The road to the NBA for most basketball hopefuls in the US runs through the NCAA college ranks. Before 2006, the rare uber talent was permitted to jump to the pro ranks straight out of prep school. This lot included superstars known by single names like Kobe and LeBron.
Alex Antetokounmpo is breaking the mold.
The youngest brother of NBA All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks recently announced his intent to forgo the NCAA in favor of playing in a European pro league.
Alex wrapped a standout prep career at Dominican High School in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin earlier this year. He earned two first-team all-state selections and averaged 20 points and 7.3 rebounds per game during the 2019-20 season.
The talented shooting guard reportedly received NCAA Division I scholarship offers from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the University of Ohio. He cites a desire to turn pro as soon as possible as the primary factor behind his European league decision. Alex spent his formative years in Greece before moving to the Milwaukee area when Giannis joined the Bucks.
Alex’s stint with a European club could be shortlived. He may be eligible for the NBA Draft as soon as 2021, and a strong performance abroad will generate interest from US teams. At 6-7, 190 pounds, he fits the physical mold of NBA guards.
Many basketball analysts predict Alex will eventually be recruited into the NBA, perhaps joining Giannis and his other brother Thanasis on the Bucks. Regardless of what franchise claims Alex, the team will see a boost in the US in terms of ticket and merchandise sales and NBA betting odds at online sportsbooks.
The Ball Brothers find success in Lithuania
Alex isn’t the first player with NBA ambitions to turn to Europe. In 2017-18, LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball, younger brothers of New Orleans Pelican point guard Lonzo Ball, joined Prienai of the Lithuanian Basketball League (LKL). The move to the LKL bolstered the Balls’ global profile. LiAngelo signed a contract in March to play with the Oklahoma City Blue, the NBA G League affiliate of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
LaMelo most recently appeared with the Illawarra (Australia) Hawks of Oceania’s National Basketball League (NBL). He’s considered a top prospect for the NBA Draft in June and is receiving attention from the New York Knicks.
The NBA’s connection to Nigeria
The Antetokounmpos have Nigerian roots. Alex, Giannis, and two of their brothers — Thanasis, who plays alongside Giannis in Milwaukee, and Kostas, a member of the G League’s South Bay Lakers, were born in Athens, Greece to immigrant Nigerian parents. The eldest Antekounmpo brother, Francis, was born in Lagos.
In addition to Giannis and Thanasis, the NBA currently has four other Nigerian players in the 2019-20 season—Al-Farouq Aminu (Orlando Magic), Chimezie Metu (San Antonio Spurs), Josh Okogie (Minnesota Timberwolves), and Gabe Vincent (Miami Heat).
BAL delivers NBA sanctioned basketball to Africa
The Antetokounmpos are just one example of the NBA’s deepening relationship with Africa. As more pro-caliber emerges from around the continent, the league is launching initiatives to recruit players and fans.
In February 2019, the NBA announced the formation of the Basketball Africa League (BAL). The new association will replace the FIBA Africa Basketball League as Africa’s premier hoops tier when play begins later this year. The BAL marks the first time the NBA is sponsoring an African league. FIBA, Nike, and Jordan Brand are also supporting the BAL.
Teams from 12 African countries will compete in the BAL’s inaugural season with games scheduled in Lagos, Cairo, Dakar, Luanda, Rabat, Monastir, and Tunis. Kigali, Rwanda is set to host a two-tournament playoff system to determine the league championship. The NBA has held three sell-out exhibition games in Africa since 2015 — two in Johannesburg and one in Pretoria. The league also funds an official academy in Senegal and 87 basketball learn-and-play facilities in seven African countries.