Bilal Coulibaly was described as a potential mini-Giannis Antetokounmpo in the pre-draft process. This made seeing the 19-year-old French mini-Giannis Antetokounmpo go up against the original a fascinating matchup. To no one’s surprise, Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Washington Wizards 142-129, behind a monster 42 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 assists, on 20/23 fg performance by the Greek Freak. However, Coulibaly held his own, finishing the game with 12 points on 5/7 shooting from the field and a +4 in 25 minutes for the Washington Wizards. This performance caught the eye of Milwaukee’s two-time MVP, who had nothing but fantastic things to say about him.
Answering Monumental Sports Network’s Bijan Todd’s question, Antetokounmpo said Coulibaly “had very good moments, played extremely hard…he wasn’t scared of the moment”, highlighting his defense on Damian Lillard, his backdoor cuts, and transition play. He added that the Frenchman “has the right mindset, he is not trying to be flashy, he is trying to play extremely hard and help his teammates, he is trying to be in the right position.” He posited that if Coulibaly continues to have this mindset, “the sky is going to be the limit for him.”
Receiving this type of feedback from any superstar must feel amazing for any 19-year-old rookie. It presumably feels even better, considering the similarities of Coulibaly and Antetokounmpo’s journeys.
Both were late bloomers whose stocks rose incredibly fast before their respective drafts. They got drafted into the NBA without too much high-level professional basketball on their resumes. They were considered raw prospects with athletic and defensive upside but needed more polishing with their shooting and on-ball skills.
Giannis Antetokounmpo showed as impressive of an individual development as anyone in NBA history, winning the Most Improved Player, the Defensive Player of the Year, and MVP awards, as well as an NBA championship in the first ten years of his career. Having the endorsement of someone with that resume is huge for Coulibaly’s confidence and development.
Not only did Giannis have nice things to say about Coulibaly’s game, but he also had excellent advice for him:
"“Work extremely hard. Be coachable. There are going to be a lot of ups and downs. Get yourself mentally ready for that. No matter what you do on the court, you fall back to who you really are at your core: hard worker, that way you can not fail…Play well, I go lift weights after. Play bad, I go light weights after.If you have that kind of mindset, it’s only a matter of time for you to excel in your career.”"
Those are words of wisdom to live by for any young athlete. So far, Coulibaly looks like he is up to the task. He works hard, competes, and plays the right way. It’s unfair to expect any athlete to have a career trajectory similar to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s but Coulibaly is seemingly on the right path. And that’s the only thing the Washington Wizards fans can hope for.