Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Few Prospects Know More about Hustling Than Greek Player ; N.B.A. Scouts Flock to See Teenager Who Scrambled Whole Life Just to Get By

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Few Prospects Know More about Hustling Than Greek Player ; N.B.A. Scouts Flock to See Teenager Who Scrambled Whole Life Just to Get By

Article excerpt

Giannis Adetokunbo has spent much of his life scrambling in Athens to get by, but life could become easier if he is picked in the first round of the N.B.A. draft, as as many expect.

His new passport says he is Greek, but Giannis Adetokunbo has lived a struggling immigrant's life. He has peddled goods on city streets to feed himself and his brothers. While other families ferried off on island vacations, his often changed apartments in search of cheaper rent.

Yet Adetokunbo, 18, stands out from the hundreds of thousands of immigrants trying to survive in Greece. He was born in the country. He speaks Greek fluently. He completed Greek schooling. He recently became a Greek citizen.

Adetokunbo, a 2.06-meter, or 6-foot-9, son of Nigerian parents, also plays basketball. Very well. That is what National Basketball Association scouts say. They flocked to Greece and buzzed about his ball-handling, his court vision and his decision-making.

Analysts at the Web sites DraftExpress and HoopsWorld, among others, predict that Adetokunbo's name will be called, and perhaps mispronounced, in the first round of the N.B.A. draft Thursday. If Adetokunbo eventually develops into anything like his favorite player, Kevin Durant, some N.B.A. team will be happy it took a chance on such a mysterious prospect.

"From the time I started in basketball, my dream was to be a big star, to have a big future in basketball," he said.

Other Greek stars worked their way up through youth national teams and joined top professional clubs like Panathinaikos and Olympiacos. Adetokunbo, essentially stateless before he received his passport in May, has never played above the Greek second division. He grew up at a tiny club called Filathlitikos, which took him in six years ago, back when he still shared a bedroom with his three brothers and preferred soccer.

He has signed to play in Spain next season, unless an N.B.A. team has different plans for him after the draft. Passport in hand, he also has begun playing with the Greek national under-20 team.

But before N.B.A. scouts located the 500-seat Filathlitikos gym in Zografou, a densely settled Athens suburb, Adetokunbo sometimes put basketball aside to help his family.

Like other immigrants to Greece, his parents struggled to find work. Adetokunbo and his older brother, Thanasis, would help out by hawking watches, bags and sunglasses. In doing so, they jeopardized their roster spots because they were missing practices. They also missed meals.

"Sometimes, our fridge was empty," said Adetokunbo, who turned 18 in December. "Some days, we didn't sell the stuff and we didn't have money to feed ourselves."

The good days brought "just enough," he said, to make the rent, pay a water or electric bill or buy food.

Immigrants in Greece, particularly dark-skinned ones, have been targets of abuse in recent years from far-right nationalists frustrated by the country's economic problems. …

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