Milwaukee Bucks Luca Vildoza makes flashy NBA playoff debut
Luca Vildoza paused for more than a few seconds, searching for the right way to tell how – or where – he learned to play with the flair he displayed in just minutes of his NBA debut with the Milwaukees Bucks at the end of Game 3 in Chicago.
He started playing professionally as a teenager, he said, so there were influences early in his career that instilled such flourishes in his game.
“Just be me,” he said with a smile. “If they want me as I am, they will accept me.”
In a shadow of more than eight minutes of play in the Bucks’ resounding victory over the Bulls in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs on April 22, the 26-year-old Argentine had three assists, the last of which was a behind- the back pass to Thanasis Antetokounmpo which led to a highlight dunk.
But it was Vildoza’s second assist that caught Giannis Antetokounmpo’s attention from the bench.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo came with a steal into Chicago’s backcourt and turned it behind his back to Vildoza – but it was too high. The 6ft 3in guard leaped for the corral with his right hand and in one motion landed on the Bulls logo at midcourt and popped a perfect rebound pass past Jordan Nwora who finished with his own dunk.
“It’s a high IQ thing,” said Giannis Antetokounmpo. “But at the end of the day, like he had a pass between his legs, a pass behind his back and people would probably say it’s a playoff game, oh you’re messing with the game, but it’s how he plays. Whoever knows him, that’s how he plays. When he’s in his comfort zone, when he’s making plays, he’s come out of the pick-and-roll and shot all three very comfortably. He can help us. Obviously I was very happy for him just playing his first NBA game as a playoff game, but the way he showed how mature he was as a player, it was amazing. I think we are going to see great things in the future from him.
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It was an eye-opening NBA debut.
“His story is pretty unique,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We are delighted with him and our front office has his eye on him. So for him to play in a playoff game and I thought he did well. He showed us in training, he showed us in playgroups that he knows how to play. He is a very creative and imaginative passer (and) player. He went out and did exactly what he does in practice. I think there’s a trust with him that’s important as you try to break through and find your way through our league.
Vildoza signed with the Bucks on April 6, days before the end of the regular season. He has been a professional for 10 years and recently paid in the Spanish ACB league last season.
He had missed this entire season with a foot injury and he said he finally felt like a basketball player again about six months ago. By joining the Bucks, however, he has to adjust his game.
“But I know with Giannis, he’s the point guard, he drives the ball up), Jrue (Holiday), Khris (Middleton), and you have to be ready to shoot every time, create for them,” said he declared.
“That’s going to be the main focus, doing that role. Taking corners, catching and shooting fast, making plays for them. It’s not all behind the back.
“I just try to show them,” he said. “Playing in the playoffs for the first time in my life, making my debut and just cheering them on is good.”
As for the response to his first NBA action from home in Buenos Aires and throughout Argentina, Vildoza said it was unimaginable for him.
“So many messages I have after my debut, after signing,” he said. “Especially my dad, my mom, my friends, trying to connect every day, trying to (ask) ‘What is Giannis doing? How is he?’ I’m so glad. My happiness is up there.
Brook Lopez finalist for the community award
Brook Lopez smiled, thinking back to her childhood reading books with her brother Robin at her grandmother’s house. It was an important time for Lopez and fostered a love and appreciation for reading that he nurtures today – and is 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 approximately $70,000 for children’s literacy efforts in Milwaukee, which led to him being a finalist for the NBA Cares Community Assist Award. Lopez worked with Next Door Milwaukee for several years, and he continued that partnership throughout this season.
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“It was great to give the kids a chance to go read, enjoy the books, get away from things and enjoy all these worlds and places books can take you,” he said. declared. “It’s something that I was very lucky to have my mother and my grandmother who gave me these opportunities, still read to me.”
If Lopez wins the award, an additional $75,000 will be donated to her cause.
“It’s one of the things that made us who we are today and why we still read the way we do. We just wanted to give back the same things my grandma and mom did for me, I wanted to give those kids the chance to see how special reading is and what it can do.
Wisconsin Herd Honored
The Wisconsin Herd received the first G League President’s Choice Award, which is given to a team that “embodies what an NBA G League team should strive to be.” As part of this, The Herd has been recognized for its ticket sales, in-game and social media promotions.
Herd chairman Steve Brandes was also honoured, as he was named the 2021-22 G League team manager. Brandes also won the award after the 2017-18 season.