When I first saw Thanasis Antetokounmpo, I thought he was Usher.
It was the night of the 2013 NBA Draft and I was sitting front row in the Barclays Center press room interviewing each NBA Draft pick in attendance. When Thanasis' younger brother, Giannis, was selected by the Bucks at 16, he joined his taller sibling at the podium. As Giannis glided to the front of the room, the crowd of media members began to whisper and quickly came to the consensus that this stranger attached to Giannis' hip was his translator.
But when the first round pick began to answer our questions in broken English instead of his supposed translator, it became clear we had no idea who the young man sitting to his left was. It definitely wasn't Usher, though. Hey, I left my glasses back in my car at the Hamilton NJ Transit station parking lot.
"I'm Thanasis, I'm Thanasis," he told Liberty Ballers over the phone after a pre-Draft training session at a gym in D.C. last week. "We’re brothers, but on the court he’s just another player. It doesn’t matter. They will always compare us because we’re brothers. It’s just there. But I’m my own player."
Thanasis played 50 games for the Sixers' D-League affiliate, the Delaware 87ers, this season. While he's still a few years away from becoming the player he has the potential to be, Thanasis averaged 12 points on 47% shooting from the field, 31% from three and 66% from the foul line. He also grabbed 4.3 rebounds, dished 2.1 assists, blocked 1.3 shots and swiped 1.2 steals.
But forget the numbers. What makes this 21-year-old special is his unwavering motor. If you had the opportunity to venture down to Newark and watch the 87ers in the Bob Carpenter Center at all this season, it was easy to forget about the low quality game you had paid $15 to attend and focus your attention on the Greek in the home whites. If the D-League had SportVu camera data available to the public, I'd bet my future unborn children's lives that Thanasis led the league in miles ran per game.
"I was nervous in every game, but not nervous in a bad way. Nervous in a good way. Because if you’re nervous, that means you want to do good," Thanasis said. "I was nervous because I didn’t know if everyone would see how I can play. When I was back home, everyone would always say, ‘Oh, you’re really athletic and really fast.' I wanted people to see that I can stand out and make a difference. So it felt like I was playing in my first game the whole year."
Thanasis ran the floor like a thoroughbred gazelle with the facial expression of a deer in headlights. Defenses never knew what his next move would be because, quite frankly, he had no idea. The kid simply laced up his sneakers, put on a jersey, and played.
"I don’t know if I was one of the best players on the court," Thanasis said. "The only thing I tried to do was play 100% and just play my heart out in every game and every practice."
At 6-7, 205 pounds with a 7-0 wingspan and a 39.5 max vertical, he's almost as much of an athletic Greek Freak as his brother. Even with an offensive game as raw as a spicy tuna roll, you could drop him in the Eastern Conference Finals tonight and he would hold his own defensively 1-on-1 (rotation-wise, he has some work to do). That's where he'll make his money and have a long NBA career. And if he can continue to improve his shot where he can knock down threes with consistency, he'll be a very valuable contributor at the next level.
He'll be in play for the Sixers at No. 39 in the second. Here's to hoping Sam Hinkie keeps Thanasis in the Sixers family.