a fellow employee who everybody in the office knows and likes. If he's not making Jason Kidd and the Milwaukee Bucks assistant coaches laugh, Antetokounmpo is engaged in a conversation with some team office employees or his teammates, spreading his infectious enthusiasm and kid-like curiosity around the practice facility.
"It's like this every day," a Bucks PR guy says with a smile. On the court, the 20-year-old Greek Freak continues to play like someone who is all over the court. There does not seem to be a spot on the floor that his construction crane-like arms can't cover, and that never-ending wingspan is about to reach the postseason for the first time in just his second season.
Antetokounmpo sat still long enough on March 25 to do a Q&A with Ohm Youngmisuk, discussing everything from learning how to play point guard to someday writing a hip-hop hit song:
Ohm Youngmisuk: What have you learned about basketball this season that you didn't know last season? Just watching you, it seems like everything is so new to you.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: The most I have learned is the defensive end, things that I didn't know. Last year was rough. ... There were more veterans on the team, so we didn't go through a lot of things (such as) defensive principles and fundamentals. But this year, because we are young -- you know, Michael (Carter-Williams), me, Tyler (Ennis), Khris (Middleton) -- most of the guys are young, so we go through that every day. So, I've learned a lot of things. Like you can imagine, on the defensive end, (knowing) like where I got to be, if the ball is on the wing, like I got to pull over or when to drive the ball, baseline drive, where I got to go and who I got to help. Things like that. And spot, spacing, defensive end, run and transition.
Youngmisuk: What's the next step you want to take in your game?
Antetokounmpo: Just every day try to be a leader, try to get better and to help my team win. I just want to be more vocal, like talk more so my teammates can know I got their back. I know I am young. It is hard to talk more than veterans, but just try to do that and try to talk because I wasn't talking at the beginning of the year. I didn't feel comfortable doing that (then) and I just try to be more vocal and see that it works. On the defensive end, try to help Mike and Tyler. Always have to practice and (say) like, "We got to shoot (extra)." Try to be a leader. Let's get some shots up. I know, the age, I know sometimes like O.J. (Mayo), three, five years bigger than me, but I think that if I make that step and do it with them, when I grow up and I am older than (other) guys then it will be more easier for me.
Youngmisuk: When Jabari Parker went down for the season, did you feel like more people were looking to you to be the man on the Bucks? Or is it too early for that?
Antetokounmpo: Yeah. First of all, it was bad luck for us because Jabari was doing great things. But we had Brandon (Knight). We knew that the ball was going to go to Brandon, and after that we were going to play from there. And then what after the trade (Knight for Carter-Williams, Ennis and Miles Plumlee) happened? Guys just got to step up. Khris Middleton stepped up. I tried to step up as much as possible, be more aggressive, because I knew -- and my teammates told me -- that now the team expects more from me. Like, even if you are not working hard or you are not ready for that, it puts pressure on your back. But I think I was ready. I was working hard, so it doesn't make a difference in my game. I try to come in, try to defend, help on defense, play as hard as possible and do whatever my coach and my teammates tell me and try to listen and get better. If I am just getting better, it gets easier to be that guy.
"It was a great feeling, for some games that I was point guard, handle the ball all the time and put your teammates in the right spot and make the right plays."Giannis Antetokounmpo
Youngmisuk: What's it been like being coached by Jason Kidd this season? What have you learned from Kidd that has stuck with you the most?
Antetokounmpo: (With) Jason Kidd, every day you learn something. He always makes you take the challenge. Like, today in practice, after a tough game last night (the Bucks beat the Miami Heat 89-88 on March 24 on a buzzer-beater after erasing a 16-point, fourth-quarter deficit), I played 39-40 minutes. He came in practice. I was sprinting back onto the court. He yelled at me, "Giannis! Take the challenge! Play hard!" Like, he makes you play hard. I am not going to lie, he's on me. Like, in the video (room), he always talks to me and corrects me, but I just take it as a good sign because I know he wants me to get better and wants me to be that man and to step up. He just wants me and everybody to play hard all the time. That is crazy, the things we learn, a lot of things, because he was a player, too, a great player, a great coach. So all you got to do is just listen. ... He just wants me to get better because you always (hear others) say, like, I got a lot of potential and he just wants me to reach my ceiling.
Youngmisuk: What did you think when he said he wanted you to play more point guard?
Antetokounmpo: You know, Jason Kidd had just come to the team and saw me (for) a couple of practices. ... (Then) I heard he wants to make (me play) point. Point guard? Me, point guard? (I thought) no, I cannot do it. But you cannot say something, because he was one of the greatest point guards. If he wants to make me a point guard, I just got to sit down and listen and talk to him and try to do what he wants because he knows the right thing. It was a great feeling, for some games that I was point guard, handle the ball all the time and put your teammates in the right spot and make the right plays. It was a good feeling, but it was tough, too. It gives you more responsibility on the court.
Youngmisuk: What is new in your life right now? I hear you have a new hobby: writing music.
Antetokounmpo: Yeah, I just want to sit down and write. I want to take the challenge my brother (gave me and) told me that I cannot do it. I said, "Yeah, I can!" We were talking about buying a house. I told him, "Yeah, if we buy a house, in the basement we are going to make a studio, a music room." And after (my brothers) were talking about music, I told them, "Yeah, I can write music easily. I can write a song." And my brother was like, "No, you can't." And my mother was like, "Yeah, he can do it." And my little brother told my mother, "Look, Mom! Not because he is playing in the NBA, he can do everything right now!" And I was like, "No, Kostas! I can write a song." So I told him, "Give me two, three years. I am going to have a nice song ready for you."
Youngmisuk: What kind of music do you want to write? Rap? R&B?
Antetokounmpo: Yeah. Hip-hop. R&B. It will be clean. I am not going to have a dirty version. Just a clean version.
Youngmisuk: Who do you listen to the most right now? Who do you like?
Antetokounmpo: J. Cole. Kendrick Lamar. Big Sean. I listen to Drake, but right now, I love J. Cole.
Youngmisuk: What else are you learning about life in America in your second year here?
Antetokounmpo: I am a boring guy, I think. I just stay home all the time. But the things I have learned outside of basketball is you got to take care of your body. Last year, I played a lot of minutes (24.6 minutes per game) but this year the minutes (31.4 minutes per game) that I have played are more important. They are more intense.
Youngmisuk: You and Carter-Williams seem to have a close relationship, often joking around and talking in the locker room. Did you guys know each other before the trade?
Antetokounmpo: Yeah, I knew him. We weren't best friends, but whenever I would see him, we talk sometimes. He was one of the guys that first talked to me at the rookie transition camp last year. I came out from Greece for a week, I didn't know English so well and he came to me and was talking to me, so I felt comfortable and I will always remember that. Now that he came to our team, we are just getting closer. We sit next to each other in the locker room.
Youngmisuk: When the Knight-for-Carter-Williams trade happened at the trade deadline, it seemed like it came as a shock to a lot of the players.
Antetokounmpo: I didn't know nothing about it ... shocked. But I think everything in the end happens for a reason. All of it will make sense -- in a few years.
Youngmisuk: Looking at the Bucks' future -- Jabari, yourself, Carter-Williams -- what comes to your mind when you hear that?
Antetokounmpo: Great team. Great guys. That'd be amazing. It is hard to have a team that everybody likes (each other). I read an article that Kevin Love and LeBron James are not friends. Who knows? But you cannot build a franchise that two or three guys where they are not connected to each other. Like, me, Jabari and Michael, we like each other. We are friends. Like Khris, we all like each other. That is a thing that we do great here because we like each other, we like having fun with each other, we like playing together.