Tommy Lee Smith is a 34 year old 207cm forward from Phoenix, Arizona that has been a professional basketball player since 2003 and currently playing with Phoenix Hagen. He played at Arizona State from 1999-2003 playing a total of 122 NCAA games and as a senior played : 32 games: 11.2ppg, 6.2rpg, 2.7apg, BlockPac-10-1(2.2bpg), FGP: 49.3%, 3PT: 27.8%, FT: 57.4%: Finished his career with 1,123 points, 20th on the Sun Devil career scoring list and second leading shot blocker with 167. In 2003 he was drafted by the Chicago Bulls (NBA,2rd(53). He started his professional basketball career in 2003 with KK Split (Croatia-A1): ULEB Cup: 10 games: 12,4ppg, 6.2rpg, 1.2apg, 1.9spg, 1.7bpg; Adriatic League: 24 games: 9.9ppg, 6.1rpg, 1.1apg, 1.5spg. In the 2004-2005 season he played for the Yakima Sun Kings (CBA) playing 14 games: 13.4ppg, 6.0rpg, 2.4apg, 1.4spg, 2.1bpg, FGP: 55.5%, 3Pts: 25%. IN 2005 he came to Germany and played for the Artland Dragons until 2007. He then played for Al Jalaa Aleppo (Syria-D1) and Liaoning Panpan Hunters (China-CBA). After a two year break from basketball he returned in 2011 and played for the Dakota Wizards (D-League): 40 games: 7.6ppg, 5.0rpg, 1.1spg, 1.2bpg, FGP: 55.0%, FT: 53.2%. In the 2012-2013 season he played for the Santa Cruz Warriors (D-League), in Jan.’13 signed at Fort Wayne Mad Ants (D-League) playing 31 games: 6.7ppg, 5.5rpg, 1.5apg, 1.5bpg, FGP: 56.5%, FT: 47.2%. Two seasons ago he played for Al Shamal (Qatar-D1): 16 games 10.7ppg, 6.3rpg, 2.3apg, 1.1spg, FGP: 52.8%, FT: 28.8%. He spoke to German Hoops about basketball.
Tommy thanks for talking to German Hoops. Before we talk about basketball I have to get something off my chest. I always think of Motley Crew drummer Tommy Lee when I read your name. Does that thought ever cross your mind when you read your name somewhere?
It does cross my mind at times and people do bring it up on occasion. But to be honest I don´t think of Tommy Lee, but more of his ex wife Pamela Lee. I wasn´t big on Motley Crue.
Your back in Germany playing for Phoenix Hagen. It has been 8 years since you left the Artland Dragons. How has the country and its basketball changed the most in this time?
So much has changed since I played for the Artland Dragons. Back in 2006 all teams were stacked with good players, but like everywhere else basketball has become better. In Germany it is more athletic and physical. I also think that the pace is faster like in the States. As a country it reminds me a lot of home. In Artland it was a small village and all Germans, but in Hagen I hear many different languages like in Phoenix.
What did you miss most about Germany in the 8 years? Was there a food you missed most?
Besides being home, Germany has been the coolest place for me to play in. It is americanized and everything is handled very professional. Often players don´t realize if a place is safe or not, but in Germany I feel safe and everything is clean. The economy is doing well and everybody is so helpful. If my car broke down, I know someone would be helping me right away.
You are turning 35 in December. What can you still do now as good as when you were 26 years old with the Artland Dragons?
I can still guard all positions and run down the court like then. I can still do all I need to help win a game.
After not playing last season you have returned playing with Phoenix Hagen this season. Were you already retired? Why did you decide to come back to play?
No I wasn´t retired. I played last season in Mongolia, but that isn´t recognized by the Fiba. We won the league title there. All games are played in one gym. Ex NBA player Smush Parker played there and he can still hit the three and running the team. Andre Brown that played with the Grizzlies was also in the league. It was a different experience. They don´t respect basketball in that part of the world.
After two solid years in the D-league you played two seasons ago for Al Shamal (Qatar-D1): 16 games: 10.7ppg, 6.3rpg, 2.3apg, 1.1spg, FGP: 52.8%, FT: 28.8%. Was the main reason getting a sweet pay check why you decided to play there?
Yes the money was pretty good. It is one of the richest countries in the world. Many people don´t realize how open it is there considering it is a Muslim country. There are many people from the States, Canada and Germany working there. It is like a small Dubai.
How can one imagine playing in the country of Qatar? What experience was that for you? How often did you sleep in a palace?
I didn´t sleep in a palace, but the team gave the four Americans a big house where each person had their privacy. It was a nice atmosphere. We would all be in the living room playing video games. Back then Call Of Duty was big.
What exactly is your role with Phoenix Hagen? Are you a guy coming from the bench that just helps out wherever he can while scoring isn´t as important?
I came to Hagen to help fill in for the injured DJ Covington. I am a guy that comes from the bench that helps anyway I can. This team plays a high paced game and have many very good shooters. There are guys that just don´t miss and they need to get the ball. Davin White who was my point guard in high school played here and said good things about the club. This is also the fourth time that I have played with Adam Hess.
What is it like battling with Ivan Elliot each day in practice? I am sure he could still learn valuable things from you on the court?
He is a solid player and reminds me of a young me. He plays more of a three. When I was with Artland, Chris Fleming had me play the three and Adam Hess the four. Elliot is the full package and is a very good inside out player.
Where does David Bell rank in your best all time teammates that can just flat out shoot out the lights?
He is up there with the best. In 2011 I was with the Golden State Warriors in training camp and saw Klay Thompson hit 30 in a row and then miss and then hit 30 in a row again. David Bell can do that. I don´t actually sit down and watch him, but David is so strong that he can get open and take the step back. I always kid him and tell him that he can´t do that against me.
What kind of relationship do you have with head coach Ingo Freyer? How can an experienced guy like him still help an experienced guy like you?
He explains to you exactly how he wants something to be done and then you just go out and do it. He just gives you the freedom to be you. He is a very good coach and you really have to be in shape to play for him.
What has been your impression of Niklas Geske? His minutes keep increasing and everyone predicts a big future for him. Can he continue to make the next steps in the next years?
He is so young and you can see him learning. Coach tells him what he has done wrong and you can see over time how his game changes and develops in front of your eyes. I don´t like to make this kind of prediction, but he reminds me of Steve Nash off the screen and roll. He really has the screen and roll down. He can control a team. He plays for a great coach and he has the right attitude. 90% is mental anyway.
You were out of basketball for two years a time where you were in a basketball players prime, but instead of running around the floor somewhere in the world for the next two years, you paced around in a jail cell. It has been more than 4 years since that time. Do you still think about this experience each day?
I don´t think about it each day. This horrible experience helped form and mold me. I don´t like to dwell on the past. I just learned from it to become a better person.
Considering the many bad things happening in the world you were locked up for hitting your girlfriend. In jail you turned to god and faith. When you look back do you believe that God had chosen this path for you in a way to reach out to you and bring you to another place in jail and spiritually after jail?
For each person it is different. I feel that your path is set for you and it is all about how you handle it. 90% of life happens and the other 10% is how you handle it. I deal with life in a positive way.
When you look back at your two years in jail, what do you believe was the most important lesson that you learned there that has ultimately made you a better person now?
I will never forget my mom´s words. She said God cares more for holiness than for happiness.
After two successful years with the Artland Dragons, you then played in Syria and China. Was money the biggest draw here or why didn´t you stay in Europe and make the next step?
Money and seeing a new culture were the biggest draws for me going there. I remember having the culture shock going on the plane to Syria and 45 minutes before we landed I remember seeing all the people run to the bathroom to change and put on the traditional clothes. That really opened up my eyes. On the court we lost only one game. Another reason why I went there was too play with ex NBA player Samaki Walker. I learned so much from him on and off the court. He is very educated and knows a lot about science. I went to China because it was like they were giving away money.
You played in the D-League from 2011-2013 very late in your career. What did you hate about this league and like?
The D-league is one of the real strong leagues just below the NBA. Going to the D-league was a very good decision because I had been away from the game for two years and it was a good way to get in shape again and shape my skills on the court. What I didn´t like then was that many D-league teams were owned by many NBA teams. I remember FT Wayne having 6 NBA teams so there were always guys coming down that had priority with minutes. Now the D-league is trying to have one NBA team per team which will make the league better.
What memories do you have of a young Shy Ely who has made a name in Europe and especially Germany in the last few years?
He was a defender and shooter. His shot was unorthodox but it went in. He was long athletic and all around a good guy.
You will always have the distinction of being drafted by the NBA, but never playing a game. You were in training camp of the Bulls and Bucks. What memories do you take from your short NBA experiences that you had early in your career?
My best time was with the Chicago Bulls. I never played an NBA game, but was with the team for half a season and was on injured reserve, but traveled with the team. When I was growing up one of my favorite players was Scottie Pippen. He had retired a year before, but was still in game shape and often would come to practice. I would play some 1-1 or 2-2 and he still could play. We sort of had the same build so I would try to copy him and learn how to sneak that foul which he did well.
You played with the Artland Dragons from 2005-2007 with Adam Hess. Now your reunited with him. Back then it was two younger bucks and now two older bucks playing together again. How has he developed further on and off the court?
It is a lot different with Adam Hess now. He is a man now has a family and kids. Family is his first priority. It was weird seeing how fluent he is now. In 2006 he knew a few words, but now he talks so well. He told me it was hard to learn, but he got it done. He still has same game and you can´t leave him open. He is tall and jumps on his shot and its hard to guard him because he rises. He is older and smarter and might still try to stick a thumb in your rib and then give you that smile. He is all about winning.
Did you know when you left in 2007 that Chris Fleming would go on and have success winning 7 titles with Bamberg, become coach of the German national team and now be an assistant with the Denver Nuggets? What really stood out with him as a coach and person?
When you play for Chris Fleming you will always be best prepared. He is a great scouter and just does his homework and breaks it all down. He is so professional and passionate about basketball and it is contagious and just trickles down on everybody.
How did Darius Hall get you too laugh best?
He was so funny. A game wasn´t even two seconds old and he already had his daughter on the court like Simba. It was really hilarious seeing that. He just did random things and wasn´t even conscience he was doing it. I remember him break dancing in the locker room. He was one of the coolest guys to be around.
As a rookie you played with KK Split (Croatia-A1). What was your wake up call to be a rookie in Europe where you knew that you were very far away from home in Phoenix, Arizona?
I stayed at home and played for Arizona State and it was never cold there. But when I went to Croatia the weather was so cold. My brother came over for a few weeks and wanted to go back after two days. I also wasn´t used to day light savings either. There were many different things that I encountered with the culture and that isn´t easy dealing with when your young.
You played at Arizona State from 1999-2003. You had some talented guys but never made noise at the NCAA tournament. When you look back at this time what do you feel was missing from more success?
We had good teams, but in basketball you win some and you lose some. We lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2003 against a very strong Kansas team that had 4 NBA players like Nick Collison, Aaron Miles, Kirk Hinrich and Keith Langford. We just ran into a good team that was better than we were on that day. My freshman year we had 8 freshmen and Eddie House and the goal was screen for Eddie House and you would always be open. I also played three seasons with Chad Prewitt where I would later also be teammates at Artland.
You played three seasons with Awvee Storey that played in the NBA and Germany. What was the most amazing thing you remember him doing on the court at Arizona State?
He is one of my best friends. I was at his wedding. He was crazy athletic. I remember that Adam Hess hated him. Storey broke his rib in a game when we played with Artland. It was a freak accident and at the time Hess was leading the BBL in scoring and the injury put a dent in his numbers. He was 6.6 and led the Pac 10 in rebounding. I remember him as a rebound machine.
How did Rob Evans prepare and groom you best for a professional basketball career?
He was a very smart coach and played professionally in four sports. His system was great for me because it was all about being athletic.
What is the state of Lebron James in 2015? Will he ever be mentioned in the same breath as a Michael Jordan?
The only way you can compare someone to Michael Jordan is with the amount of rings you have won. If Lebron gets 6 then we can make comparisons. Lebron is such a dominating player, but at the end of the day it is about the rings. The only knock I have on Lebron is that he passes the ball too much. He definitely makes the right play. If he had Kobe´s mentality then he would shoot more. I think that Kobe is closer to the Michael Jordan comparison then is Lebron.
What was the last movie that you saw?
The last movie I saw was Selfless.
Thanks Tommy for the chat.