Luca Vildoza paused for more than a few seconds, searching for the right way to say how — or where — he learned to play with the flair that he displayed in just a few short minutes of his NBA debut with the milwaukee bucks at the end of Game 3 in Chicago.
He began playing professionally as a teenager, he said, so there were influences early in his career that instilled such flourishes in his game.
“Just being me,” he said with a smile. “If they want me as I am, they’re gonna accept me.”
In a shade over eight minutes of game play in the Bucks’ blowout win over the Bulls in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs on April 22, the 26-year-old Argentinian had three assists, the last of which was a behind-the-back pass to Thanasis Antetokounmpo that led to a highlight dunk.
But it was Vildoza’s second assist that caught the attention of Giannis Antetokounmpo from the bench.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo came up with a steal in the Chicago backcourt and flipped it behind his back to Vildoza — but it was too high. The 6-foot, 3-inch guard leapt to corral it with his right hand and, in one motion, landed on the Bulls logo at halfcourt and skipped a perfect bounce pass ahead to Jordan Nwora who finished with a dunk of his own.
“That is high-IQ stuff,” Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “But at the end of the day, like he had a pass between his legs, a pass behind his back from him and people would probably say it’s a playoff game, oh, you’re messing around with the game, but that’s how he plays. Whoever knows him, that’s how he plays. When he’s in his comfort zone, when he makes plays, he came out of the pick-and-roll and shot the three very comfortably. He can help us. Obviously I was very happy for him just to play his first NBA game being a playoff game, but the way he showed how much mature he is as a player, that was unbelievable. I think we’re gonna see some great things in the future from him.”
It was an eye-opening NBA debut.
“His story is kind of unique,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We’re excited about him and our front office has had their eye on him. So, for him to get to play in a playoff game and I thought he did well. He’s shown us in practice, he’s shown us in play groups he knows how to play. He’s a very creative, imaginative, passer (and) player. He went out and did exactly what he does in practice. I think there’s a confidence with him that’s important as you’re trying to break through and find your way in our league.”
Vildoza signed with the Bucks on April 6, just days before the end of the regular season. He has been a professional for 10 years, most recently paying in the Spanish ACB league last season.
He had missed all this season with a foot injury and he said he finally felt like a basketball player again about six months ago. Upon joining the Bucks, however, he’s having to adjust his game.
“But I know with Giannis, he’s the point guard, he’s bringing the ball (up), Jrue (Holiday), Khris (Middleton), and you gotta be ready to shoot every time, to create for them,” he said.
“That’s gonna be the main goal, to make that role. To take the corners, to catch and shoot fast, to make plays for them. It’s not everything behind-the-back.”
I have smiled.
“I’m just trying to show them,” he said. “To play in the playoff for the first time in my life, making my debut and just cheer them on, that’s good.”
As for the response to his first NBA action from back home in Buenos Aires and the whole of Argentina, Vildoza said it was unimaginable for him.
“So many messages I have after my debut, after I signed,” he said. “Especially my dad, my mom, my friends, every single day trying to connect, trying to (ask) ‘What is Giannis doing? How is he?’ I’m so glad. My happiness is up there.”
Brook Lopez finalist for community award
brooklyn lopez smiled, thinking back to his childhood reading books with his brother Robin in his grandmother’s home. It was an important time for Lopez and fostered a love and appreciation for reading that he maintains today — and he’s often seen with a book in hand as he walks to and from stadiums.
The Bucks center wanted to pass that on to others and he donated about $70,000 toward children’s literacy efforts in Milwaukee, which led him to be a finalist for the NBA Cares Community Assist Award. Lopez has worked with Next Door Milwaukee for several years, and he continued that partnership through this season.
“It’s been great to give kids a chance to, a place I guess, to go read, enjoy books, kind of get away from things and enjoy all these worlds and the places books can take you,” he said. “That’s something that I was very fortunate to have my mom and my grandmother who gave me those opportunities, always read to me.”
Should Lopez win the awardanother $75,000 will be donated to his cause.
“That’s one of the things that made us who we are today and that’s why we still read the way we do. We just wanted to give back the same things my grandmother and my mom did for me, I wanted to give these kids the chance to see how special reading is and what it can do.”
Wisconsin Herd honored
The Wisconsin Herd was awarded the inaugural President’s Choice Award by the G League, which is given to a team that “embodies what an NBA G League team should strive to be.” Within that, the Herd was recognized for its ticket sales, in-game and social media promotions.
Herd president Steve Brandes was also honored, as he was named the 2021-22 G League Team Executive of the Year. Brandes won the award after the 2017-18 season as well.