How the Bucks got Giannis Antetokounmpo ready for being a first-time father

Inside the Bucks' practice with Giannis (2:11)

Go behind the scenes with Giannis Antetokounmpo at Bucks practice as he strives to improve every day. (2:11)

MILWAUKEE -- Eric Bledsoe flashed a smile an hour ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks' tipoff against the Minnesota Timberwolves on New Year's Day.

The Bucks guard had just completed his pregame shooting routine, with his 4-year-old son, Ethan, at his side. There was a dunk contest on the ball rack, half-court dribbling games and plenty of hugs shared between the father and son before Bledsoe began his night at the office.

Bledsoe, 30, is a father of three, having welcomed his youngest into the world with his wife, Morgan, during training camp before this season. His Bucks teammate Khris Middleton became a father for the first time last season.

Up next: Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose longtime girlfriend, Mariah Riddlesprigger, gave birth to the couple's first child, Liam, on Monday.

For an already close Bucks squad, preparing their reigning MVP for fatherhood became another way to bond. Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Bledsoe are the team's three leaders in points per game. Now the trio is sharing more than the scoring load -- they're also sharing the journey of raising infant children.

"I'm experienced with it and Khris is going through it, but I tell him that nothing can teach him how to be a dad with your son that's about to be on the way," Bledsoe said. "We're not going to be there when he's sick; we're not going to be there when he's smiling at you. It's just something you've got to go through with him."

Bledsoe is the veteran among the group, with an 8-year-old daughter, 4-year-old son and now the newborn, and has become a go-to resource for Antetokounmpo.

Although Bledsoe, Middleton and others around the team have plenty of stories about the late-night wake-ups, diaper changing and how to adjust to the sleeping routine, they're giving Antetokounmpo space to learn on the fly.

"He asks us questions all the time, but I just tell him that it's just an experience you have to go through," Bledsoe said. "Can't nobody tell you how to be a parent -- that comes with kids."

Whenever Ethan is around the team with his father, the Bucks guard notices how joyful Antetokounmpo becomes.

"It's kind of different for me," Bledsoe said. "I already know what to expect with an 8- and 4-year-old, but just seeing them go through it is amazing, especially going through it with them."

For Antetokounmpo, that excitement has manifested in a career year, even after winning MVP honors last season. The 25-year-old is averaging career highs in points (30.0) and rebounds (13.5) while shooting 54.9% from the field and leading the Bucks to a league-best record.

"It is definitely [motivating me]," Antetokounmpo told ESPN. "I try to be around kids as much as possible; I try to learn and ask questions. I'm excited. It's exciting. That's something where no matter what goes on at work or anything, you go back home and you're happy because your little boy is there."

Antetokounmpo didn't play Monday night against the Sacramento Kings after the birth of his son, but he told ESPN earlier this year that he didn't anticipate spending significant time away from the team after his son was born, saying he was locked in on his goal of bringing Milwaukee its first title since 1971.

"Hell no," Antetokounmpo said. "We've got a job to do."

That was the case last year, when the Bucks swept the Detroit Pistons in the first round of the playoffs. That allowed Middleton to be present for the birth of his daughter, Audrielle, who was born a day after the Bucks' series-clinching win.

Middleton, 28, considers 2019 to have been his best year. He became an All-Star, experienced his first deep playoff run, represented the United States at the FIBA World Championship and secured a five-year, $177.5 million max contract.

Nothing beats being a dad, though.

"We talk about it every day, me, [Giannis] and Bled," Middleton said. "We just talk about the fun things like putting together the crib, getting up at night to take care of the child, but just the joy. Just the pride that you have in being a father is something you don't have until you have one."

Antetokounmpo also has support from another Bucks teammate, his older brother, Thanasis. Their younger brother, Kostas, plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, and he said he "can't wait" to become an uncle to Giannis' first child.

"Hopefully, he likes basketball," Kostas said. "He might not, but hopefully he does."

The newborn's middle name, Charles, was the name of the brothers' late father, Charles, who moved the family from their native Nigeria to Greece shortly before Thanasis was born.

During a Christmas Day sit-down with ESPN's Maria Taylor, Giannis spoke about his father's influence and what becoming a father would mean for him.

"It makes you more mature, but it's something I always wanted, to have my own family, to become a father," Antetokounmpo said. "I always thought that God's timing is the best timing, and God is doing it right now. I'm happy about it; I'm excited about it."

Although Antetokounmpo knows a baby is a major life change, he also has seen firsthand how it can lead to on-court success, thanks to Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet. In the 2019 Eastern Conference finals, VanVleet was shooting a dismal 20.0% through three games. Then his son, Fred Jr., was born. VanVleet would put up 13 points off the bench in Game 4, and he shot 68% in the final three games of the series to end the Bucks' season.

"Look at Fred VanVleet," Antetokounmpo said. "He started making all those shots when he had his kid. Maybe that happens to me also. Who knows?"

While a stats bump would be nice for Antetokounmpo -- and a scary proposition for the rest of the NBA, given that he already is on pace to become the first player since Moses Malone in 1982 to average 30 points and 13 rebounds per game in a single season -- he isn't worried about statistical milestones or winning another MVP. He wants to join fellow father VanVleet in another club: NBA champions.

"I know there are a lot of things that come with being a celebrity, being on the front page covers and all that, but it really doesn't excite me," Antetokounmpo said. "There's a lot of things that I've turned down. I've turned down movies, commercials, endorsement deals this year because I really don't care. I just want to win. I want to help my teammates win. I want to help this city, bring a championship to this city."