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Tom Archdeacon: Flyers’ Kostas Antetokounmpo tries to live up to his name


His parents emigrated from Lagos, Nigeria to Athens, Greece in 1991 so when he and his three brothers were born, his mom, Veronica, gave each of the boys two names.

One was Greek. One was Nigerian.

“My Nigerian name is Ndubuisi and it has a special meaning, but I can’t remember it right now,” Kostas Antetokounmpo admitted before growing silent for a moment’s thought, then adding: “It has something to do, I believe, about a gift.

“Like a gift from God.”

The University of Dayton basketball community hopes that’s exactly what it means and that the 19-year-old lives up to that name once he finally takes the court for the Flyers.

Everyone hopes the 6-foot-11 redshirt freshman truly is heaven sent, but nobody knows for sure.

Antetokounmpo certainly has the pedigree.

»RELATED: 5 questions facing the Flyers

His 21-year-old brother, Giannis, the 6-foot-11 Milwaukee Bucks forward dubbed The Greek Freak for his huge hands, extra-long strides and those high-flying, monster dunks, is an NBA sensation.

His 6-foot-7 brother Thanasis, who, at 25, is “the most athletic” of all of them said Kostas, played briefly with the New York Knicks after he was drafted in 2014. He has since bounced around the NBA D-League and now plays for Panathinaikos, the Athens-based pro team owned by the billionaire Giannakopoulos family.

»RELATED: Greek Freak visits brother at Dayton

And then there is his youngest brother Alex, who plays for Dominican High School in Milwaukee, the same school where he prepped before UD.

“He’s already 6-foot 6 and wears a size-16 shoe,” Kostas said. “And he just turned 16. He’s still growing. He’s really going to be something.”

Others believe that, too. Already Alex has over 30,000 people following his Instagram account.

Kostas, on the other hand, has been relegated to the sidelines for the past year. He sat out last season at Dayton, an academic redshirt after the NCAA Clearinghouse didn’t accept some of his credits from Greece.

And this past summer, after going through the first summer school session at UD, he returned to Greece to try out for the country’s Under-20 national team that would play in the FIBA U-20 Championships in Crete from July 15-23.

He traveled with the team to Germany and Italy for pre-tournament games, but once in Crete, five days before the tournament was to begin, he suffered a knee injury that sidelined him the rest of the summer.

For a month there were conflicting reports on the extent of his injury. It was first said to be a non-displaced tibia fracture, but then came word that the damage was not quite so bad.

Up until about five weeks ago, new UD coach Anthony Grant said he wasn’t sure how seriously his young big man was hurt because he had chosen to stay in Greece for treatment and didn’t return to campus until days before school started Aug. 23.

Once here, Kostas said tests showed he had hyper-extended his knee.

Grant said it was “a bone bruise.”

Last Tuesday was Antetokounmpo’s first day on the court for the Flyers.

“This literally was his first time on the court with myself and the rest of his teammates,” Grant said afterward. “He was able to do some non-contact stuff.

“I’m pleased with the work he’s put in up to this point and now he just has to follow the protocol that our trainer and medical staff have laid out for him.

“But from a basketball standpoint I really can’t say anything about him. He hasn’t really played in two years. I think he has a lot of potential and an upside that we’ll have to help him fulfill.”

Kostas thinks that will begin happening soon:

“Right now I can run up and down the court and do everything basically, but have contact. I wear a (protective) sleeve on my knee, but that’s it.

“I’ll be ready for the start of the season.”

Soccer came first

When the Antetokounmpo family left Nigeria — where the eldest son, Francis, stayed to live with grandparents — it settled in the Sepolia neighborhood just to the north of the Athens center city.

Early on they lived the life of struggling immigrants, moved often and did what they could to pay the bills.

Thanasis and Giannis often peddled watches, sunglasses and hand bags on the street and Kostas said later he and Alex did the same.

“We all played soccer first,” Kostas said. “Thanasis had a growth spurt then and everybody said he should play basketball. But me and Giannis didn’t really like basketball. We were into soccer. But then each of us copied our older brother and tried it.”

Initially, Thanasis and Giannis shared the same pair of sneakers.

Soon, though, they were being recognized for their talents and in 2012, when he was 17, Giannis joined his brother Thanasis on the Fiathlitikos team in a second-tier pro league in Greece.

When he turned 18, Giannis signed a four-year deal with a Spanish team that included an NBA buyout clause. And in April 2013, the Bucks made him the 15th player chosen in the NBA draft.

After Giannis was drafted, the family moved to Milwaukee and Kostas said he watched his brother hone himself into the star he is now:

“Some people think he just came out of nowhere, that all this just sort of happened, but I saw him put in the work. He’s in the gym all the time. Sometimes I’ve seen him sleep in the gym. He just made himself better and better.”

Last September, Giannis signed a four-year, $100 million contract extension with Milwaukee. He then had an all-star season and ended the year leading the Bucks in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots.

He became the first player in NBA history to finish in the top 20 in each category.

Kostas said no matter how much success his two older brothers have had, they don’t forget where they came from:

“Giannis is really big on family. He takes us everywhere with him. They might say, ‘Oh no. You can’t really have your family here,’ and he says, ‘No, my brothers are coming with me.’ That’s how it was at the All-Star Game last year. He took us to press conferences, workouts, everything.

“I talk to each of my brothers two or three times a day. I call Thanasis and it might be 4 or 5 a.m. over there, but he never says, ‘Hey, I got to sleep.’ He talks to me about classes, the team, everything.

“And Giannis calls me all the time. We’re really close.”

He pointed to the rubber bracelets he wears on each wrist.

He said they are some of the best things Giannis has ever given him. Each one says “Never Give Up.”

“He wants me to remember that,” Kostas said. “It’s good advice because I sat out last year and overcame that and then this summer I got injured and am coming back from that. He wanted to remind me to just keep pushin’, pushin’, pushin’.”

Greek Freak 2.0?

Kostas said he and his brothers have had some spirited games of 2-on-2:

“It’s me and Thanasis against Giannis and Alex and they’re always good matchups.”

It’s been said Kostas is the best shooter among the four and the other day he didn’t dispute that.

“I am,” he grinned.

He’s the first in the family to take the NCAA basketball route and believes it will be the path that further develops him on the way to a pro career, too.

He said one of the first times he focused on UD came when he was flipping TV channels and came upon a Flyers’ game.

“I don’t remember who they were playing against,” he said. “And really the only dude I can remember from that game is John Crosby. He was in the game, the point guard, and I remember him dribbling the ball.

“I don’t remember anything else, just John … and his hairstyle.

“And then when I came on my official visit here I saw him again. I was like, ‘Oh yeah! That’s the dude I saw playing in the game.’ ”

He chose UD over the likes of Louisville, Florida and Iowa State.

“I thought Dayton was a good fit for me to develop and go on to play at the next level,” he said. “Dayton is a place where you can focus, where there aren’t a lot of distractions. The people here seem to care about you as a player and a person.”

Although Archie Miller recruited him, Kostas said he likes what he sees in Grant:

“He’s a good coach and really knows what he’s doing. I like his character. He’s not the type of dude who’s always gonna be yelling at you. He’s really patient.”

»RELATED: A look at 2017-18 Dayton roster

As for this year’s team, he said: “We have a lot of new guys coming in who really know basketball. We have a lot of talent and now we’ve got to find a way to get everybody to connect together and be a team. We need somebody to be the leader.”

He said he will also try to reach out to Obadiah “Obi” Toppin, the 6-foot-9 freshman who was ruled academically ineligible by the NCAA and will have to sit out the upcoming season.

Kostas went through that last year.

“I had good teammates who really tried to make me feel part of the team, but it was still difficult,” he said. “When the team travels to games, you have to stay at home. I’d watch the games on TV in my room and text everybody as soon as they were over, but you sometimes don’t feel a part of it.

“I want to make sure Obi doesn’t feel that.”

In the process he said he wants to experience what it’s like to finally suit up for the Flyers:

“I can’t wait to run out on the court with the team. I love the fans. It’s crazy. All that energy. It’s pretty electrifying.”

And when the fans see him, what do they call him?

His brother is The Greek Freak.

“Some people have called me The Greek Freak 2.0,” he shrugged. “But I don’t really have a nickname.

“Hopefully, the Dayton Flyers can come up with a good name for me.”

Maybe so, but then again, what could be better than Ndubuisi?

“A gift from God?”



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