NBA

Greek coach who discovered Giannis: I had a feeling something big was going to happen

By Sports Desk May 14, 2019

He is one step away from leading his team to the NBA Finals, but MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo once needed a book about Diego Maradona to convince him basketball was his true calling.

Antetokounmpo has been the driving force behind the Milwaukee Bucks' run to the Eastern Conference Finals having averaged 27.7 points and 12.5 rebounds per game in the regular season for a team that had a league-high 60 wins.

The 24-year-old 'Greek Freak', who is of Nigerian descent, has elevated himself to superstar status in his sixth year in the NBA, a journey that seemed unfathomable in 2008 when Spiros Velliniatis first spotted a scrawny 13-year-old child living in poverty in the Sepolia neighbourhood of Athens.

Velliniatis had been scouting immigrant communities in the Greek capital to find potential players for club side Filathlitikos when, by "pure chance", he discovered Antetokounmpo playing a game of tag with some friends.

"It's a moment where you have flashbacks," Velliniatis told Omnisport. "I had a feeling that something big was going to happen."

Earlier in his life, Velliniatis had left Greece for America himself to play high-school basketball and pursue a career in the NBA. He was not good enough to reach the elite level but something told him Antetokounmpo could be, even if the teenager had barely played basketball at that point.  

Yet soccer-mad Antetokounmpo did not see what his mentor could back then.

"My dream was to play in the NBA - I saw a person in front of me who was capable of doing it," Velliniatis explained.

"I thought it was a sin if I did not give an opportunity to a kid who has the blessing of [becoming] if not the best, one of the best, whoever played that game. I thought I was committing a crime if I did not support it."

According to Velliniatis, a Filathlitikos board member provided the Antetokounmpo family with financial support while their children played for the team, but getting a raw Giannis to put in the hours required on the court was, at first, difficult.

"For three years I was supporting something that looked like a lost cause," Velliniatis admitted.

"The first year was the honeymoon and then problems started to come. In this period Giannis quit at least 20 times, if not more. One time he quit for at least three weeks."

So Velliniatis tried to find something relatable to convince his prodigy of his greatness - a book about World Cup winner Maradona.

"I went to his house and I bought him a book about Diego Maradona," he said.

"He was still into soccer, he was not yet fully into basketball in his mind. I told him, 'This guy is you. You must stay in this path no matter how hard it becomes'. The coach told me, 'This kid must not be lost'. We wanted to do anything possible."

Soon the penny dropped. Antetokounmpo scored 50 points in one of his final games with Filathlitikos' junior team and it was not long before those in the NBA were paying attention too, with the Milwaukee Bucks making a franchise-altering decision and drafting him with the 15th pick in 2013.

He has been the most successful of the four Antetokounmpo brothers so far - Thanasis spending just a single season in the NBA, rookie Kostas featuring in only two games for the Dallas Mavericks in 2018-19 and Alexis still in high school - a fact Velliniatis attributes to Giannis' personality.

"Giannis developed an attitude to survive... and a ruthlessness," he claimed. "Giannis had a different character, a harder character. The other kids did not embrace it psychologically the same way."

His incredible story has given Greece a new hero, but Velliniatis hopes Antetokounmpo's tale can provide inspiration for youngsters all around the globe too.

"Right now, wherever you go around the world and you tell them, 'Greece', they will think of Giannis," he said.

"I think the message for Giannis is universal. It's for people from Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, the United States, Europe.

"A role model does not stay within the limits of one race, it is something which is harmonic."

Related items

  • Ashes 2019: Sensational Stokes, gritty Leach and near misses - how day four of the third Test unfolded Ashes 2019: Sensational Stokes, gritty Leach and near misses - how day four of the third Test unfolded

    Ben Stokes produced the innings of a lifetime to rescue England's Ashes dream on a remarkable day of Test cricket at Headingley on Sunday.

    A dismal first-innings total of 67 left England's chances of regaining the urn seemingly in tatters and a daunting target of 359 meant the home side needed to record their biggest successful Test run chase to prevent Australia taking an unassailable 2-0 lead.

    Joe Root and Joe Denly's sublime century stand a day before laid the foundation for an unreal day four, though, as Stokes – just a month on from his heroics in the Cricket World Cup final – once again came to his side's rescue.

    An unbeaten 135 helped secure a truly memorable one-wicket victory, with Jack Leach playing an unlikely side-kick by safely seeing off 17 balls for the return of one run.

    A raucous Leeds crowd saluted their hero and below we take a look at the key moments of one of the greatest days in Test history.


    ROOT BLOW LEAVES ENGLAND WOUNDED

    Many predicted England's hopes would hinge largely on the performance of captain Root, whose stand with Denly had given the hosts a fighting chance in the first place. But Root will have been kicking himself after an ill-advised charge on Nathan Lyon looped off his pad, over wicketkeeper Tim Paine and drew a stunning catch on the dive to his left from David Warner. Having added just two to his overnight score, England were at 159-4.

    STOKES AND BAIRSTOW CHIP AWAY

    That was the only damage done to England's scoreboard in the morning session as Stokes and Jonny Bairstow sought about chipping away at the target. It took Stokes 83 balls to reach double figures, while his partner scored slightly quicker. It was a crucial partnership for England.

    BAIRSTOW DISMISSAL TRIGGERS COLLAPSE

    Stokes and Bairstow led England to 238-4 by lunch, but things unravelled in the afternoon session. Bairstow's poor waft at Josh Hazlewood's delivery, which was moving away, was pouched gleefully by Marnus Labuschagne in the slips. A horror miscommunication between Stokes and Jos Buttler saw the latter run out for just one, and Chris Woakes (1) and Stuart Broad (0) went cheaply either side of an entertaining 15 from Jofra Archer. Enter Jack Leach.

    STOKES SWINGS FOR THE FENCES

    At 286-9, Stokes decided the time was right to start swinging the bat and boy did he do so. Lyon was given the treatment – including a remarkable reverse sweep over the ropes – while Hazlewood was whacked for six off back-to-back balls. Stokes' brilliance had dramatically brought England back into the match, but there were a few more nervy moments along the way…

    WICKET REPRIEVES

    Every great story needs some peaks and troughs, and so it was for England. Had Marcus Harris clung onto an undercooked Stokes slog at third man, or Lyon not missed a simple-looking run-out with Leach well out of his crease, then the course of history would have been markedly different. There was more bad news for Lyon when video technology showed he had Stokes pinned lbw not long after, but the decision was not given on the field and Australia had already burned their reviews. It was a huge moment for England.

    STOKES SEALS IT IN STYLE

    That failed appeal still left Leach on strike and England needing two to win and one to draw. The number 11's gutsy resistance returned a single run with a jab past short leg off Pat Cummins, which brought Stokes back to the fore. Headingley waited with bated breath and Stokes smacked one through the covers before throwing his arms wide and roaring in sheer jubilation at the miracle he had just orchestrated.

  • Chelsea rely on youth while City's experience shines - the Premier League Data Diary Chelsea rely on youth while City's experience shines - the Premier League Data Diary

    Chelsea and Manchester City enjoyed successful away trips in gameweek three of the Premier League season, with the Blues turning to youth for inspiration while the champions were inspired by longstanding heroes.

    A transfer ban has forced Frank Lampard to rely on a batch of talented Chelsea youngsters as he looks to make a positive start to life as a Premier League manager, and some of his hottest prospects showed more than just potential on their trip to Norwich City.

    While Chelsea picked up a first league win of the season and Manchester City took three points from their trip to Bournemouth, it is Liverpool who remain the top flight's pace-setters after they brushed Arsenal aside at Anfield.

    With the help of Opta's stats, take a deep dive into the weekend's biggest stories.

     

    ABRAHAM AT THE DOUBLE FOR LAMPARD'S YOUNG BLUES

    Lampard fielded Chelsea's youngest Premier League side for 25 years at Carrow Road, where Tammy Abraham scored twice in a 3-2 victory.

    With the likes of Abraham, Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic in the side, the Blues' average age was just 24 years and 208 days, making it the most youthful Chelsea team to play a Premier League game since February 1994 against Oldham (average age: 24y 190d).

    Abraham, who has scored more league goals since the start of last season (28) than any other English player in the top two divisions, became the third youngest player to score a double for Chelsea in the Premier League - after Mark Nicholls in January 1998 and Eddie Newton in December 1992.

    Mount also found the net, scoring for the second game running, and the last time Chelsea had two English players under the age of 21 score in the same Premier League match was back in August 1992 (Newton and Graham Stuart against Sheffield Wednesday).

    SILVA SHINES ON LANDMARK APPEARANCE

    Manchester City saw off Bournemouth 3-1 at the Vitality Stadium to make it nine top-flight wins out of nine in this fixture - the best 100 per cent win record by a team over an opponent in top-flight history.

    Kevin De Bruyne set up the first of Sergio Aguero's two goals on the south coast to register his 50th Premier League assist in his 123rd appearance, reaching that milestone figure in fewer games than any other player in the competition's history.

    Argentina international Aguero's second came 19 minutes into the second half and was his 400th career goal for club and country, with 235 of those coming for City.

    The match was also a special occasion for David Silva, who marked his 400th appearance for City with a couple of assists of his own. The Spanish midfielder has assisted more than once in 14 separate Premier League games - only Ryan Giggs and Cesc Fabregas have done so more often (17 games).

    Harry Wilson's sublime free-kick late in the first half to make it 2-1 saw him become the youngest player, at 22 years and 156 days, to score in his first two Premier League appearances since Anthony Martial in September 2015 (19 years, 289 days).

    SALAH STILL DEADLY AS LIVERPOOL STREAK CONTINUES

    Liverpool won for the 12th league game running with a 3-1 victory over Arsenal - their best streak in the Premier League and their joint-best ever in all league competition, equalling the record set under Kenny Dalglish in 1990.

    Mohamed Salah scored a second-half double at Anfield and has now been directly involved in more Premier League goals against Arsenal than he has any other side - six goals and two assists, including a goal in all four of his home games against them.

    The first of Salah's goals came via the penalty spot after he was pulled back by David Luiz inside the box. Arsenal have given away eight Premier League penalties since the start of last season - only Brighton and Hove Albion with 10 have faced more.

    It was a familiar story for Arsenal in many ways as they have now failed to win any of their last 23 away league games against fellow 'big six' sides, conceding 53 goals and keeping just one clean sheet during that run.

    The performance of Nicolas Pepe on his full debut did give Arsenal supporters something to take away from the game, however, with the club-record signing becoming the first player to successfully dribble past Virgil van Dijk in the Liverpool defender's last 50 league appearances.

    JOELINTON HELPS MAGPIES END 'BIG SIX' HOODOO

    Newcastle United got their first Premier League win under Steve Bruce thanks to Joelinton's first-half winner against Tottenham, and drew a line under a long-standing struggle on the road against the division's top sides.

    Prior to Sunday's result, Newcastle had not beaten one of the Premier League's 'big six' in an away fixture since a 2-1 victory in December 2015 - also against Tottenham.

    The game was disappointing for Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino, who saw his side suffer their first league defeat of the season in his 500th match as a manager in all competitions and his first defeat against Newcastle since May 2016 (a 5-1 loss).

    It was a different story for Bruce, who recorded his first away victory as a manager against Spurs in the Premier League, and became the sixth boss in the competition's history to win a match with five or more different teams after Alan Pardew (5), Harry Redknapp (5), Mark Hughes (6), Roy Hodgson (5) and Sam Allardyce (7).

  • Ashes 2019: England and Australia's most thrilling Test tussles after Stokes' Headingley heroics Ashes 2019: England and Australia's most thrilling Test tussles after Stokes' Headingley heroics

    England and Australia served up another all-time Ashes classic at Headingley as the hosts somehow secured a one-wicket victory to level the series.

    Joe Root's team had looked dead and buried, in both the contest and the series, when chasing a record 359 in the third Test.

    Still needing another 73 when last man Jack Leach came to the crease, England pulled off a miracle thanks to Ben Stokes' unbeaten 135.

    We take a look at other thrilling Ashes Tests after the humdinger at Headingley.

© 2018 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.