NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Future basketball superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo was still relatively unknown but NBA-ready by the time he was picked in the 2013 NBA Draft as an 18-year-old out of Europe.
But what if the Milwaukee Bucks and other NBA teams balked on the kid who’d become the “Greek Freak,” and he went to college as a then 6-foot-9, 200 pound small forward?
Well, he could’ve gone to Old Dominion.
That’s right, in an alternate universe Giannis could’ve been dropping 30-plus on Rice (or better yet for ODU fans, VCU) on a random Thursday at the Ted Constant Center. ODU could’ve even had a special Greek flag-themed alternate uniform and everything.
But why ODU? Giannis shared he was “highly recruited” by the Monarchs after playing them during a game in Greece when he was 17, and that ODU was his “only college offer.” Remember that as a teenager he was much skinnier and inches shorter than his current 240-pound, nearly 7-foot frame.
“When I was younger, we had this friendly game back in Greece,” Antetokounmpo told Insider. “My team, Filathlitikos, played against the team Old Dominion.”
ODU under then head coach Blaine Taylor was notably short-handed during those overseas games in August 2012, down six players due to a stomach bug, but Giannis had himself a game.
“And I went crazy,” he told Insider. “I had a couple of buckets.”
“Janis Antetokoubo,” a game recap from ODU reads, “led Filathlikos with 21 points, including five-for-nine three-point shooting” as ODU fell 89-66.
A Daily Press write up at the time didn’t mention Giannis, but Taylor took notice.
“The coach approached me,” Antetokounmpo said. “He liked my attitude and how hard I played and how I approached the game at such an early age. And he said if I ever considered to come to the U.S., he would love to have me.”
Giannis says ODU was his “only offer” among college teams, but that eventually wouldn’t matter. Just a few months later, New Orleans Hornets international scout Yarone Arbel would get the first word about the budding 17-year-old from Athens by way of Nigeria.
“Nobody knows about him,” a Greek agent said in an email on October 25, 2012. By June of 2013, he was taken 15th overall in the NBA draft.
Now who knows what could’ve happened if the buzz around Giannis stayed just a little lower. He did mention that if Syracuse and Duke came calling he would’ve likely played in the ACC.
But in an ideal world for ODU fans, Giannis comes to Norfolk and the 2013-2014 ODU squad likely doesn’t go 18-18 overall.
Could Giannis have led the Monarchs to the NCAA Tournament on the way to All-American status, at least for one year until the NBA came calling? Would a statue go up on Kaufman Mall?
It definitely makes for a great what if.