Steve Zack is a 28 year old 211cm center from Lewisberry, Pennsylvania that is playing his seventh professional season and first with Hereda San Pablo Burgos (Spain ACB). He began his professional career in 2015 that has taken him to many countries in Europe including Latvia,Bulgaria, Polan, Israel and Turkey. He has won 3 professional titles so far. He began his basketball career with Red land High School and then played at La Salle University from 2011-2015. He spoke to germanhoops before a Basketball Champions League game in Oldenburg.
Thanks Steve for talking to germanhoops.com. Where are you at the moment and how is basketball life treating you at the moment?
Right now I am in Burgos, Spain. Basketball life has always treated me well. No matter the situation it’s a blessing to be able to play the game and be paid for it!
You were in Israel and Turkey during the pandemic. How have you experienced COVID and what were the most challenging things you had to cope with?
I was in Israel when it first broke out and luckily the league and government gave us fair warning that they were going to close the border and thanks to the great management at Beer Sheva they allowed us foreigners to go home and be with our families. The following season in Turkey was challenging in the aspect that there were zero fans in attendance, the weekly covid testing and then obviously dealing with the roster and game plan adaptations when someone was out with covid because it seemed like every 2 weeks it was someone different. I’m glad that things are starting to get back to normal!
With everything that you witnessed during COVID off the court how do you feel did you get stronger as a man?
As a husband and father you really see that at the end of the day, the most important thing in life is your family. Covid really allowed me to take a look at the little things I take for granted every day and appreciate them much more!
Your in your seventh professional season and have played in 6 countries. When all is said and done, in about how many countries could you imagine playing in?
I honestly have no idea lol! It could be maybe just those 6 if I return or if I’m blessed to go experience more countries I’d be more then happy too. One of my favorite parts of playing all over is learning about new cultures.
Your playing your first season in Spain in the ACB which is considered the second best league in Europe after the Euroleague. What has been the most challenging thing for your game in this league?
The most challenging thing is how every single team and player is good. There is no off night in the ACB and you are less likely to catch your opponents making mistakes during games to allow easy baskets.
You have put up consistent stats where ever you have played including in good leagues, but it still took you 6 seasons to reach the ACB. For some guys reaching the ACB comes easier while you had to pay your dues. How do you feel your game has profited from all the experience you have seen.
Every year I learn something new and am able to add it to my game, at the same time building my knowledge and experience. ACB is tough to reach as an American passport holder because I’m sure you know the rule you can only have two American passports per team.
You have been a top 5 rebounder in every country you played. Do you feel like rebounding was your main ticket to having this longevity?
Absolutely. My assistant coach in college, Horace (Pappy) Owens told me if you rebound the basketball and play defense you’ll have a job for life!
Your averaging a lot less minutes than other seasons. You obviously have a totally different role. How will your game profit from being as efficient as possible in the minutes you get?
That’s been a struggle for me this year honestly coming into a new role I’m not really used too. On paper it doesn’t look great but I try to add everything I can that might not show up on a stat sheet during my time in game!
In Latvia and Poland you put up great stats in the minutes you got. Do you sometimes wonder where you could be or if the ACB had come years earlier had you played 30-33 minutes consistently?
There’s always the What If questions with anything in life. I don’t like to look at it with this mindset. Everyone runs a different race, it’s about staying level headed and positive through it all!
Last season you played for Socar Petkimspor (Turkey-BSL) averaging 8.9ppg, Reb-5 (7.6rpg), 1.7apg, FGP: 58.5%, 3PT: 33.3%, FT: 58.0%. You had a very good game off the bench in a loss against 2021 Euroleague winner Efes with 14/7 stats battling top German and ex NBA player Tibor Pleiss. Did a game like this give you extra self-confidence or was it just another game
There’s always a self confidence boost when you play games like that against top competition. Afterwards you can reassure yourself that you’re in these leagues and games for a reason!
In 2019-2020 you played with Hapoel Beer Sheva (Israel-Winner League) averaging 11.8ppg, Reb-1 (10.7rpg), 2.7apg, FGP: 53.9%, FT: 62.0%. Was this one of your best seasons as a professional? You led the very competitive Winner League in rebounds including having a monster 15/21 game against Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Absolutely! Rami Hadar will forever be one of my favorite coaches. He challenges and pushes his players to give their max and I really bought into his coaching style that season which led to a very successful season that was unfortunately cut short due to Covid.
All Americans that I talk to always rave about Israel being their favorite play to play off the court. Was it the same for you?.
Who doesn’t like sunny weather and warm beaches basically all year round!?
In 2018-2019 you played for VEF Riga (Latvia-LatEstBL) averaging 11.3ppg, Reb-5 (7.2rpg), 1.7apg, 1.2spg, FGP: 57.2%, FT: 78.0%;in the VTB league and winning a title in Lithuania. What was special about this team winning the league title?
We had a very close connection within the team. Any time 12 guys from all over the place can come together quickly as possible and build good chemistry usually the seasons are very successful and Riga will always be a place I’d take my kids back to one day to see!
You battled top Euroleague power house CSKA Moscow twice losing. What was it like battling Mr Euroleague Kyle Hines. Where does he rank with all the centers you have played against in Europe?
Go outside and play basketball against a Brick Wall and that can give you a quick idea of what Kyle Hines is like. Much respect to him!
In 2017-2018 you gathered further experience with Trefl Sopot (Poland-PLK) averaging 12.0ppg, Reb-2 (8.2rpg), 2.1apg, FGP: 57.1%, FT: 69.5%. What was it like playing in Poland and being able to make another step there with your game?
I feel like Poland was my big exposure year! After that season a lot of options opened up to me to continue advancing my career and climbing the ladder.
In your second professional season you won your first two professional titles with Lukoil Academic Sofia (Bulgaria-NBL) averaging 10.7ppg, Reb-5 (8.8rpg), 1.1apg, FGP: 56.7%, FT: 67.1%; and averaged 12.3ppg, Reb-2 (9.1rpg), 2.4apg, FGP: 60.2%, FT: 65.9% in the Fiba Europe Cup. What was it like living in Sofia and playing the game you love? What did you cherish most about this opportunity?
We actually lived right outside the city in Pravets on the Riu Resort which might’ve been my best apartment set up to the day! That was my first year I got to travel Europe to play in differentcountries, opening myself for more exposure! So I’m very thankful for that opportunity with Lukoil.
You played your rookie season with Liepaja/Triobet (Latvia-LBL) averaging 14.0ppg, Reb-1 (11.9rpg), 1.3apg, Blocks-5 (1.2bpg), FGP: 51.6%, FT: 64.4%; and in the Baltic League averaged 12,3ppg Reb-1 (11.0rpg), FGP: 50.5%, 3PT: 33.3%, FT: 69.2%. You needed no adjustment period to being the top rebounder in 2 leagues. What was your secret to being able to be such a force inside?
It was my rookie season making very little money and I knew what kind of money was out there to be made, so the hungry underdog mentality played a big role that season.
What was your wake up call to being a rookie in Latvia where you knew that you were very far away from home?
Being in a small Latvian city where very little to no one spoke English and I remember I stayed in a hotel when I first got to the city and as you might know, small city European hotels are drastically different to Hilton’s in Philadelphia per say. So I at that moment I knew I was in for a very big test mentally at the young age of 22.
In the summer of 2015 you played NBA Summer League with the 76ers. What memories do you have of that time and did you ever feel like reaching the NBA could be realistic for you?
Just how amazing the NBA works. Those guys really have it good! I went in with that mentality to be a very positive and energetic role player during mini camp and summer league, at the time backing up the newly drafted Jahlil Okafor . I didn’t have much expectations I just wanted to do as much as I possibly could to be remembered positively.
Did you meet any big time NBA players at the Summer League? What do you remember taking with you with all the people you came in contact there?
I didn’t really have any contact with other players outside the 76ers organization during the summer league. However a few years later I did summer workouts with the Thunder and remember meeting Westbrook and seeing how professional and kind he was by greeting every single person in the building from the new guys, to the janitor, to the trainers. He made sure to greet everyone the same which is something I’ll always remember and try to implement into my life.
You played at La Salle (NCAA) from 2011-2015. Was reaching the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2013 your most memorable experience and beating Kansas State 63-61?
I actually tore ligaments in my foot the second to last game of the regular season so I didn’t get to experience the joy in playing in the tournament but to see my teammates achieve such an incredible accomplishment was awesome to be a part of!
You finished your NCAA career with losing to Davidson 67-66 and having a 24/15 game. I guess this a game you will never forget because it was your last and how you played?
One of the most heartbreaking games to as we lost on a Tyler Kalinoski left handed buzzer beater. I’ll forever remember him no matter how old I am for ending my career after my best college performance!
How did head coach John Giannini groom and prepare you best for a professional basketball career?
Coach G has had many guys under him go into playing professionally so he did a great job of telling me what to expect at the next stage and I know if I ever need anything or advice that he’s a phone call away!
Who won a one on one in practice you or Garvin Hunt?
I love Garvin but me haha!
Who was the toughest player that you encountered in the NCAA that would reach the NBA?
Daniel Ochefu at Villanova was always a tough, hard matchup.
Please name your 5 best teammates of all-time?
I would be doing a displeasure to other teammates by only naming 5. I’ve been blessed to build a ton of great relationships with teammates in the US and in Europe.
Please list your personal NBA Mount Rushmore of past or present heads.
Amare Stoudamire, Steve Nash, LeBron James, Vince Carter These were the 4 guys I loved watching growing up. Also the 4 NBA jerseys I owned as a kid.
What is your personal opinion of the neverending debate of who is the greatest of all-time Michael Jordan or Lebron James?
I was born in 1992 so I never got to appreciate Jordan in his prime so it’s unfair for me to even make a comparison.
Did you see the sequel to the classic Coming To America? Shouldn’t they have left it alone?
That’s the case with most Sequels. They take something great and knock it down a few pegs with a sequel.
Thanks Steve for the chat.