“Stop Scottie Wilbekin and don’t let him get 30!” Jaleen Smith talks Alba/Maccabi, Blatt/Zoosman and more with The Sports Rabbi

Nov 24, 2021 | Holyland Hoops

Maccabi Tel Aviv visits ALBA Berlin on Thursday at 21:30 on Euroleague Gameday 12 as the Yellow & Blue will look to brush off last week’s loss to Olympiacos and get back onto the winning track.

While two of ALBA’s players in Yovel Zoosman and Tamir Blatt will be of interest to many in Israel, one other player who they should keep an eye on is Jaleen Smith. Berlin’s swingman is playing in his first Euroleague campaign after having begun his professional career back in 2017 when he signed with Heidelberg in the German second division. Smith played two seasons in Heidelberg and then went on to feature for Ludwigsburg for a pair of campaigns as well and was named the 2020-21 BBL MVP.

Although he had been rumored to join Hapoel Jerusalem last season in a move that didn’t come to fruition, Smith signed with ALBA during the off-season and is now getting a taste of high level continental play.

Jaleen Smith – Photo Credit: Euroleague.net

The Sports Rabbi spoke to Smith about his career to date, some of the challenges he has faced, his future goals, his Israeli teammates and how things are going so far this season under new head coach Israel Gonzalez.

Jaleen Smith – Photo Credit: Euroleague.net

“I’m still learning and it’s a different basketball style than Ludwigsburg. I love it here, the players, coaches, management and city. Everything so far has been great. He’s really laid back and defensive minded. He focusses on our defense and defensive details a tremendous amount. That is his focus.”

This season has been an adjustment for Smith as he makes his first foray into the Euroleague. “It’s the best players in Europe and you can’t have an easy night. You got to focus on everybody and every detail. It’s a lot different than the domestic league. As far as my personal expectations, it’s been a slow start but I’m slowly picking up stuff and I can be playing better. I’m still learning and competing every night.”

Vasilije Micic – Photo Credit: Euroleague.net

The biggest challenge in Euroleague play to date was facing the Euroleague MVP, Smith explained as he also looked at what he needs to improve to take the next step, “Playing against Vasilije Micić for EFES. He’s really good and I understand why he was the MVP of the Euroleague. As for where I can improve, I have to just relaxing and taking my time. When I rewatch the games I played, I see that I rushed a lot when I didn’t have to. The best guards play at their own pace and I have to learn that myself as well. From there everything will come after that.”

ALBA made a number of roster changes this season which included bringing in a pair of Israelis in Tamir Blatt and Yovel Zoosman, “Zoos can really shoot the ball and he’s up there with Marcus Ericsson. You can’t leave him open and he can really slash too. He has to shoot the ball from 3 but lately he hasn’t been aggressive. He will figure it out.”

Tamir Blatt – Photo Credit: Euroleague.net

“Tamir is the best and most reckless passer in a good way. He gets the ball there and the guys have to expect that he will pass it. They have to expect the ball. He sees when you’ll be open and he’s a sniper too. He can shoot on the spot and off the screen.”

Smith began his career in the German second division on a try out contract and just a few years later he was named the top league’s MVP, “If you have confidence in yourself and a staff that believes in your abilities. That is what it was in Ludwigsburg, My college coach at New Hampshire Josh King was an assistant at Ludwigsburg as well and I was able to experience different parts of my game which helped me win the MVP.”

There have been some adjustments in style from Smith’s time at Ludwigsburg to that in Berlin, “I’m always talking with Tamir about this and we are used to being the ball dominant guys with the pick-and-roll and then see what we can do. But it’s different here and you have to be more efficient in your touches with Luke Sikma and Marcus. You have to see them as well.”

So far in in Germany, Smith makes strides throughout his first season with a club and finishes strong which allows him to head into year two as a much more confident and complete player. This was the case at both Heidelberg and Ludwigsburg as he hopes that will be the case as well in Berlin, “Hopefully I’ll pick it up this season. But when you come back a second year to a familiar place you know everybody, what you are coming back to and you are comfortable.”

Jaleen Smith – Photo Credit: Euroleague.net

Smith’s first season in Germany did not begin the way he wanted it to and there as some doubt if he would even last the entire campaign, “I started off slow that first year. I thought they would cut me but they stuck with me and I figured it out in the spring time when playoffs started. After that they brought me back for a second year and I took off.”

During the COVID-19 break during the 2020 season, Smith kept busy as he prepared for the upcoming year, which ended up being a blessing in disguise as the German league decided to finish that campaign on the floor in a bubble, “My friend started a workout group during the COVID-19 break and I worked out with him. We were in the gym 3-4 days a week working out and when they started up the league again I was already getting ready for the following season so I was prepared to play.”

John Patrick – Photo Credit: Euroleague.net

Ludwigsburg Coach John Patrick has been in his position since January of 2013 and has made his uniques mark on the game in Germany, “He is a competitor. If you survive him then you can survive anyone. That is what I was told beforehand as well. Every other team will be easy and that is true today. He had defensive demands but you understand why because he is super competitive and if you don’t have that competitiveness you’ll be cut.”

Smith reunited with Ludwigsburg teammate Oscar da Silva who is make huge strides on the court in Berlin, “The stuff he’s doing now I never saw him do in practice or at all in Ludwigsburg. He’s just comfortable here, we run the pick-and-rolls, he’s catching lobs, does a short roll and dunks. He’s progressing. You love seeing it as he dreams of the NBA.”

Jaleen Smith – Photo Credit: Euroleague.net

The NBA of course is the goal of almost every professional basketball player and that is also the case with Smith, “Trying to get to the NBA is it. I tried to get to the Euroleague and now I am here. The next jump would be the NBA. I would want to take that jump but the Euroleague is not a bad league to play in for sure.”

Just a few months ago, Smith had a taste of the NBA when he played in the Summer League with the Phoenix Suns, “It was great. We worked out at the team facility and the NBA guys were around and in Vegas the players were coming in also. It was cool to see Chris Paul, Karl Anthony Towns, Russell Westbrook and Devin Booker actually watching us play.”

Finally, the keys be to stopping Maccabi lie with finding a way to slow down Scottie Wilbekin Smith said, “Stop Scottie Wilbekin and don’t let him get 30! They are really talented and I know Wilbekin can put up pretty big numbers. Jalen Reynolds, Derrick Williams are there and James Nunnally is a sniper and that will be the key to slowing them down.”

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