I love Israel, hopefully we will be there in January: Monaco’s Jaron Blossomgame readies for Maccabi

Oct 25, 2023 | Holyland Hoops

Maccabi Tel Aviv gets back to Euroleague action when they visit a familiar foe in Monaco on Thursday (22:00) in the Principality. The yellow-and-blue return to the site of their quarterfinal game five defeat last season as they were oh so close to punching their ticket to the Final Four as they will now look to continue the momentum gained after last week’s win over Panathinaikos.

Monaco began the season 0-2 but evened it up at 2-2 by sweeping the Double Week just a few days ago as they will try and build on their winning streak with a now completely healthy team and Jordan Loyd returned to the fold.

Jaron Blossomgame is beginning his second season under head coach Sasa Obradsovic and had played in Israel back in the 2020/21 season when he played his trade with Nahariya in his first season abroad. Little did he know that just two short years later, the Atlanta native would make the jump to the continent’s top league.

Just ahead of tip-off, The Sports Rabbi caught up with Blossomgame to discuss his time in the Holy Land, adding a number of pieces to an already loaded club including NBA star Kemba Walker, the challenges of having a smaller part on a winning team and how he feels about the team as they look to take the next step as a franchise.

Jaron Blossomgame – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“Everything is pretty good, I can’t complain,” Blossomgame said as he stepped into his car following a two hour practice and then a Euroleague Players Association meeting.

“We are undefeated in the French league at 8-0, we’re 2-2 in the Euroleague with both wins coming last week, so things are going well. Jordan Loyd is healthy now and we have our full team which will be the case for the game against Maccabi.”

Monaco made a number of moves in the off-season in order to try and build off of last year’s Final Four appearance. One of the players that joined the club was 4x NBA All-Star Kemba Walker who was no doubt the biggest off season signing in Europe.

“Before he got here I heard incredible things about him and he has been every humble. He’s an NBA star and it’s surprising as to how he is. A coach said that he acts like a college student, he listens, watches film and is very coachable. He’s great teammate and great person to hang around on and off of the court. To add him to this team is terrific.”

A number of other new recruits in Petr Cornelie, Mam Jaiteh and Terry Tarpey also joined the team and Blossomgame sees exactly how all of the additions will be able to help the team in their goals for the campaign.

“Terry is a hard nosed defender, goes for this 50/50 balls, does the dirty work for us. What team doesn’t want a player like that, we filled a void that we didn’t have. Petr spreads the floor and gives us another aspect, while Mam can change the game, he gets those defensive and offensive rebounds and protects the rim. For a team that was a Final Four team last season we added well and now we have to get everyone acclimated and build that chemistry.”

Mike James – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Mike James has always been a lightning rod in Europe whether it has been with CSKA Moscow, Milano and even Monaco last season, but as Blossomgame says, the star guard is one terrific teammate and player that any team would want to share the floor with.

“You hear about his reputation and there are those who have bad things to say. We had some situations but he is a great teammate and he reached out to me on my first day. He is always positive and gives so many tips and it is just great playing with him. He puts guys in the position to score and he gets a lot of attention which gives players like me more freedom to take advantage of.”

Monaco head coach Sasa Obradovic is no doubt a character of the game and is always trying to get the most out of his team. Blossomgame shed a little light on the bench boss’s methods that while may not be the standard but certainly have the right effects.

“A lot of people don’t understand him, he is a guy that understands what it takes to be successful. It s tough to be successful at a high level, his methods may not be traditional but it works. We had a double week and won both games and also won in the French League and he was unhappy. He never gets us too high or too low and I appreciate that he wants to get the best out of me. He coaches very hard and that’s a big part of why we are successful. I enjoy playing for him and he does the right things.”

Last season Monaco finished the season in 4th place and advanced to the Final Four where they succumbed in the semifinals to Olympiacos. This year with the changes that have been made, the Principality’s club is 3 deep in every position and could threaten to win it all, however, Blossomgame doesn’t want to put the proverbial cart ahead of the horse just yet.

Jaron Blossomgame – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“Right now it’s very early and we are only 4 games into the season. Some people will say that we are better on paper but we have to go out and win the games. We have the potential to do some great things this year when we figure things out. We didn’t have Jordan Loyd and Donta Hall who were both injured and some were not with the team during preseason as they were at the World Cup. Once we get things rolling we have a lot of firepower and we have both offense and defense capabilities. We have continuity as 11 players from the team last year stayed for this season. But it’s still tough to say, it’s early and 5-6 other teams feel they can win, but there are a lot of games to be played.”

The Clemson product wasn’t aways endearing to the game of basketball but as the years went by he was able to see that perhaps one day he could end up being a professional which would take him to the Cleveland Cavaliers after having been selected by the San Antonio Spurs with the 59th pick in the 2017 draft.

“I started playing when I was 9 years old and I didn’t like basketball. My brother was taller than me and he liked it and got all of the attention, but I got pretty good in high school but I only took it seriously when I was a Junior. It was only in my sophomore year that I saw that I could make it as a professional.”

The 30-year old stands at 6”7 and can play multiple positions on the court which made him a wanted man over the years, “I have a unique game, I was an undersized 4 and transitioned to be a 3-4, 4-3 and my role now is different. I had to transform my game and I don’t need to be the guy I was in Israel or Germany. I can catch and shoot 3’s attack the basket, closeouts, win the 50/50 balls, guard 1-5 and be a Swiss Army knife type guy. Like Andre Igudola, who guarded guys, made shots and played to his strengths. I am self aware of that.”

Blossomgame played in both the NBA and G-League over the course of his first three seasons as a pro before making his first foray abroad which led him to Israel at the starts of the 2020/21 campaign where he featured for a very tough luck teaming Nahariya that was eventually relegated.

Jaron Blossomgame – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“When I came over and didn’t understand European basketball at all and I didn’t know why Maccabi won every year while I had no idea what the Euroleague was. My first day out there in Israel I got a menu in Hebrew and I didn’t understand a thing. I couldn’t understand how I would last for the season and I would have gone home. But I had some great teammates and we hung out a lot which made it easier. That season, I had the most fun. I love Israel and I love going back there. For my first experience overseas, I embraced the culture and that is something I will definitely I hold dear to me. I enjoyed being there.”

As for his best memory from his year in Israel, Blossomgame took no time to go right for the gold, “Shabbat dinner. I made a friend that I am still close with and he took me under his wing. We hung out all the time with his family and kids. We spent time away from basketball and I learnt about Israel. I genuinely enjoyed it and hopefully we will be back in January.”

After a season in Israel’s north, It was on to Germany and Ulm for a season before having Monaco call him and take him away to the French League where he has now been for two seasons with Monaco. But with a plan in place he was able to execute it to a science in order to make the jump to the Euroleague in almost no time.

“I did think I would get to the Euroleague but I didn’t know when. I watched Maccabi every week and they were the only team I knew and tried to learn about it as much as I could. I am a confident player and I knew there would be steps to take to get there. Me and my agent, we had a plan and I went to Germany the next year and played in the EuroCup. I only played two seasons before I made it to the Euroleague which is very difficult to do especially to a team like Monaco. Going to the Final Four was great and seeing it up close and being a part of it, the fire made me hungry for more. I really enjoy it. Every possession matters.”

It’s clear that Blossomgame is extremely talented and has other aspects to his game that he is not utilizing with Monaco which he may have at other teams such as Nahariya. But the decision to be a part of a team that can win it all is very inspiring and inspiring enough that the team accomplishment is bigger than the individual one.

Jaron Blossomgame – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“I think about that a lot and I’ve had this conversation a lot. Do I value winning or do I value statistics. I am very happy with winning, winning the French League, the French Cup and going to the Euroleague Final Four. You get used to it. My role is small but everyone here would say the same. My role is what it is and it makes the team go. People who have seen me play know what I can do and if I can help the team win whether it’s 5 minutes or 25 minutes. I am capable of doing more, but the team needs are more important than personal goals.”

Maccabi is coming into the game in an odd situation due to the war, but the last contest they had was an overtime win in Athens over Panathinaikos and seemed they were back to themselves. There’s no question they have last year’s quarterfinal series in the back of their heads, a series that many would have liked to see go to 7 games, but as Blossomgame said Monaco also is thinking about that hard fight battle as well.

“Game 5 of the quarterfinals was our 7th game playing Maccabi so we would have won 4-3 over the course of the season, so there are your 7 games right there. Maccabi are a good team and have exceptional payers, Lorenzo Brown is probably one of the best guards in Euroleague. Maccabi earned our respect last season. It will be a tough game and a fight and they are thinking about last season’s quarterfinal series and we are too. We feel that were disrespected going into that series, it’s on our court and we have to worry about Monaco. We are focussed on ourselves and if we play the way we can, we can win. We are very excited as they are. It will be a great game and we are looking forward to the matchup.”

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