Jaleen Smith (6’4”-PG-94, college: UNH) is a special player that has had to prove himself everywhere where he has been in his career, but his unending will to be the best he can be combined with supreme work ethic has always allowed him to make the next step in his career. The Freeport, Texas native has had to work himself up from the NCAA right up to the best league in Germany called the easyCredit BBL. He averaged only 5,6ppg as a freshman at the University of New Hampshire, but then made a great growth spurt with his game improving his out put each season going from 10 to 13 to 15 points as a senior. Coming from a lower conference with the AEC didn’t promise him a ticket to Spain’s ACB league or the Italian Serie A, two top leagues, but instead was introduced to the German second division Pro A MLP Academics. He lived in a beautiful city called Heidelberg which has one of Germany’s most famous castles and he could have easily spent a lot of time there taking in some of the breathtaking views and dream about the NBA, but instead opted to grind in the gym. There he also had to pay his dues and only averaged only 7,6ppg as a rookie, but never sunk his head in the sand like a terrified ostrich, but just kept believing in himself and averaged 12,9ppg in his second season. This still wasn’t enough for an automatic contract to Germany’s top league easyCredit BBL. But top club MHP Riesen saw something special in him mainly thanks to his old New Hampshire coach Josh King who happened to be an assistant there to top coach John Patrick. He was able to convince them in a try-out and the rest is history. He had a super third season averaging 10.7ppg, 3.6rpg, 2.4apg, 1.6spg, FGP: 53.1%, 3PT: 33.6%, FT: 82.8% taking another step and continued his amazing maturation as a player averaging 15.2ppg, 5.0rpg, Assists-3 (5.3apg), Steals-2 (1.8spg), FGP: 49.2%, 3PT: 32.7%, FT: 87.5% and winning the league MVP title. That season got him on the radar of Euroleague teams and also NBA team Utah Jazz that invited him to a work out where he once again proved his worth as a player and in turn got him a 2021 NBA Summer League invitation with the Phoenix Suns. His extreme rise in overseas basketball is not self-evident, because his game has been growing in a special way similar to the way Grizzlies guard Ja Morant has in the last years. His ex coach Josh King has had a front row seat from the early days in New Hampshire to the last years in Germany and seen how it has matured best. ‘Jaleen has expanded his game and grew so much during his time in Ludwigsburg. He has always been a versatile player but John Patrick gave him the opportunity to do it at a higher level and Jaleen made the most of it. I think the biggest step Jaleen made as a player was being more vocal and confident, he became the leader of our team and the coach on the floor’, warned Josh King. The basketball world is starting to realize that he is the real deal, and ex coach Josh King who just got his first European head coaching job with USK Prag recently has those very special stories and memories that he is ready to share with the young bucks looking for new role models. ‘I only coached Jaleen for one year at New Hampshire but one thing people need to know about him is that he is an every day guy. In the fact that he NEVER takes a day or play off and I knew during that year if he kept this same mind set and work ethic he would be a good pro and I think the best is yet to come for him in his pro career. My fondest memory of Jaleen in Ludwigsburg and just the entire 20-21 season and just watching him compete every game. We had a team with so many pieces but Jaleen was the heart and soul of our team and led us to a 30-4 regular record and regular season champions in one of the best leagues in the world. He was named MVP for season and rightfully so. Not bad for a guy from the University of New Hampshire who was never first team all league’, stressed Joey King. Jaleen Smith‘s Cinderella story continues to move swiftly as it takes on a new chapter with the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.
Instead of heading back to Europe and strutting his basketball stuff for a new Euroleague team in August, Jaleen Smith who last saw the movie Rush Hour 2 decided quickly to give the NBA a shot after winning the 2021 easyCredit BBL MVP as his name now is in the heads of many not only overseas, but also back in the States. Despite being in mega stress as a common German might say at anytime of the day in their busy world as using those strung together American phrases has become more and more common over the years with German folk, I reach the ex Heidelberg guard In Las Vegas on the day before his first game against the Los Angeles Lakers as his excitement is growing and growing each second as he is accompanied by his wife and son ready to take on the NBA as he is ready to work towards his dream of playing in the NBA. It is obvious his eyes never lit up more than when he could hold his baby son in his arms for the first time, but being able to play in the NBA Summer league has to be close. ‘I can’t wait for this opportunity. I’ve been watching these games for a while now and now family and friends can watch how I’ve progressed throughout the years on live tv. I’m blessed to be put in the position’, stressed Jaleen Smith. The last weeks have been like a fantasy as he seemed to be breathing NBA air everywhere. You can’t say enough about his agent Teddy Archer who has to be one of the young hardest working guys in the business. His other client Tyler Larsen can attest to that helping him make the next step in Germany in the easyCredit BBL with Bamberg last season. ‘I just got in contact with Phoenix through my agent Teddy Archer. He’s been working his butt off this summer and he’s put me in a great situation with the Suns. I’m honored to be playing with the NBA Finalist’, expressed Jaleen Smith.
His basketball life has never been a cake walk. Nothing was given to him as he has worked very very hard for every opportunity. The NBA has been on his mind the whole summer which left little time to explore exotic places in the world. Instead he had that uncomfortable gym aroma every day of massive sweat and was grinding his behind off to get a tad better every day. ‘I’ve been mostly in the gym getting ready for all these minicamps with the 76ers, Jazz, and now the Suns. It’s been my busiest summer in my pro career’, added Jaleen Smith who believes that all the criticism that Team USA took leading up to the Olympics help fuel their desire to win the Gold. Being able to play in the NBA Summer League is an experience that not every player can achieve so the scoring guard had to be 100% prepared so when he stepped on the court against Los Angeles he would be ready. You never know where Magic Johnson might be lurking in the gym. He just hauled in some old heads with Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony so he might just be looking for a younger guard with overseas experience and that team ball mentality. ‘I’ve been getting used to the ball and the expanded 3 point range since I’ve been doing these workouts. Those are big differences from Europe, I can tell you so far’, said Jaleen Smith. For German basketball fans, watching the Phoenix Suns will be interesting because there are two other easyCredit BBL players on the roster with Jon Axel Gudmundsson who played with the Fraport Skyliners and gives heaving bombs from way down town a new meaning and Karim Jallow who has taken the BBL by storm last season being Germany’s best player. Now he will be teammates and see another perspective to their games that he didn’t see before. He definitely remembers both guys games well. ‘You can’t leave Gundmundsson open or he’s a bucket from 3. I’ve been glad to play with him and for scrimmages I’m glad he’s on my team because I’ll find my shooters. Karim has been killing it in Germany the last couple of years and I understand he wants expand his game to the NBA to see where his game is. I respect it. He’ll always have Germany for him if he doesn’t make it with the NBA’, warned Jaleen Smith.
It will be very interesting to see where the American will stack up on this roster. It is no secret that most NBA Summer League rosters are filled with young hungry players just out of the NCAA, but every here and there you see older guys. The best example is 31 year old insane scoring genius Kyle Fogg who graduated from Arizona (NCAA) in 2012 and has had an incredible professional career playing in the ACB, winning the easyCredit BBL scoring title in 2016 with the Eisbaeren Bremerhaven and a few years ago put up crazy Russell Westbrook stats of 34/8/7 in China. Despite having played only four years of pro ball, Smith is one of the oldest on the squad as only Jo Lual-Acuil Jr and Michael Frazier are older. Frazier by the way was briefly with the MHP Riesen in 2017 in pre season where Smith was the last two seasons. He definatley has an edge over the younger players on the team. ‘I think it’s a pro to be older because guys are professionals and they know what it takes to win games and that’s how it’s been since we got to Phoenix for camp. Everyone is doing what they do well and are playing hard’, added Jaleen Smith. He will have a lot of down time and will probably see many well known heads walking around. The NBA Summer League is a great place to make connections. So why not be like on the court and also be aggressive off the court, but never losing one’s composure. ‘I’m grateful to meet anyone of the NBA stars at this place. I’ve seen a couple of stars walking around my hotel but I’ve been trying to act like a professional’, laughed Jaleen Smith.
So how well will a Jaleen Smith who is confident that a Russell Westbrook will fit in with the Lakers and do well be able to perform at the NBA stage? For his ex coach Josh King there is no doubt that his ex player will be able to hold his own. ‘I think Jaleen will do very well in the summer league. Jaleen is a grown man and in the summer league there are a lot of younger players so I expect him to do very well. Jaleen isn’t a flashy player, he does so many things well and I expect him just to play his game and others will notice his true value as a player’, warned Josh King. When your living in Europe and have duties in the early morning, staying up and watching the NBA Summer League can be a big challenge. I woke up this morning and quickly checked Jaleen Smith‘s box score. My eyes popped up like Beetle Juice as I saw the stats of 15 points and 12 rebounds. I wondered wow he was really aggressive on the glass. But at second glance it wasn’t him. There is also a big man on the squad with Jalen Smith. Then I scrolled down a bit and saw his solid stats of 13 points, 1 rebound, 3 assists and 1 steal while shooting a good 7/17. As the true competitor that he was the tight 73-72 loss against the Lakers didn’t heighten his mood into the sky before going to sleep. ‘We didn’t come out with the win. I just wished we got the win. I thought I did OK in the game. Next game for sure I’m going to be better’, warned Jaleen Smith. You always see interesting players at NBA Summer League and that is also the case with ex Texas Tech (NCAA) guard Mac McCung who was already a star in high school in 2015 as he gave the term white men can jump a new meaning. ‘He doesn’t use his athleticism as much as a pro from what I saw but he hustles big time’, stated Jaleen Smith. One NBA player where Smith will be able to see exactly where his game is Ty-Shon Alexander who had similar stats to Smith registering 11/3/2 stats and shooting 5/14 in the loss against the Lakers. ‘We haven’t really matched up in practice but from what I have seen in scrimmages he’s a shot maker and he has a pro mentality to his game. He makes quick reads and does a good job of keeping you off balance with pull-up jumps and finishes in the lane’, stressed Jaleen Smith. Sometimes I can read the mind of a player. Obviously Smith wants to get the NBA contract and play in the best league in the world, but his big goal in Las Vegas is something else. Something he has attempted to do from day one back in New Hampshire and has continued to help him move up the basketball ladder even if it wasn’t fast, but always step by step. ‘This whole process this summer is to get better and play better competition throughout all of it. I feel like my game has gotten sharper playing against other talented guys’, warned Jaleen Smith. It will be interesting to see how his journey will go the rest of the way in the NBA Summer League. One thing is for sure, there wasn’t a Laker guard better than Jaleen Smith in this first game. If Magic Johnson observed the game then he will have noticed Jaleen Smith.