SH Blog: The tale of Antetokounmpo, Noah wants Melo to join Bulls

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Milwaukee BucksGiannis Antetokounmpo has truly come a long way to be where he is right now: a wide-eyed, just-turned 19-year-old kid who is learning the ropes of being an NBA player in his first season.

He came from a poor background – so poor that he actually shared a pair of sneakers with his brother whenever he had to play basketball. He is a fun character and has shown flashes of brilliance so far, so when you read about the road taken to be the person he is today, it makes him that much more likable. Amos Barshad of Grantland has a very, very detailed story on how he picked up on the game of basketball and what made him nearly give it up:

It starts in the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Greece was transformed by a wave of immigrants — including Giannis’s parents, who left their native Nigeria and had four sons in their adopted country. Velliniatis had played pro ball in Germany before he began pinging around Europe as a “have clipboard, will travel” type of coach. He saw Greece’s changing demographics as a way to help others (and perhaps boost his own career). He began scouring Athens’s new immigrant communities, seeking transformative basketball talent. And for a decade, he failed.“My personal life was going to nothing, my basketball career was not successful, and I said to myself, ‘I will not have big goals in life anymore,’” he tells me over the phone from Greece. He hadn’t played in the NBA; he hadn’t become a big-time coach. Then, a week after he had decided to give up: “I see Giannis.”It wasn’t one of his regular scouting trips; he was just walking through the neighborhood of Sepolia to visit a friend. This is not happening to me! This is not possible!, he said he thought when he spotted the 13-year-old Giannis. “You are chasing for 10 years immigrant kids to play basketball for a mediocre level, and suddenly you have in front of you Julius Erving! Magic Johnson! Michael Jordan!” Never mind that Giannis wasn’t actually playing basketball when Velliniatis first saw him. He was just running around with his brothers. But Velliniatis knew.

“It was mostly like a blackmail,” Velliniatis says, explaining how he convinced Giannis to hoop. “I told him, if I find work for your parents” — their work papers had long expired — “will you play basketball for me?” Then he took Giannis and his brothers to Filathlitikos, a smaller club where he hoped they would get more personal attention. He talked the club into providing a 500-euro monthly stipend — without Giannis ever touching a ball.

For the first few years, it was tenuous. “Many times the kid stopped,” Velliniatis says. “He was going and working, selling little things in marketplaces. I had to go back to the family and drag Giannis back to basketball.” The family had no money; at times, Giannis could go two or three days without eating. The fear of hunger was always a concern, Velliniatis says. “You could see it in the hardness of the kid.” Meanwhile, as Antetokounmpo recalls, “I get taller and taller and taller.”

It’s a long article (fine Grantland articles usually are), but it’s an intriguing story worth reading.

JOAKIM NOAH TELLS MELO TO JOIN CHICAGO:

JoakimNoahSH1Can you imagine Carmelo Anthony playing alongside the kind of gritty defense the Chicago Bulls have? Joakim Noah can, and according to Chris Broussard of ESPN, the two All Stars had a meaningful conversation about teaming up next season in Chicago during All-Star weekend last month:

All-Star Convo btwn @carmeloanthony & @JoakimNoah began as discussion on what it’s like to play for Tom Thibodeau. With rumors about Bulls going 4 Melo as well as Thibs coaching NYK, Melo wanted to know about Thibs. From there, convo turned to Noah telling Melo he should join Bulls if he wants to win ring & secure winning legacy. Melo responded to Noah that he admires how hard Bulls play & how hungry they are. Also told him his son’s favorite player is D-Rose. I’m told D-Rose would love for Melo to join Bulls as well. If Bulls ask Rose to help recruit, he will. Sources add tho that it’ll be hard for Melo to turn down the $ and leave NYK.

Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Anthony, Taj Gibson and Noah. That sounds scary for the rest of the league and ideal for Anthony if all he wants to do is win. The upcoming summer should be a very intriguing one.

CLIP OF THE DAY: 

Paul George is widely recognized as a great two-way player around the league, but sometimes, even the simplest move can throw off a great defender. Case in point:

OTHER NEWS FROM AROUND THE LEAGUE:

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Five Things to Watch: Milwaukee Bucks

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Brandon KnightCapping off a mediocrity-defining three-year stretch that saw them finish ninth, ninth and eighth in the East, the Milwaukee Bucks should have entered the summer of 2013 with change as the most obvious mandate.

As in change everything.

Despite a return to the playoffs and encouraging progress from big men Larry Sanders, Ersan Ilyasova and John Henson, the Bucks had little to show for their efforts last season, as coaching upheaval and a dysfunctional locker room motivated GM John Hammond to take a flamethrower to his roster once again.

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Fantasy Spin: Dirk (35) Lifts Mavs; Curry (39) Buries Blazers

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An incredible fourth-quarter comeback led by Dirk Nowitzki (35 PTS, 7 REB) kept the Mavericks’ playoff dream alive. He hit 14 of 17 shots including five triples, and scored the final eight points of a 15-1 closing run.

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Madden: Bosh leads Heat to 21st straight win

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milwaukeeskylineOn paper, Friday’s tilt between the Heat and Bucks offered an intriguing if not entirely predictable preview of the two teams’ possible first-round playoff matchup.

The East’s best versus its erratic eighth seed. The unstoppable force versus the decidedly movable object. The inevitability of LeBron James’ quest for a second title against the maddening inconsistency of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.

It might not have been Bird vs. Magic, but as far as Friday night NBA storylines go, you could do much worse.

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Fantasy Spin: Weary Warriors Drop Fourth Straight; Sunday Matinees Are Must-See TV

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It’s even worse news than we thought for Tony Parker, whose Grade 2 ankle sprain will keep him out for the next four weeks. His MVP candidacy takes a big hit, and the Spurs will have only eight games left in the regular season if TP returns on schedule.

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