EUROBASKET: Jaleen Smith looks to make an impact with Croatia, while rooting for ALBA Israeli teammates Blatt & Zoosman

Aug 30, 2022 | Holyland Hoops

The Eurobasket is arguably the best 3-week basketball tournament in the world with the top teams from around Europe competing against each other for the continental crown. Add to that the dozens upon dozens of NBA players and you get one fantastic competition that will span four countries, Czech Republic, Georgia, Italy and Germany for the group stages with the knockout rounds taking place in Berlin.

Israel of course is playing in Prague, but in order to get a taste of the groups, The Sports Rabbi spoke to a number of players and personalities and spotlighted their stories.

Jaleen Smith who will be playing for Croatia was born in Freeport, Texas and attended New Hampshire for college ball where the guard averaged close to 12 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists game. He currently features for ALBA Berlin who play in the Euroleague and had a terrific first season with the club after arriving in Germany back in 2017. With 10 points a game along with 3 boards and 3 assists across all competitions, Smith has most definitely made a solid first impression in the second best league in the world.

Jaleen Smith – Photo Credit: Croatia Federation

His story is unique and similar to that of a number of other Americans who became naturalized citizens in time to help various countries in the tournament. The most prolific of these players is Maccabi Tel Aviv floor general who obtained Spanish citizenship and will feature for their national team at the Eurobasket.

“My agent was telling me that he could hook me up with a Croatian passport and had been in contact with the coach of the National Team. They had been looking for a foreigner for the guard spot and he checked me out and then was back in touch with my agent Teddy Archer and that’s how I ended up on the team. It all happened very quickly beginning in the second to last week of July and when they asked I said I wanted to play and being able to represent a country is a blessing to be able to play on this level.”

The Croatia squad is littered with stars as well as a trip of NBA players in guys like Bogdan Bogdanovic, Ivica Zubac, Dario Saric as Smith explained what it’s like to play with some of the top players in the world, “It’s a different level, practicing with them and a different mindset as well. Every time they shoot the ball you think that it’s going in. You can give Zubac the ball down low in the paint and it’s automatically a bucket. You can’t leave Bogdanovic open so the talent here is just crazy. It’s interesting how they lost in the last FIBA window when they were up by 6-7 points with a little over a minute to go against Finland and the game was over, but stuff happens in basketball. I hope that I am that little extra something that can get them over the top.”

Jaleen Smith – Photo Credit:

Training camp was as good as it gets for Smith as the other players were happy to have him on their side, “They let me in with open arms and whatever I need they help me out with and they are always asking if I need something. Coach has been talking to me a lot and has been telling me to play my game. I talk with everybody and I have been seeing how everyone plays. If I play the point, I got to adapt to the guys on the team so we can be successful. They want to win as much as I do and that will make us stronger.”

Croatia is in a very tough group with teams like Greece, Italy, fan favorite Ukraine, but Smith feels that his team can make it through to the next round, “We have to be solid defensively and on offense we have so many weapons we will figure it out. But we will have to get those stops. It all comes down to defense. We can score any time but we have to be focused on the defensive end.”

On a personal level, Smith had a slow start to last season but came on brilliantly over the second half which is something that he’s done a number of times, especially in terms of his 3-point shooting. The former Ludwigsburg man explained, “It was definitely adjusting to the style of play and being a ball dominant guard as they prided themselves on sharing the ball. Additionally, my wife was finishing a masters degree and we just had a son, so they came over in December and when they arrived things became normal again.”

Jaleen Smith – Photo Credit:

Winning the German League title and German Cup with ALBA was a fantastic accomplishment for Smith as he was able to celebrate his first championship which also led to some talk about him heading to a higher profile team, “It felt great especially that being the first championship. You feel like you are on the top of the world and can’t be stopped. Going into next season you feel like you’re the best. Teams were interested in me but not really interested. You want to feel wanted. It was just talks and nothing serious and going back to ALBA I can build off of the season I just had. Just being wanted is great and it’s like a family in Berlin, they treat you well. I’m happy in Berlin and it’s a nice city.”

Two of Smith’s teammates on ALBA Berlin are Israelis Tamir Blatt and Yovel Zoosman who will also be playing in the Eurobasket. The 2021 German League MVP talked about what each has brought to the table in their first seasons outside the borders of the Holy Land.

“I think at the beginning of the season, it was me, Tamir and Maodo Lo at the point guard position and as the season continued Israel shifted me to the 2 and Tamir took over the second unit. You see him make pass and you say what is he doing, but it’s like wizadry the way he gets the ball to someone. You can also see how he and Zoosman have played together for a while as he knows exactly where to put that ball. If you run Tamir can find you and to play with him, a point guard who is always looking for you is great.”

Tamir Blatt and Yovel Zoosman – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“Yovel can do a bit of everything. He can defend and shoot and can handle the ball. He was really like a glue guy when he had his options he could do things with the ball and added another dimension for us and he was happy to play his game. I heard he was a 3 and D guy from Maccabi but you couldn’t see that, I said why did Maccabi let him go, he is such a talented player.”

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