With Unlimited Potential, Alex Antetokounmpo Hype Growing to Freakish Levels

Seth Gruen@SethGruenFeatured ColumnistMarch 3, 2017

Spencer Smith/Dominican High School

WHITEFISH BAY, Wis. — An unassuming student, maybe a shade over five feet tall, knocks on the door of a conference room at Dominican High School in suburban Milwaukee. Accompanied by a female faculty member, the student is searching for his computer, which he says was swapped for another mistakenly as students were dismissed from class. Dominican, a private Catholic high school, issues each student a matte-black Lenovo ThinkPad. Presumably, it's not unusual for someone to inadvertently take the wrong laptop.

The student believes freshman Alex Antetokounmpo is the unwitting culprit, in this case, having grabbed the wrong computer in a rush to get to the conference room by 3:00 p.m., the time scheduled for his interview with Bleacher Report.

That Antetokounmpo's whereabouts are known is indicative of his growing popularity. Even if it weren't for his last name and NBA All-Star brother, Giannis, aka The Greek Freak, the youngest of the four basketball-playing Antetokounmpo brothers would be surrounded by intrigue. But when Giannis told TMZ.com during All-Star Weekend that Alex could be the best among them, an already churning hype machine surrounding the 15-year-old got a big boost.

Alex unfolds the entirety of his 7'2"and growingwingspan, collapsed in his lap like an accordion, and flashes a sheepish grin of acknowledgement. His schoolmate hands him the correct laptop, holding it like a cafeteria tray. Alex grabs it with one hand, palming it like a basketball. The other laptop, the one that Alex mistakenly took, is with another teacher. He's unsure if he should stop the interview and get it himself, a nuanced example that he doesn't take his growing celebrity all that seriously.

It's Giannis, Alex says, who keeps him grounded. Alex spends most nights living with his brother, the All-Star forward for the Milwaukee Bucks, and others with his parents, who live nearby.

"He's had a great influence on my game," Alex said. "Other than the fact that he pushes me every day [in life], like letting me [know] what's right, what's wrong, he pushes me … in basketball … to keep going."

Sometimes the lessons intertwine, like the time Alex came home late one day, without notice. Giannis wasn't happy, so the two drove to the Bucks' practice facility. Giannis walked his brother onto the court and fired up the shooting machine. It's a contraption that rebounds nearly every ball and feeds it back to the standing shooter. His instructions: "Keep shooting."

The elder Antetokounmpo then left, went out for food and returned some two hours, 45 minutes later, according to Alex. "I hated him for this," Alex said. To his credit, he didn't stop shooting. To Giannis, his little brother learned a lesson.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has tried to teach his younger brother Alex about the seriousness with which he has to approach his potential basketball career.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has tried to teach his younger brother Alex about the seriousness with which he has to approach his potential basketball career.Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

Nearly 30,000 people follow Alex's Instagram account. It's an astounding number for someone only 15 years old and even more bizarre given the 3.4 points he is averaging heading into regional state playoff action Friday. Right now, he isn't even the best basketball player in his class at Dominican. That honor rests with his close friend, Abe Scruggs IV, the only freshman to start on Dominican's varsity squad. Alex comes off the bench, primarily for his length and defensive capabilities.

"I knew I had to sacrifice a couple things when I came here, and one of the things was playing time," Alex said of a school that has won a Wisconsin-record five straight state titles. "I knew that this school would get me better. So, obviously, I chose this school and I just knew I'd have to … wait my turn.

"It's a learning experience. I'm coping with that because this is my first year to ever come off the bench."

But even the man who has limited his playing time, first-year Dominican coach Joe Gosz, doesn't think that's a reason to temper expectations.

"You look at the bloodline, I don't think so," Gosz said of whether the hype has taken off too quickly.

Gosz is no lightweight in Milwaukee hoops. He coached 26 years at Milwaukee King High School—which was nationally ranked during his tenure—and the 2008 McDonald's All-American Game before taking the Dominican job this offseason. Gosz has already made calls to Division I coaches alerting them to Alex's burgeoning talent.

"I just hope he stays humble and respects the process that it takes to get to the level. But he has some features that you just can't coach: his length, his artistic ability."

Indeed, basketball runs deep through the Antetokounmpo clan, which already has produced two professional basketball players—Giannis and Thanasis, the eldest brother who plays in Spain. Kostas Antetokounmpo, who played at Dominican, is a freshman at Dayton. Each of the brothers was slow to develop physically, which has fueled much of the excitement over what Alex might become.

At age 15, Alex Antetokounmpo is a reserve at Dominican, but his teammates and coaches think he has superstar potential.
At age 15, Alex Antetokounmpo is a reserve at Dominican, but his teammates and coaches think he has superstar potential.Spencer Smith/Dominican High School

Kostas, who experienced a growth spurt in high school that helped fuel a late surge in his college recruiting, didn't start for Dominican until his senior season. Alex, Gosz estimates, was 5'11" after his eighth-grade campaign. Now 6'5", Alex could end up as tall as 6'11", Gosz thinks.

All of the changes mean Alex will have to reorient himself with his body. As his hands grow, his shot will have to change. As he gets taller and closer to the basket, he'll need to adjust his touch around the rim. Right now, he's trying to just use his athleticism to help the team.

"What I do is not very fun to watch," Alex said. "I come into the game; you'll see me diving for balls; you'll see me going and getting a rebound. I do the dirty work. That's not necessarily entertaining for somebody to watch. So kids will be just like, 'Oh he's just another player that hustles.'"

His team knows better. Gosz recalled a practice in which Alex was driving baseline with his right hand. He had beaten his defender and went airborne some three feet away from the block. Alex ended up on the other side of the basket but didn't switch to his left hand, and a better backboard angle, to attempt a more traditional reverse layup.

Instead, he continued to hold the ball with his right hand, palmed it and flicked his wrist backward with such ferocity that it caused the ball to have enough English to swish through the basket.

Scruggs said Alex "shut the gym down" when, during a tournament, he repeatedly chased down players on fast breaks, blocked a shot and pinned the basketball at the top of the box on the backboard.

"We can see the skill he brings to the floor now," Scruggs said. He's still growing. He's a little slower, so once he grows into his body, he's going to have the height. He has the skill and IQ to play at a high level.

"Maximum potential. He can definitely get up there."

Geography challenges the Antetokounmpo family from getting together frequently. Those rare occasions, though, often feature games of two-on-two—Alex and Giannis vs. Kostas and Thanasis.

As often happens in the family, the games also can carry a teaching moment.

On one occasion Alex's defense threw Kostas out of rhythm, prompting some light-hearted trash-talking among the brothers.

Afterward, Kostas hit nearly every shot he took. For Alex, it was a lesson in just how much he needs to push himself. It's those moments that convey to him the importance of his development.

To Giannis, they very well may be flashes of what his little brother can become.

"He just knows my potential," Alex said of Giannis. "Him having his potential, which is already unbelievable, him saying that I'm going to be better than him was like he just knows that I can handle the pressure."