Nicolò Origgi on how Pero Antic is a late bloomer who has defined his relevance by embracing his role
Basketball, just like cycling, has its own hierarchies. Stars are under the spotlight while role players sacrifice personal glory by quietly contributing in ways that often go unnoticed. That is also the case of the dynamics between captains and domestiques in any given race. Some of the latter, though, might as well stand out in the peloton due to strong charisma and positive attitude, being genuinely happy to do the dirty work or having the right word at the right time for their leaders and the rest of the pack. Back on the hardwood, no one more than Pero Antic embodies such gregarious features. The first two quarterfinal games in the hell that is Panathinaikos’ home are the perfect microcosm of what the self-proclaimed Macedonian warrior is all about. Not a coach’s decision DNP in game one only due to the misery of two seconds spent on court as Fenerbahce was trying to spend the last team foul available before the bonus, Antic was soon unleashed in the following contest to weather the early green storm with the specific goal of harassing a Chris Singleton that was gaining back some lost swagger after his struggles in the previous match. As a result, momentum shifted and the American forward got back into frustration mode also thanks to Pero’s lovely attentions. Once his mission was over, the number 12 left the floor for good with nonchalance and a greeting to his old Greek foes, witnessing the rest of that pivotal win from the pine with zero complaints and his usual excitement.
Editor’s note: I really can’t tell you how little I want to ever get into the naming controversy around FYROM. We’ve deliberately gone with FYR for the country and Macedonian for the nationality so that both sides are equally happy/furious with us. Just resolve it already so this stops being a thing whenever anyone writes anything about that place or people from there – Emmet
Born in Skopje in 1982, Antic did not rise to prominence until the age of 29, having previously played in various European countries – namely Greece, Serbia, Russia and even Bulgaria – without neither finding a permanent home nor putting his name on the map of top-notch clubs. At that time, though, Olympiakos had just failed to stop its long title drought once again in spite of a star-filled roster with the likes of a prime Spanoulis, a young yet already accomplished Teodosic and a couple of aging champions such as Papaloukas and Nesterovic. Given the repeated disappointments that resulted from the massive expenses implied by the lone presence of those names on the payroll, the Piraeus club changed his philosophy and, while keeping coach Dusan Ivkovic at the helm, started a massive rebuilding process that saw promising youngsters Kostas Sloukas, Vangelis Mantzaris and Kostas Papanikolau earn a regular place in team rotations. In addition to that, a number of seemingly second-tier players – among them future defensive anchor Kyle Hines and another raw yet impactful big man such as Joey Dorsey – were signed and immediately given important minutes. Thanks to an impressive Euro 2011 campaign as the undisputed emotional leader of the surprising FYR Macedonia team, Antic earned what would turn out to be the chance of his lifetime by joining the Reds well into the preseason. The rest is well known history, as another unlikely Cinderella team went on to pull out one of the biggest upsets in European basketball and doubled it the following year.
With no fear to let it fly from downtown in spite of low shooting percentages as it had always been the case, Pero firmly established himself as an unconventional stretch four with a unique fighting spirit on both ends of the floor, always ready to fill whatever role in order to best help his team. The triumphant stint in Athens finally enabled the veteran to showcase such skills and adaptability, to the point that Atlanta Hawks took a chance on him. As the first – and probably only – Macedonian in the NBA, Antic did not feel bothered by that responsibility and simply continued to do what he had always done best: hitting threes, taking opposing bigs off the dribble as a natural consequence, finding the open man and, obviously, standing his ground even against the biggest names.
Now back to Europe after two extremely successful seasons in the USA, Pero has wasted no time in gaining Zeljko Obradovic’s trust – something that goes well beyond numbers and minutes of play – and looks eager to make his own Euroleague treble. More than that, however, all he is looking for is Fenerbahce’s very first continental laurels. After all, that is what domestiques do.