That was painfully evident last Sunday night in Starkville, Miss. when Antetokounmpo was sidelined after getting three fouls in the first 8½ minutes against Mississippi State. He returned to the court to start the second half, only to pick up his fourth personal in just 109 seconds and ended up playing a total of 11 minutes in a game UD lost, 61-59.
He finished with two points, five turnovers.
“Sometimes I realize I might be doing risky (stuff) out there,” he said Wednesday night at UD Arena. “That’s what gets me into foul trouble.”
His reflections came after the Flyers had just pushed aside Tennessee Tech, 79-66, in a game where he seemed to be channeling a different Cruise film: "Mission Impossible."
Against the Golden Eagles, Antetokounmpo stayed on the court more than any other Flyer. He played 37 minutes and didn’t get first foul until there was just 12:40 left in the game.
He finished with 10 points, most of which came on alley-oop dunks, and had 10 rebounds. He added three assists and a steal, blocked two shots and altered a few other field goal attempts. He did pick up two more fouls, but they came late in the game.
“He impacted our team in a lot of different ways,” coach Anthony Grant said. “He was a force on the defensive end and got some rebounds where he was the only guy in building capable of getting them.”
Josh Cunningham, the Flyers junior captain who finished with 16 points and 10 boards, also praised the efforts of his 6-foot-10 teammate:
“I’m proud of him tonight for not getting into foul trouble. He still went out and tried to block shots, he was still aggressive, but not too aggressive. He had the right mindset tonight.”
The transformation from Sunday to Wednesday by Antetokounmpo, who sat out last season as an academic redshirt and now is just eight games into his college career, was remarkable.
“Every game he’s gaining experience and understands a little bit more about what we want and what he needs to do to be effective,” Grant said. “We need that out of him every game.”
So how did Antetokounmpo make such great strides in just three days?
It’s the old adage about “taking a village” to raise a child.
“Everybody gave me pointers,” Antetokounmpo smiled.
He said immediately after Sunday’s game he got a call from his brother Giannis, the 6-foot-11 Milwaukee Bucks forward who is one of the marque stars of the NBA:
“He said when I get my first foul I gotta lay low. I got to play as hard as I can, but as clean as I can. He said, ‘Don’t get those fouls back to back to back.’”
Another mentor, he said, was Flyers assistant coach Ricardo Greer, who starred at Pitt before playing professionally overseas for 15 years: “We sat in his office and talked and he showed me every foul, too.”
As he watched the film did he think he earned every foul or that some were referee miscues?
“They were all my fault,” he shrugged. “I put myself in that position.”
Grant said he worked with Antetokoumpo and so did assistant coach Devin Davis, who also played professionally overseas and in the CBA for 15 years after a standout career with the Miami RedHawks.
Some of the tutoring seemed to take Wednesday night.
With just over eight minutes left in the game, Tennessee Tech’s Kajon Mack came driving down the lane. Rather than try to swat the shot of the 6-foot-3 guard, Antetokounmpo stood statue-like and let Mack run over him and get the offensive foul.
“That probably was my first charge, right?” the grinning Antetokounmpo asked proudly. “We practice that. When we watch films, Coach says some teams are charge prone, so I just stayed there.”
When it came to aggressive defense, he mostly played it smart. He did block Mack’s attempted dunk early in the second half, but on another occasion late in the game — when the Golden Eagles bulky center Micaiah Henry got the ball down on the blocks and kept bumping back into him to create space — Antetokounmpo didn’t take the bait. He simply held his ground, held his hands straight up and forced Henry to throw up a wayward shot.
Add in a drive and a last-minute dish to Cunningham who dunked, his own high-flying slams and those long-armed rebounds and it was Antetokounmpo’s best all-around game as a Flyer.
He wasn’t sure if his brother would be calling after this game, but he knew he’d hear from his mom, who lives back in Milwaukee: “She texts me after every game.”
She’s his biggest fan now, a role she took on after her 54-year-old husband, Charles, Kostas’s dad, died of a sudden heart attack in late September.
He used to attend all of Giannis’s NBA games in Milwaukee and this season planned to watch Kostas at UD and his youngest son, Alex, play at Dominican High in Milwaukee. (An older son, Thanasis, plays professionally in Greece, where the family lived before coming to the United States).
“Oh yeah, my dad would have watched the NBA games and then left right afterward and made the six-hour drive here,” Antetokounmpo said. “One thing about my dad, he tried to make every game. It‘s hard when you got five kids, but he did it.”
He smiled, held out his left arm and rotated his hand to show off a lion tattoo that stretched from his elbow to his wrist.
“I got it when my father passed away,” he said quietly. “I got the lion because my dad was a Leo.”
Across the top of the tattoo was the message:
“I am my father’s legacy.”
He explained: “In this world I think there’s one thing you have. It’s not money or anything else. It’s your kids. I am my father’s legacy and I got to keep doing what I’m doing.”
And Wednesday night he did it longer and better than he ever has as a Flyer: