It was only 4 years ago where having a professional career become a sweet reality was still very far away for Tanner Leissner (201-PF-95, college: UNH). He had just come off a third straight AEC tournament semi-final loss this time to Vermont and that would be the last game of his teammate and good friend Jaleen Smith. Both guys had had solid careers at UNH and put up consistent stats that many guys in the NCAA would have died for. But when you play in a weaker conference like the AEC, you probably will go pro like both guys did, but not necessarily find a home in a high league. 4 years later one can truly say that both Tanner Leissner and Jaleen Smith are living the Cinderella dream and have really made it as their road to where they are now didn’t come easy. They both had to pay their dues, but Jaleen Smith recently played NBA Summer League and if he had chosen to try the NBA route could have possibly landed on a roster, but instead gave his Euroleague debut last week with Alba Berlin against top team FC Barcelona while Tanner Leissner is playing his fourth professional season and first with top Lithuanian club BC Rytas Vilnius. Smith had to play two seasons in the German second division before making his ascension up the basketball ladder while Leissner played his rookie season in the German second division also called the Pro A before continuing to make his rise moving to the German first division and then to Turkey. Leissner is extremely humble in what his thoughts would have been back in 2017 if someone had told him if he believed he could go pro. ‘If you told me we’d both be pro players, I’d be skeptical. But for both of us to be playing at this level, coming from a mid major and starting in Pro A, I wouldn’t believe you. We’ve been given great opportunities, shown our abilities and both been able to grow from them. It was an honor being able to grow with Jaleen. We are similar in our love and respect for the game, our work ethic, and drive’, warned Tanner Leissner. Tanner Leissner (BC Rytas Vilnius) was always overlooked as A youngster but the whole UNH experience helped him become the player he is today.
Tanner Leissner who lists ex NBA player Jameel Warney from Stoney Brook as his toughest opponent in the NCAA as he always gave them problems regardless of what they threw at him as he was a dominant force was born on September 25th, 1995 in San Antonio, Texas and grew up in Coverse and attended Judson high school. There he was HS District MVP in 2012 and 2013 and made the All-State Team in 2013 and 2014. He then attended the University of New Hampshire (NCAA) from 2014-2018 playing a total of 121 NCAA games. He reached three AEC tournament semi-finals. Not winning a AEC title is something that was tough. ‘I know winning a title is a major accomplishment and experience. Not winning, especially when we had talented players working hard every single day, definitely stung. In my four years at UNH, alongside Jaleen Smith, we made the most of our time on the court and accomplished a lot for the program and for ourselves’, remembered Tanner Leissner. He gave the word consistency a new meaning averaging 15,0ppg and 7,0rpg in his four years there. He scored in double figures in an incredible 103 of 121 NCAA games. He scored 20 points or more 36 times. He had many great games in the NCAA like hitting UMBC with 36 and 30 points or Dartmouth with 32 points. Even though he lit up the scoreboard like no other, he actually remembered another game as being his most haunting. ‘I remember that double OT loss to UMBC, but my most memorable was losing to Vermont in the America East semis my sophomore year after almost coming back from a 20+ point deficit’, said Tanner Leissner. He also showed his stellar play against top level competition like UConn and Florida and many more that he could hold his own against future NBA players. He always got up for games like that and having that chip on his shoulder allowed him to flourish. ‘I was grateful for my time at UNH and the conference I played in. Coach Bill Herrion put a lot of confidence in me and allowed me to develop on the court. Without those opportunities, I’m not sure where I’d be today. Since I was young, I’ve been overlooked and underestimated. Whether it comes to my size, my speed, or my abilities. I constantly try to improve and have to always prove myself. I’m blessed to have made my way to a good organization in the champions league, but I’m hungry for more. I know I can compete at the highest level’, stressed Tanner Leissner. One guy that most likely now has a life long pass of getting free meals from him is UNH head coach Bill Herrion. This extraordinary coach was a big reason why Leissner was able to make his difficult route as a professional. ‘Coach Herrion helped me in numerous ways. He helped me become a better defensive player. He also gave me the opportunity to start my freshmen year and gain confidence throughout college, playing a high amount of minutes with many opportunities to score. He’s a good man and the opportunities I had at UNH helped me become who I am today’, remembered Tanner Leissner.
His experience at the University of New Hampshire wouldn’t have been as enriching and enjoyable if he hadn’t been teammates with Jaleen Smith. They went through thick and thin there and later would be reunited in Germany in Ludwigsburg with the MHP Riesen. That was where Smith would make his professional break through while Leissner played his first full professional season in a first division. They have been through so much and their early connection at UNH will last a life time. ‘Jaleen Is one of my closest friends. I would say my sophomore summer, when I stayed with Jaleen and his wife Monica in their apartment, was when we got close. I hold him in the highest regard. We stood up in each other’s weddings, our wives are best friends, and I’ve gotten to grow our relationship over the years. We have both come along way and then reuniting again in Ludwigsburg for a year was unfathomable. We’ve both come along way and he’s earned being in the Euroleague. I’m so happy for him and his family’, expressed Tanner Leissner who won most of his one on one duels in school against Jacoby Armstrong. For Smith the feeling is mutual as he has the same amount of love for his ex teammate. ‘Me and Tanner together accomplished so much at UNH and over the years there and even after we left school we still stay in contact to this day. He was in my wedding and I was in his. That’s my brother for life for sure. I’m just glad I met another great player but also a great friend. He would be the main guy everyone would focus on. I would try to get him in his best spots and he would deliver. We just had great teams over the years when we were in New Hampshire’, stressed Alba Berlin guard Jaleen Smith.
The American who lists Khadeen Carington, Jaleen Smith, Nick Babb, Pako Cruz, and Evaldas Kairys as his five best teammates of all-time began his professional career in Germany with Team Ehingen. On the court he didn’t need much adjustment time as he averaged 16.3ppg, 5.1rpg, 1.1spg, FGP: 59.6%, 3PT: 35.9%, FT: 84.9%. But off the court he did have a wake up call that so many Americans have when they come overseas. ‘The culture shock for one. Living in a different country was a whole new experience, having never been to Europe before. Also, the physicality and quickness of the game, coming out of college, was like nothing I’d seen before’, remembered Tanner Leissner. He scored in double figures in 28 of 33 games including hitting the Uni Baskets for 29 points and registered 26 points a piece against Hamburg and Heidelberg two teams that since have moved up to the easyCredit BBL. One teammate that he will never forget is Reyshawn Simmons who like him had to pay his dues and then reached the highest league in Belgium called the Euromillions league. ‘Rayshawn is not only a great PG but also a great leader. He helped me and influenced me a lot in a positive way, especially since I was a rookie and new to being overseas. I know he’s dedicated and aspires to play at the highest level, which I admire and know he can do if given the opportunity’, added Tanner Leissner. He then finished out the season in Israel which is probably one of the most favorite countries to play for Americans. In Israel the players have great weather and often the beach only 100 feet from their apartments and delicious food. He was about an hour from the beach and an hour and a half from Jerusalem and he had a lifestyle that many players that play in Bosnia or Romania can only dream about. He played with Hapoel Beer Sheva (Israel-Winner League) playing 7 games averaging 9.0ppg, 3.4rpg, 2.4apg, 1.0spg, FGP: 66.7%, 3PT: 62.5%, FT: 80.0%. He had some talented players on his team like Jordan Swing, Travis Warech and Kerron Johnson all of whom have played in Germany before, but he also witnessed at times not just good opponents, but breath taking and legendary guys he had to battle. You have to wonder what his first thoughts were when he dueled against ex NBA player Amare Stoudimire. He didn’t play against him just once, but actually three times in only seven games. How much luck can a player get to receive this honor? ‘Once I signed and figured out his team was my first opponent, I was shocked. I remember watching him be dominant in the NBA for years. Going against him was one of the top moments in my early career. That opportunity Beer Sheva gave me was the icing on the cake, and I’ll be forever grateful to them! I think about my time there quite often and fondly’, commented Tanner Leissner.
After his rookie season the ex UNH forward who last saw Seven with Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman signed in Germany with the MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg and was teammates with old friend Jaleen Smith. With Ludwigsburg, he once again was able to prove that his game was suited for a new league as he averaged 10.2ppg, 4.1rpg, FGP: 56.9%, 3PT: 41.5%, FT: 81.4%. There he played for top easyCredit BBL coach John Patrick who took him a little out of his comfort zone and gave him new challenges to master which he did. ‘It definitely tested me mentally. I feel like that was the first year I got to prove myself as a shooter and prove I can play at a high level especially coming from Pro A as a rookie. Also, playing the 5 showed I could be used in multiple ways and made me more versatile’, said Tanner Leissner. His best scoring games was 21 points in a win over Hamburg and 20 points in a victory over ratiopharm Ulm. He is back in Germany tonight and will face up against the always tough EWE Baskets Oldenburg. ‘It’s great to be back! Germany was my first destination in Europe, and it has been one of my favorites. I hope to have the opportunity to come back at some point in my career’, warned Tanner Leissner. He played his third professional season in an up and coming Turkish first division called BSL. He balled for HDI Sigorta Afyon Belediyespor (Turkey-BSL) averaging 11.9ppg, 5.2rpg, 1.3apg, FGP: 58.9%, 3PT: 40.4%, FT: 84.6%. He had 21 points against Darussafaka and 20 points against Buyukcekmec, but without a doubt his two best games occurred against Efes who would win the 2021 Euroleague title. He hit them with 19 and 20 points and split against them. Being able to play against the best team in Europe gave him a kind of self-confidence that will help him this season and down the road. ‘It reassured me that I can play against high level opponents. The whole Turkish league in general has a lot of talent. Last year, I had to opportunity to compete day in and day out at a very high level, which was a great test for me as a player. I learned a lot’, warned Tanner Leissner. After his strong season in Turkey where he performed at a very high level on a high stage, I would have thought his next address would have been a Euroleague team. But he is still young and has to be patient. Good things will come to those who’s game continues to progress. ‘I felt my game grew in a few ways. First, I realized I had to get stronger to compete with power forwards in the very physical league. I made that an emphasis this last summer. I also feel my IQ of the game grew from the many different situations thrown at me last season. I think being at Rytas this year is a good next step for me in my career’, stressed Tanner Leissner.
So now let’s fast forward to 2021 as the Texas native who has Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Shaq, and Kobe Bryant on his personal NBA Mount Rushmore is looking for new success in Lithuania. The last year and a half wasn’t easy for anyone during COVID. He was in Ludwigsburg when it hit and then was in Turkey and now is in Lithuania. He experienced so much in this time, but it was something he like everyone else had to get used to. ‘During covid, my biggest challenge has been adapting to the new life it has created. In Germany, the virus was new and just emerging, so there was a lot of chaos and unknowns. Last year in Turkey, the constant testing was uncomfortable and playing without fans really changed the atmosphere of the game. This year, it’s starting to feel like we may get back to normal eventually. Having people behind us in the stadium brings energy and life back into the sport’, stated Tanner Leissner. Last season in Turkey was the most difficult time for him during COVID, but the experience definitely made him stronger. ‘Being alone and living in a hotel in a small city in Turkey really tested me. While the country was on lockdown for a good portion of the season, the only time you could leave was for practice or to grocery shop. Mentally, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Not only is it lonely, but my family wasn’t able to visit either due to the difficulty and uncertainty of traveling with the virus. Now, I feel mentally stronger and more appreciative of everything’, reflected Tanner Leissner. With BC Rytas Vilnius. He is playing with one of Lithuanian’s most famous basketball organizations. Lithuania has 2,7 million inhabitants, but are in love with their basketball. Leissner noticed that rapidly when he signed. ‘So far, my experience has been great. Right when I signed, my inbox was overwhelmed by welcoming messages from fans. The culture around the club is well established. This club is very professional and well organized. Our first away game was about 2 and a half hours away. In the stands, there were more fans for Rytas than there was for the home team. The amount of noise that came from our section was astounding. Afterwards, the team was greeted outside by team chants, flares, and celebration.
‘, commented Tanner Leissner. He is on a team that has few Americans, but many high class Lithuanians that should compete for the country title. ‘We have some great Lithuanian players. They are a good mix of young and experienced players. We have a club that is well sized and can stretch the floor. You can expect a team that plays hard and may surprise some people’, stated Tanner Leissner. It will be interesting to see how he will continue to develop. One thing is for sure, his basketball IQ will rise another level as he plays with guys that give the name team basketball a new meaning. ‘I am very excited. This is a new challenge for me at a higher level. I have some great Veterans to learn from. My expectations are to continue to develop my game and to play my role to the best of my ability, while trying to help the club win games’, warned Tanner Leissner. The country is very small and perhaps his head coach Giedrius Zibenas will allow him to watch his best friend Jaleen Smith play BC Zalgiris in Euroleague action. Vilnius is only an hour drive away. This time they will meet only off the court, but who knows perhaps next season they will be opponents in the Euroleague. Tanner Leissner has the game and character to deserve a Euroleague opportunity. One thing is for sure that he and Jaleen Smith will continue to give UNH a great name overseas.