"So, I called back and it was Phil," as in Phil Jackson, Antetokounmpo recalled Wednesday at the Westchester Knicks media day. "And then my phone died , so I was rushing to charge my phone to call back."
When Antetokounmpo ultimately did speak with Jackson, the Zenmaster convinced the 6-foot-6 second-round draft pick to come play with the Knicks D-League team instead of playing overseas, where he reportedly could have made as much as $550,000 instead of the $24,600 the D-League offers.
What was Jackson's message in that phonecall?
"That they believe in me and the only thing I have to do is believe in myself," Antetokounmpo said.
He made the decision to remain in America instead of playing overseas, even though his younger brother, Giannis of the Milwaukee Bucks, counseled him otherwise for financial reasons.
Now the "Greek Freak 2" is the star attraction on a Westchester team that also features local standouts like former Seton Hall point guard Andre Barrett, former Rutgers forward JR Inman and former Mount Vernon High School combo guard Sherrod Wright.
"It's my dream to be here with the Knicks," Antetokounmpo said. "The Knicks gave me the opportunity to be here. They drafted me and I think they trust me. That was a major part in the decision, and Phil Jackson."
Antetokounmpo is definitely a project, and it remains unclear when he might be NBA-ready.
As the saying goes, he may be two years away from being two years away.
"I don’t think you can put a time frame on a guy like that because you have to just take it as a daily process," Knicks assistant GM Allan Houston said. "I think because he’ll be with us this year, it’s the right approach for him personally. So he won't get frustrated or impatient if it didn’t happen right away."
Houston said the Knicks eventually want him to transition into a guard.
"When we saw him in the draft process we saw his just relentless energy," Houston said. "I think his size [helps] because he’ll be able to guard multiple positions, especially in this league, and I think hopefully if he develops into an NBA player we want to see him be able to be comfortable on the perimeter with guard skills. He shot the ball better toward the end of the year in the D League so we think he can improve there as well.
"But I think it’s just his impact on the game is high. He finds a way to leave an imprint and I think in this system if he can continue to grow and we develop him into playing in different places on the floor and not be limited to just the wing or maybe a forward position, I think we’re going to keep him equipped and ready to make that jump."
For his part, Antetokounmpo saw what happened to Travis Wear, who made the Knicks' 15-man roster despite being initially pegged for the D-League, and uses that as inspiration.
"That's more than inspiring," he said. "That shows that if you can play, you're going to be with the Knicks and they trust you. And they want to bring young talent, young blood to the team. Everything that Travis had, good talent, good work ethic, good kid, and good teammate, so that's really good."
He added: "Hopefully with the grace of God I might get a callup this year. This is a process for me that I have to learn."