Credit: Imago Scanpix
Credit Imago Scanpix

Jaleen Smith was this off-season's last addition for the ALBA Berlin. A year before in Ludwigsburg, he was the team's top scorer, best passer, while also contributing on defense (first in steals and second in rebounds).

Jaleen Smith

Jaleen  Smith
Team: ALBA Berlin
Position: PG, SG
Age: 26
Height: 193 cm
Birth place: Texas, United States of America

After averaging 15.7 points (31.5% 3PT), 5.2 rebounds, and 5.5 assists, Smith earned the German championship MVP award, which put him on the radar of multiple Turkish Airlines EuroLeague teams, including Zalgiris Kaunas, this summer. The 1.93-meter American guard represented the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Summer League, where he put up 10.0 points (29% 3PT), 4.0 assists, and 3.6 rebounds over 3 games.

ALBA's Horst Schneider sat down with a promising EuroLeague guard and talked about the strongest continental basketball competition and Smith's expectations for the upcoming season.

How did the first pre-season matches go? Especially having the spectators back in the arena.

It's great to play in front of fans again. It felt completely different in the small hall (Oranienburg). It was a real basketball atmosphere again and you could feel that the fans are having fun cheering on their team.

Are you satisfied with the way the preparation has gone so far?

There are certainly a few more things that we can and must improve. Everyone has to get used to their roles and their teammates. We have a long season ahead of us in which we are still developing.

How much injuries to all your centers hinder the team's preparation?

In these circumstances, it's actually difficult to get a feel for how the team will play when the centers are back. But the same applies here: It's only the pre-season. Our big men will all come back and gradually make us stronger.

You're already used to playing a small ball from Ludwigsburg, right?

Yes, you can say that. Of everyone on the team, I'm probably best prepared for the centerless game (laughs).

Immediately after your MVP season, there were a lot of rumors about offers from various European clubs. Why did you choose ALBA in the end?

Like other teams, ALBA approached me at an early stage. But I wanted to find out whether there were opportunities for me in the NBA and I made that very clear to everyone. With some teams, I had the impression that they were too unsure about it and that they didn't want to wait that long for me. ALBA showed understanding and in the end, it was the best option for me because I really like the Berlin style of playing and I generally feel good in Germany.

Did you watch a lot of ALBA games last season?

Yes, I saw almost all of the ALBA's EuroLeague games and Bayern’s as well.

From the second division to the BBL and now EuroLeague - do you sometimes have to pinch yourself when looking back on your career path?

After the first year in Heidelberg, I was even surprised that they extended my contract for another year. The second year there helped me a lot to build up my confidence as a player. And in Ludwigsburg - everyone knows John Patrick - you have to be happy if you're still there after the first few weeks. In retrospect, it's crazy how that went. If you had prophesied to me after the first year in Heidelberg that I would become a BBL MVP three years later, I would certainly have declared you crazy.

And the story is not over yet. This summer you trained with the Utah Jazz and the Philadelphia 76ers and played with the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Summer League. How was that experience?

It was the very first time that I had ever come into contact with the NBA and I was impressed that - even if you are only on the Summer League roster - they immediately give you the feeling that you belong to them completely. It was a mix of American athletes in Europe, G-League players, and a few better-known NBA players. I played with them for a month. A great experience.

The star on your team was forward Jalen Smith, who has almost the same name as you. Was that confusing sometimes?

A lot of people scanned the statistics and then said: Wow, you get even more rebounds in the NBA Summer League than in the BBL! Then I had to correct them and say: Sorry, that was the big Jalen, I'm just the little Jaleen!

During the first pre-season games, it looked like the defense could become ALBA's biggest trump card in the upcoming season. What do you think?

I think so, even if I still have to get used to ALBA's defensive concept. The ALBA style lives from the fast-paced game, which creates many open shots. The basis of this is a good defense.

You became an MVP mainly because of your versatility. Not only were you Ludwigsburg's top scorer, but you also got a lot of rebounds, assists, and steals. Is there anything you want to improve on?

I still have to improve my shooting. I have days when I hit everything, but there are also days when the shots don't fall at all. I want to be more consistent there. I also have to do that because I will probably get more open shots with ALBA's playing style (than in Ludwigsburg).

What do you expect from the EuroLeague?

When moving from the second to the first division, I first had to get used to the much more physical and faster game. In the EuroLeague, all teams have strong big guys, which makes the game slower. Therefore, I will have to get used to a slightly slower game again.

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