- Associated Press - Thursday, January 23, 2014

ST. FRANCIS, Wis. (AP) - With his baby-faced features, soft voice and gangly arms nervously fidgeting behind his back, Giannis Antetokounmpo looked and sounded like a typical teenager politely waiting to get out of a family function.

All this 19-year-old rookie from Greece wants to do is play in the NBA.

The 6-foot-9 forward is providing an unexpected bright spot in an otherwise tough season for the Milwaukee Bucks. Midway through his first year, he’s standing out for more than just his tricky name.

“I’m happy for him, man. He’s living the dream,” forward Caron Butler said at the team’s practice facility just outside Milwaukee. “He’s having fun in every sense of the word.”

Through 36 games, Antetokounmpo is averaging 7.0 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. The Sixers’ Michael Carter-Williams and the Magic’s Victor Oladipo have been more productive, but Antetokounmpo has certainly put up respectable stats for a rookie.

At 210 pounds, he’s slowly filling out his frame, though coach Larry Drew already relies on Antetokounmpo to provide energy on the court.

And here’s perhaps what’s most important to know about him: the name is pronounced YAHN-iss ah-deh-toh-KOON-boh.

Antetokounmpo is picking up the lingo, too.

“I thought the language barrier would be somewhat of a problem as well. But just learning the NBA way, all the terminology, I thought there was a lot to be learned,” Drew said. “But he has surpassed where I thought he would be at this point.”

Expectations were very modest back in October. The plan was to bring him along slowly, especially with the Bucks bringing in some veterans like Butler and O.J. Mayo for leadership roles.

Then a slew of injuries hit the team in training camp. The injury bug stretched into the season, with key players like guard Brandon Knight, forward Ersan Ilyasova, center Larry Sanders and Butler all going down.

Antetokounmpo stepped up.

“First of all, coach wants for me to bring energy, play some defense, run the court, blocks shots, running the lane, try to get some layups, shoot open jump shots,” said Antetokounmpo, sounding like a student reading from a list.

He’s learning on the job. Drew realizes it’s going to take a while for the teen to pick things up to the point where he’s not repeating mistakes. For now, he’d like him to play to his strength.

“When he gets the ball off the glass and brings it in the open court, I think that’s when he’s at his best,” Drew said. “He’s got to get better. He’s got to get better playing under control. But once he pushes that basketball, if he sees any type of a crack … with his length, he’s able to finish.”

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