Credit: Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images
Credit Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

As Ratiopharm Ulm suit up for the "Pavlos Giannakopoulos Tournament" in Athens, BasketNews caught up with the German team's star forward Jaron Blossomgame to discuss the upcoming season, coach Jaka Lakovic, present and past teammates, as well as his podcast which has hosted some of the NBA's hottest names.

Jaron Blossomgame

Jaron  Blossomgame
Position: SF
Height: 201 cm
Weight: 91 kg
Birth place: United States of America

If Jaron Blossomgame could pick a short description to accompany his resume, it would be that of a hard worker. The 27-year-old forward will be playing for Ratiopharm Ulm this year, coming off a breakout season with Israeli Ironi Nahariya, where he averaged 18.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in 30 domestic league games.

Blossomgame played at Clemson from 2012-2017 and was the Tigers' leading scorer three straight seasons, averaging 17.7 points per game in his final year. The 1.98 m forward was a two-time All-ACC player, finishing his career in the top 10 in Clemson history in starts (125), minutes (3,924), 20-point games (32), double-figure games (87), field goals (627), and free throws (383).

He was drafted in the second round (59th overall) of the 2017 NBA Draft by the San Antonio Spurs, who assigned him to the Austin Spurs, their G League affiliate. On his first professional mission, the Atlanta, Georgia native came out victorious, as his team won the 2017–18 G League championship.

The next campaign would see him dressed in the Cleveland Cavaliers uniform. During his NBA debut with the Wine and Gold, he had averages of 4.2 points on 49.1% field goal shooting, to go with 3.6 rebounds in 16.3 minutes per game.

After that, Blossomgame didn't get another crack at the NBA. He split the 2019-20 season between the Houston Rockets and the Chicago Bulls affiliate teams, but he received no call-up from the big stage. The experience in Israel helped him establish his name in Europe, albeit at a lower level, since Ironi Nahariya did not participate in any international competition.

On the other hand, Ulm has emerged as one of Germany's best-known clubs as they prepare for their seventh straight 7DAYS EuroCup campaign. The ambitious club started a new era in 2019 with Jaka Lakovic replacing Thorsten Liebenath as head coach after eight seasons. They reached the German League semifinals in each of the past two seasons but failed to advance past the regular season in the EuroCup, which is something that they will seek to change this time around.

"My experience in Germany has been great so far. I played in Israel last season and it's night and day, in terms of the organization and the situation," Blossomgame told BasketNews. "I've been here for about 5 weeks and I feel at home with the guys. We have developed great chemistry; the culture here is great - and the facilities too. I think we're a very talented team that can do a lot this year. So far, I'm enjoying my time in Europe."

Ulm will be playing in the EuroCup and the German League. Jaron Blossomgame concedes that he's not "very familiar with the EuroCup at all, to be honest. The only experience I've had was playing against Maccabi Tel Aviv and a few Champions League teams last year. My team didn't play in an international competition." Still, he has done his homework: "I know who we're playing with in the EuroCup and I'm looking forward to it. I know there's going to be high-level basketball and hopefully, we're can have a great season in both leagues. We're a really talented team and we have the chance to be good."

In this respect, the general perception points to Virtus Bologna and Partizan Belgrade as the favorites to win the EuroCup this season. Blossomgame takes a few seconds to ponder before answering: "They both have very good teams. The interesting about the EuroCup this season is that it's one game and you're done. I think that gives a lot of teams a shot. A team that makes the playoffs and isn't the No. 1 or No. 2 seed can beat any of those teams because it's only one game. Of course, those teams have former NBA and high-level European talent. It will be interesting to see how all this plays out."

Credit Ulm

If one were to define the team's goals, it would be a tough shot. "It's super early right now," he argues. "The main thing is that everyone is healthy, to see the whole group together, to continue to improve." Ulm finished sixth in the German League last year but reached the semi-finals. "We want to replicate the success they had last season. We're a very confident team so far. It hasn't been easy because we had some guys out, but we still managed to win some games," the American forward says.

The team will be in Athens over the next weekend, to participate in a strong tournament, hosted by Panathinaikos OPAP Athens. For Ulm's coach, Jaka Lakovic, it's a return to a place where he had some of the most memorable moments in his playing career. However, coming back to the OAKA Arena is not among the topics discussed between the former player of the "Greens" and his players.

"I haven't heard anything from the coach himself about his past. I've heard from a lot of other people how good he was and where he played. Everybody has had great things to say about him. It's a huge opportunity to go up against Efes, the EuroLeague champions. We want to have fun and continue to develop as a team. The result is not so much important now, it's pre-season. But we do understand it's a huge tournament for the club and our coach. So, we want to go there and put on a good showing," Blossomgame adds.

Being a players' coach is, in Blossomgame's eyes, one of the biggest advantages a coach can possess. That's also one of the main traits of Jaka Lakovic, according to the former Cavs player. When referring to him, he has nothing but praise. "I love him so far, man! I think that the greatest characteristic he has is understanding what it's like to be a player. Having played at the highest level, he understands what we're going through and it's easy for him to relate to us. Some days we're tired, some days we need an extra kick in the butt to get going.

There are some places where players and coaches are clashing and not clicking as much; but here, from the moment I spoke on the phone with the coach, the first thing I noticed was how calm, honest, and upfront he was. When I got here, nothing changed. He's not afraid to yell at us sometimes and go crazy, but at the same time, he's not afraid to be our friend. We had a good dynamic so far and I like what he's doing with the team," he explains.

Credit Ulm

Ulm gives Blossomgame a chance to team up with Cristiano Felicio and Justin Simon, who have had a similar path. In fact, Felicio went undrafted but got to play 252 games with the Chicago Bulls in six seasons. All three were on the Windy City Bulls team in 2019-20. One thing Blossomgame did not expect was to find both of them again in Europe. "It's kind of crazy! There are so many players; you don't know and you can't expect to play with any of your former teammates. To have three guys here, who all know each other and have played with each other before, has definitely helped build our chemistry. Having guys who hang around with each other can help later in the season," he utters.

For many Americans who come to Europe, the old continent is a stepping stone in order for them to return to the NBA. Blossomgame was selected in the draft, had his share of the G League and NBA games, before moving overseas. The overall taste of three professional years in the States was nothing short of sweet.

"I'm very happy with where I am right now. Some people get caught up in the journey and most people back home don't understand what it means to come here and play basketball, especially for a high-level team. They think all European basketball is the same. But this is high-level basketball. I am still chasing my dream. Guys often do come to Europe and return to the NBA but my main priority right now is to continue to grow as a player and a person. Ideally as a player, yes, I would love to return home and play in the NBA but it's not something I'm stressing right now. If it happens, it happens. I've had the opportunity to play at the highest level already. Playing in the EuroLeague or other good leagues would be great," he admits.

If he had to make a choice between winning the G League or making his NBA debut, he'd definitely pick the latter. "NBA debut, for sure. Not even close!" he answered steadily. "Every kid in America or even in Europe dreams of playing in the NBA. Only 0.001% of all high school players make the NBA. To be able to say I've done that, having had some good games too, is just unforgettable. G League was very fun for me but that can happen and it's not as rare as playing in the NBA. Being there was surreal. I thought of all the things I had to go through. I had a serious leg injury with multiple surgeries in high school."

When Blossomgame was selected in the second round of the draft, he said: "I feel like I’m a lot better player than a second-round pick." But where did all that confidence stem from?

"My self-belief is through the roof. I've worked extremely hard in basketball because I'm very self-aware of who I am as a player. I know I'm not the most skilled guy to be able to do things having a natural gift. I had to work for all the success I've had. Obviously, the draft didn't go the way I wanted; I still believe I'm better than a second-round pick but such things can happen. My confidence never waived. I know who I am as a player," he admitted with the same amount of confidence.

While with the Cavaliers, he became really close with veteran forward Channing Frye. The forward of Ulm credits him for having had the biggest influence in his game while in the NBA.

"He played a very big part, always giving me information on how to be a pro, certain things about my shooting and about rest and recovery. Channing Frye is a very positive person, easily likable. He's a guy that I gravitate towards because I'm always happy and positive. He's has a very long NBA career and he told me that the most important thing is longevity and taking care of your body. There were days when I felt good and I said: "I'm not going to put ice today," but now I know that most of the rest and recovery stuff is prevented. I want to have a 10 or 15-year-long career. I try to take care of my body and that's the main thing that stuck with me out of any teammate I've had in the NBA."

Credit David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

To make a pun with his surname, his game can continue to blossom in the next few years if certain conditions are met. Blossomgame gets analytical about what improvements he should make in order to maximize his potential. "The knack on me when I was in America was my shooting. It was inconsistent from three. I think I shot at almost 40% last season. I'm shooting really well in the pre-season. I've developed my turn-around shot and my post-ups. Defensively, my versatility has allowed me to guard almost all positions in Europe. I don't need to come off a ball screen but I must be able to knock down a three better or attack a close-out or start passing and get more guys involved. That can be the next step in my game. I'm very happy with the improvements I've made and I credit my trainer in Miami for most of them. I like my role here and I think I will be able to showcase some of the things I've improved on," he goes on to say.

Apart from playing basketball, the 27-year-old is an excellent communicator. As a matter of fact, he has been hosting the "Beyond the Press" podcast for some time. So far, he has interviewed NBA players Kyle Kuzma, Collin Sexton, and Josh Giddey.

"I signed with a different agency (Priority Sports) when I came out in the NBA draft (2017), but I kept a great relationship with my former agent Austin Eastman (co-founder of Odyssey Sports Group). About a year ago, he randomly reached out to me about a podcast but I had my own podcast I was interested in. He wanted to get me in front of the camera. Then, the opportunity of "Beyond the Press" came about six weeks ago. He mentioned it to the producer and to the people running the show. They interviewed me and gave me the opportunity to do it. We're trying to work on some things, have at least one interview a week. It's been going well so far. It's something that I do in my downtime when I'm hanging out in my apartment," Blossomgame describes.

In terms of the selection of guests, the work is done mainly by the producers based on Blossomgame's relationship with the interviewee: "I don't really select the guests. I told them that I wanted to interview Collin Sexton because we had a prior relationship. I knew him before the NBA. When he was 17, we went to the LeBron James Skills Academy in Los Angeles. The year we were in Cleveland together we built a good friendship. I thought he would be a good guest on the show - and he was. It blew up on social media and ESPN posted it on their Instagram page. We've got some big names coming up in the next weeks, like Karl-Anthony Towns," he reveals.

Of all the players currently in Europe, "it would be good to talk to Shane Larkin because we're represented by the same agent, played against him in college and he won the EuroLeague last year. It would be interesting to hear about the journey he had to go through and how he's developed as a person and a player."

It's an occupation that Blososmgame intends to keep after his playing time is over. "I thought about commentating games. Actually, Channing Frye does a lot of that stuff. I think that my personality fits that role and I definitely wouldn't mind going into something like that when I'm done playing."

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