Thanks to our friend Thodoris Galanos for yet another translation. - Frank Madden
This is the first part of Giannis' interview on the greek sports site Spor24.gr.
Giannis, we are here in Milwaukee, in the training center of the Bucks. You are now here in the U.S. for four months. Are you still 'living the dream' or do you think the NBA is a reality in your life?
Ok, I think that by now it is a reality. I am starting to play now. I go in, I fight, I do various things. And..I have forgotten my Greek [laughs]. I am now living it, having fun.
The whole 'Giannis' story' seems like a movie plot. The uncertain tomorrow you had living in Greece, basketball, Filathlitikos (c.c. his prior team), the Bucks, and now the starting five. How can you stay grounded through this whole situation?
I don't know. I am a humble child. I lived in Filathlitikos. There were some kids there that taught me to be humble. It was my coach Zivas who kept my head in the right place. This is how I am. Even if I go to the All Star Game, even if I make Rookie of the Year, I will always be Giannakis [little Giannis].
"Some times I don't even believe it"
In June you were the big question mark of this year's draft. Now people consider you the big finding of the draft. How do you deal with all the increased expectations? Because as you have written in your blog, everyone was saying that you would not be drafted, and you were. Everyone said that you wouldn't play, but you stayed on the team and you didn't go to the D-League. Everyone said that the season would go by before you had a chance to play and you are now a starter since December.
I like it that I came knowing all that. I was told, "you won't get much playing time and we will do what we can." They wanted to work with me in practice. But they also wanted to get me out there for some minutes, play, get a taste of it all. The situation in the team was an opportunity for me, and my coach, to throw me out there, in the deep. I think that I grabbed that chance by the hair, I went in and showed my coach that I can do certain things and that I can help the team.
When you wake up in the morning, or when you are completely alone in the house, what thoughts cross your mind for all this that is happening?
To tell you the truth, sometimes I am in the bus going to the game and I'm saying "I'm going to an NBA game! What's happening man?!" I don't know. You know what I mean? I am having fun. Playing or not. If I play good or if I suck. Lose or win. If we lose, I am a bit upset, but I am still having fun. I come into practice and I am glad to be here.
"I feel alone"
What are the biggest difficulties you have faced so far in the US? Mainly on every day life level. Then you can tell me about the game related things.
That I am alone.
A big change that one.
An incredible change, yes. I was used to going home, seeing my brothers all the time, my mother.
Your mother taking care of you. Cooking for you, cleaning, washing your clothes.
Yes. Now I live alone. My parents will come though, and my brothers. Basically, whatever I have to do, I do it alone now. Of course my team helps me with all it can, but basically I am alone.
In basketball, what were the biggest difficulties? Because we are talking of something like leaving the earth and going to oute space.
The biggest difficulties were when I first came and I had to meet the guys. I wasn't watching the NBA and I did not know the team very well. I had to make them believe in me and show them that I could do something, so that they could trust me. To show everyone, my coach, the GM, in everyone here, that I belong in the NBA.
"Butlers's advice and the drills"
Where did the most useful advice you heard all this time come from? Either from a teammate or from your parents or someone else.
I think it was from Caron Butler. He told me in the first game with the Knicks. I was a bit stressed then. It was the first game of the season and he tells me "whatever happens out there, try and enjoy it, because time flies. Before you know it, you will be 35 and your carrier will be ending."
What more can we expect from you Gianni in the year? Every now and then you raise the bar with what you are accomplishing.
I don't know. I try to constantly get better. I wish I can be in the All Star [Rising Stars Challenge]. I don't know.
Your best moment in the NBA so far? A moment you would set apart as a highlight.
Look, if my head was full of it, I would tell you the block on Durant (laughs). I think it would be the first time I was in the starting five with the Bucks.
And the worst?
The worst moment was after the game with the Suns. Everything I did came out wrong. I touched the ball and something happened.
Do they drill you as a rookie? What was the most difficult assignment you had as one?
They woke me at 2 in the night and sent me to look for a 7-11 to pick up some stuff!
When you were playing in Milwaukee or out of town?
Out of town.
"Last year I was 'playing with Durant' in 2K and now I was playing defense on him"
Because you mentioned the block, there is still talking in Greece, where people see, but there was also talk in the U.S., about the block on Durant. A player whom you adore and a player you would even use on the PlayStation when you played. How is this feeling now, six months after playing on PlayStation, to be in the same court with him and block him twice? And to score on the transition in front of him. What did you tell yourself at that time?
To tell you the truth I was thinking, telling myself, "how did I do that to Kevin Durant?" It is a nice feeling. Last December I was playing with him on the PS and now he is in front of me, and I'm trying to play defense and score over him. It is a very nice feeling.
I imagine that it is now much harder that the 2K?
Yes, in reality it is much much harder (laughs).
Did you read what Durant said about you? That he would go to war with a player like you? And what did that make you feel?
They told me. It is amazing to get recognized by Durant.
Also players don't say such a thing easily, especially for a rookie.
It is awesome. In the game vs the Knicks, Carmelo talked about me, and now Durant. It is nice because those guys are superstars.
This lack of fear with which you play on the court, at least the one we are observing, where does it come from? Is it something natural?
Yeah, it is natural. I go out there and I don't care who is in front of me. I understand some times that it is Kevin Durant, Carmelo, or LeBron. I know. But what can I do? I am not going to turn around and tell him "pass by, go score," but you know I am trying to play with strength and do the best I can. I know that they are 10 levels above me, not only me but most of the NBA players, but we must do something as well. We must earn our salary!
Do you demystify them after each game? Was it the same when you played against Durant the second time?
No, not the same. I felt more comfortable the second time. I was saying, ok.
"Life in Milwaukee and the crazy Greeks"
How is time passing by here in Milwaukee?
Cold, very cold. You do not have a lot to do. If you go out of the house, you never come back. I don't do much, I watch movies, go to the cinema, and hang out here with a friend of mine that works with the team.
The Greeks here in Milwaukee, in general, do they approach you? Talk to you? What do they say? How do they feel to have someone of their own here? And how do you feel when they do approach you?
I feel great. There are many Greeks here. I meet them on the streets and they talk to me, buy me dinner. You know how it is. It is nice. I get to speak some Greek also, so I won't forget them. It is nice to have some Greeks backing you up in everything you do.
From all the cities you have visited so far in the US, which one impressed you the most, and would probably go there for summer vacation?
Miami and L.A.
So whatever comes close to the weather of Greece?
Yeah. But when it comes to a court (away from home) and fans, that was Toronto. The speaker called my name and the crowd went mad, since it was full of Greeks.
What goes through your mind at that point? That you see the crowd cheering for you? People that some months ago didn't even know you exist?
I don't really think much at the time, because I am getting ready for the game, but it is nice for people to come at the games, especially Greeks, to back you up. There were four Greek flags on the field. Shouting "Gianni, Gianni!" I was turning around and saying hi.
"I will be the same Giannis"
Gianni, what is the best thing about having money, and what is the worst?
I don't kid around with my money. I am serious and I want to use it rightly. I won't just spend it. The best thing is that you don't have to think a lot. You can do many things, buy a present for your brother at Christmas. You can do various things. The worst is when you realize that people are starting to approach you for money, wanting this or that.
So you can not be certain of the intentions of someone approaching you?
I don't want to be the kid where they'll say: "here is Giannis, he has money, he will buy us drinks, gifts, take us on holidays." I am Giannis, and I will always be Giannis. Money or not. I will use my money in a good way. I will be the same Giannis I was last year.
So people looking for you for borrowed money can go elsewhere!