Los Angeles -- Giannis Antetokounmpo is set to start in his second consecutive All-Star game on Sunday at just 23 years of age. He always dreamed of being an NBA player, but, as he addressed a throng of media packed in front of his table on Friday, he said that not even in his wildest dreams had he thought he would ever reach this point.
"I always had a feeling I could maybe make it in the NBA, but I never thought I'd be 23-years old and be at the All-Star game for a second time, having a chance to win the MVP, carrying a team on my back - that's over my imagination," Antetokounmpo said.
Antetokounmpo has been the catalyst for the Milwaukee Bucks revival since firing head coach Jason Kidd in late January - the team has gone 9-3 under interim coach Joe Prunty, and is back within a game of the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. Antetokounmpo has been phenomenal all season, leading the team in scoring, rebounding and assists. But it's one particular area that he feels like he's excelled most this season - leadership.
"The only thing I've changed this year is I'm more talkative, more vocal," he said. "I'm not scared to say my opinions to my teammates. I'm just trying to make them feel comfortable and play hard."
Antetokounmpo credits a late-February game in 2016 - a night in which he recorded his first ever career triple-double - as a moment that changed his entire approach to the game of basketball. The Bucks opponents that night? The Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant.
"It was a time that made me realize that you gotta work even harder," Antetokounmpo says. "Working hard is not enough - you gotta take it to the next level. When he was talking to me I was looking at the way he was staring at me in the eyes, I could feel what he was taking about."
Antetokounmpo's admiration for the Lakers legend is no secret, the Bucks' forward has been very vocal about that, and has been wearing Kobe's signature sneakers for practically his entire career. In an effort to further advance his game, Antetokoumpo went public this week about his desire to work with Bryant in Los Angeles this summer.
He said that would be an "unbelievable" experience, for many reasons.
"I just want to pick his brain and learn what it takes to win; learn what it takes to be tough," he said. "Just learn how to have the Mamba mentality. No matter what was going on his life he was showing up on the court and killing people. He was playing hard, and his team won - he has five championships. So learning what it takes to win, and be a leader."
Before he can get to summer workouts with Bryant, he's got his eye on winning Sunday's All-Star game - a game that will feature a number of players from countries all around the world. Antetokounmpo said the larger representation of foreign-born players was clear evidence that the International guys are getting a lot better.
"One of the things that impressed me most this year is that, after 10-15 games, me and Kristaps Porzingis were top one and top two in scoring," he said. "I don't think that ever happened before. Hopefully more guys can come from international and join the league and make this league better."
Antetokounmpo is the perfect representation of an international player -- he was born and raised in Greece, with Nigerian heritage. In 2015 he played in the NBA Africa game in Johannesburg, and noticed that the game had a surge in popularity there in recent years. He's looking forward to playing on the continent once again, perhaps as early as this summer - schedule permitting.
"Two years ago a lot of people came out, everyone was having fun," he said. "When the time comes I will think about it and see what I have to do, I will schedule it and I might do [it]."