Interview: Takis Zivas, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s first coach, on how to grow a basketball prodigy and more


When you watch Giannis Antetokounmpo cruise past helpless defenders or dunk above stretched arms, you must remember that, behind his talent, lies the daily work of an often-overlooked coach: Takis Zivas. We tried to talk to him about Giannis and, above all, the coach’s approach to basketball.

As expected, coach Zivas was able to give some interesting insights in his approach to basketball, through the lenses of Giannis’ development. It’s not enough, in fact, to just possess an outstanding talent. Most of what a player is derives from the principles that guided and educated him, and coach Zivas demonstrates he’s been a part of it, though we think he’d be the last to take for himself any credit.

Q: Tell us about your team.

A: My team is EFAOZ B.C. and it’s a new team, which came from the merger of two local teams: Filathlitikos B.C. and Zografou B.C. In 2017-2018 EFAOZ plays in second national category. I have to mention that Filathlitikos have shown up big players who play a major role in their teams. Not only Giannis Antetokoumpo and his brothers Thanasis and Kostas, but also N. Gkikas, X. Saloustros, Xeilaris, Kamperidis, Papadimitriou and Legkikas are some of the most talented players who passed from Filathlitikos.

Q: Did you train Giannis physically a lot?

A: Giannis have started preparing himself more consistently 3 years before he left from Greece, when he was 15 years old. We had told him that when he was ready he would have a role in men’s team, because his technical skills were in a good level, so it was his motivation. Indeed, Giannis started working daily, having personal practice and after some months he had his first appearance in men’s team.

Q: Why did you use him as a point guard despite his body?

A: As for Filathlitikos’ s fIlosophy, we try to avoid the biggest and the most common mistake which happens in many basketball academies worldwide. What I mean is that teams in order to achieve theis goals they separate and characterize players as “tall”-center or “short”-guard, so players have specific role, something which have negative effects in young’s players developing. Moreover, we try to overcome the age limits, so the talented young players are practised with the older ones.

Q: What is your approach to developing players? What are the most important things you consider when you think about one of your Young players?

A: I try to imagine the player how he would be after 5 years from the first time I met him. I am anxious not to affect a player with a negative way. My philosophy is to work with the player the most basic and necessary elements of basketball and to create not only a good player but also a very good teammate.

Q: What are your roots as a player? What is your basketball background?

A: I played basketball the latest of ’80s in the second national category with AS PAPAGOY and this year I complete 35 years as a basketball coach.

Q: When did you see Giannis first? Was there something different in his determination, in his character?

A: Giannis was playing 6 years in FOA. He came with his brothers, Thanasi and Kosta and they were embodied in under 15 team. At first they weren’t consistent as for the practice, so we gave his family an extra-motivation, in order to be interested for their kids. So I had a daily communication with Giannis’s mother, Vera, and we reach the desirable result. Giannis from the beginning of his career showed a part of his talent, his concentration, his faith, his devotion and of his mental reserves.

Q: When you see Giannis in the NBA, became the today’s Giannis, you feel like you have credit in his big development?

A: I think that it’s something that only Giannis could judge. In my opinion what I tried and finally I achieved was to develop an antiracist environment with meritocracy and labor. Where Giannis could reach it’s a question and I believe that it depends on his effectiveness in his shoot. I trust him because he works a lot and he is ambitious too. I have to mention that his statistics in Greece in A2 category as for 3points-shoot was 40%.

Q: Where could Giannis arrive? Could you compare him to an old NBA superstar?

A: I don’t want to make comparisons between other NBAers because Giannis makes his own story in basketball courts. I wish some day my obligations let me watch him live.

Q: Many greek people fly to USA to see Giannis. For example last week, a lot of people flew to Toronto. You think you go to visit him soon?

Q: Do you think it could be soon another Greek player in the NBA?

A: Yes, I believe that after Giannis, Koufos and Papagiannis more an more Greek players could be in NBA, with first of them Kosta Antetokoumpo.

Q: How do you see the national team in the next years?

A: I predict that National Team will be very competitive next years with important progress. I believe that the team will play a starring role in European and worlwide level, because it will have in its roster not only Giannis and other NBAers, but also players of the 90s generation who star all these years in Euroleage. Ελένη Αργύρη

Q: About Luka Doncic. Everyone think is a wonder boy. Do you see a similarity with Giannis? What kind of career he will have?

A:Luca Doncic is the model of a mature player despite his young age and with his talent is the most promising European athlete. Real Madrid gave him the space and the time and he justified his team with the best way, because after Sergio Llull’s injury, Doncic became the star of the team. I wish and I believe that he will continue these appearances in NBA next years.