4 years ago Jaleen Smith (193-PG-1994, college: UNH) was going into his second professional season in Germany with second division team MLP Academics. He had come off a sub par rookie season and was just another typical American guard and hardly anyone really knew who he was or believed in him except for his ex college coach Josh King who made the next step and will coach in Ludwigsburg this season. ‘I’m excited for him but I’m also excited to play against him. I hope nothing for the best for him coaching this year. This will be a big year for him in his career also’, commented Jaleen Smith. But Smith never had worries or doubts, but just looked straight ahead and believed in his abilities. He had his break out season in his sophomore campaign and then just kept climbing the basketball ladder reaching the easyCredit BBL with the MHP Riesen Ludwigs and being crowned league MVP. He then held his own in the 2021 NBA Summer League with the Phoenix Suns and then made the next step with Alba Berlin last season winning 2 titles and growing into a solid Euroleague player. So the logical next step would be to keep racking up titles with Alba Berlin. He did sign a 3 year deal with Alba Berlin, but there is also a buy out in his contract. There has been interest from other Euroleague teams and what happens if the NBA comes calling? ‘If they do call I’ll be right in Europe waiting if not Euroleague is a great league’, smiled Jaleen Smith. The Texas native saw the last years what kind of an impact a Rickey Paulding had in Oldenburg and the league and it would make sense to continue something fruitful in Berlin and possibly be a lifer? ‘Yeah it’s very rare you have someone like Rickey stay loyal to a club for any player let alone an American guy stay. I’m 90% sure I’ll be with ALBA Berlin for the following season’, warned Jaleen Smith. So many great things have continued to happen in his basketball life and it just keeps going. This summer he got a Croatian passport and his incredible basketball journey continues as in the last year he went from NBA Summer League to winning 2 titles with Alba Berlin to playing for the Croatian national team and will play at the 2022 Euro for them. But before we get to his new challenge, it is only fitting to reminisce about the double that Alba Berlin achieved in 21-22.
I reach Jaleen Smith who lists Nick Weiler-Babb and Vasilije Micic as his toughest opponents last season during the dog days of summer. Americans are slowly arriving for their teams in various leagues in Germany while Jaleen Smith is hanging out with his new Croatian teammates and headed to the Czech Republic for some friendlies against them and Bulgaria. After never having won a professional title in his first 3 years, he came to Alba Berlin knowing of their rich history, but if someone had told him before the season started that he would win 2 titles, he probably wouldn’t have believed it. ‘They are winners so with history I had to win at least 1 championship right ? Haha I probably would’ve been just excited to win one championship’, stressed Jaleen Smith. The guy has that million-dollar smile and when he talks about last season that smile is as persistent as Steph Curry is with hitting three’s. It is always sweet to win the title at home, but when you can do it against a FC Bayern Munich on the road, the New York Yankees or Golden State Warriors of the BBL, you are just as happy. It is a double bonus when your loved ones are there. ‘They’ve been here every step of the way and it’s just satisfying to have them here for the championship run during the season. It was truly amazing to experience it together’, said Jalen Smith. Alba Berlin once won 7 BBL titles in a row in the late 90’s and early 2000’s and just know how to party the right way. ‘There was just a lot of drinking and eating of snacks out of the trophy. You just had to be there to experience it all. Just to be a part of it is just great. We got a great reception from the fans, the city, and with ourselves knowing the long season we had was worth holding up the trophy in the end’, remembered Jaleen Smith.
After Spanish legendary head coach Aito left, nobody really knew what kind of Alba Berlin would be on display in 21-22. The coaching reins had been given to Aito assistant coach Israel Gonzales and he stepped in and kept that Aito identity and the team came together in the spring and kept growing all the way to game 4 in Munich. ‘Alba lost a lot of key pieces including the coach so we were all trying to find our identity through the year and we found it within the middle of April to the end of June. During the playoffs, we really looked for one another and we played so great together you couldn’t focus on one guy to take away. It can really be any one’s night’, stressed Jaleen Smith. Anytime you want success, you obviously have to know how to score and get stops, but winning starts with discipline and work ethic. ‘Through everything that happened we still kept working every day for the end goal and that’s to be the best team come playoff time and we did that no question’, warned Jaleen Smith. He played with so many great players including Oscar Da Silva who made the next step to FC Barcelona and his guard teammates Maodo Lo and Tamir Blatt. One can say guard brothers for life. ‘Oscar is definitely is ready for the jump. He made a steep climb going from LUBU to Alba and jumped in right away and made a huge impact for our team. He’s going to do just fine in Barcelona. Maodo and Tamir are my guys man any ideas we have we always share to improve the team and that’s what you need on any team. They helped me just see the game differently and play a different way. Not only playing along side them but just watching them play it was a joy to watch’, added Jaleen Smith. It is no secret that he will always have a lot of love and respect for his 2 guard brothers, but he also can’t forget the versatile glue guy Luke Sikma. ‘I would give MVP to Maodo Lo because he has been killing for us all year. With him being our starting point our team is super dangerous. Most improved would go to Tamir Blatt because toward the end of the season him coming off the bench for us was big not only the way he controlled games but he really led our second unit even if the starters was having a bad night. The unsung Hero is Luke Sikma because without him the team is in pieces but with him on the court he keeps everything together just doing a little bit of everything for us to keep the team together’, warned Jaleen Smith.
The ex UNH guard who thinks the Boston Celtics would be crazy to get rid of Jaylen Brown for Kevin Durant had a very solid first Euroleague season for Alba Berlin averaging and 8.3ppg, 2.2rpg, 2.3apg, FGP: 41.2%, 3PT: 31.7%, FT-2 (93.3%) and in the BBL averaged 10.9ppg, 2.8rpg, 3.5apg, FGP: 48.9%, 3PT: 38.7%, FT: 90.8%. He knows that at the start of this season, he will need to keep that high that he had at the end of last season. ‘I started off terrible during the year but picked it up towards the end of the season I played my best basketball. I’ll just have to start next season right where I left off on the last’, stressed Jaleen Smith. His minutes were cut down 10 minutes in the BBL from his previous season in Ludwigsburg. ‘This helped me develop being more efficient in the minutes I played in rather than relaxing just to maintain my body for the long game I would play’, said Jaleen Smith. It was only logical that his shooting would really profit in an Alba Berlin system where unselfishness and great ball movement are the norm as well as having more energy. ‘Being more fresh during games helped and not taking as many tough shots helped my percentages be a lot more better. When you play with so many talented players, your game will improve’, expressed Jaleen Smith. His 2 most fondest games was winning the BBL title in Munich in game 4 and playing in a very hostile environment in Belgarde, Serbia. His game will continue to grow the more he practices with top level Croation players as well as competing at the 2022 Euro. It will be interesting if there will be other parts of his game that will grow and improve at the 2022 Euro besides what he achieved doing with Alba Berlin last season. ‘I felt like my shooting ability and to be aggressive the more I had the ball helped me improve and was key for me during the season with ALBA’, stated Jaleen Smith.
The ex Brzosport High School great who will never forget the BBQ’s he had with family this summer now has a new challenge suiting up with Croatia for the 2022 Euro. ‘I’m just excited to be representing a country and now on the international stage is going to be amazing to experience this’, stressed Jaleen Smith. For him it must feel like being in a candy store with so many incredible guys currently playing in the NBA like Ivica Zubac, and Bojan Bogdanovic and other greats like Mario Hezonja, Dragan Bender or Ante Zizic just to name a few. ‘You can pick your poison with how you want to be beat really. The team is really talented I’m going to do my best to finish as best as we can in the euro basket tournament’, commented Jaleen Smith. Scoring the ball is a big strength of his, but with so many tall towers lurking in the paint he could find himself starting a combination of throwing it up and letting the bigs do the damage as Dennis Schroeder and Daniel Theis like to practice. ‘ Throwing it up or throwing it inside will be key for us to all of our games we have a really good inside and outside presence it’s going to make my job a lot easier’, warned Jaleen Smith. Croatia is in group C and have grabbed a good one in that they are the third best ranked team out of 6. If everything goes as planned then they should advance. ‘As long as we keep getting better as the tournament goes on the sky is the limit for us. We have the pieces it’s just up to us if we can gel together in the short period of time we have together’, warned Jaleen Smith. As a guy that has played his whole career in Germany, he will be watching Germany closely. ‘They have a very tough group and everyone can beat anyone during these group phases. I think they been playing together for a long time so they’ll being playing well because they already have the chemistry with each other’, stated Jaleen Smith. Who knows Croatia might even meet Germany. Then the two teammates/brothers Jaleen Smith and Maodo Lo will battle head to head. ‘Of course we’re probably joke about the game when we see each other back in Berlin but he’s trying to represent his country to the fullest and trying to win just like me’, warned Jaleen Smith. On the court will be like in a Lion pit, but after 40 minutes they will still be brothers.