Jaleen Smith about naturalized players: 'Small countries like Croatia need it'

2022-09-15 10:16

Jaleen Smith believes smaller countries like Croatia and Montenegro need naturalized players and views it as a way of progressing domestic basketball. He criticized the schedule for national team players and named Germany as the favorite to win the tournament.

Credit: FIBA
Credit FIBA

The topic of naturalized players and their role in European national teams has been widely discussed throughout EuroBasket 2022, with both countries and fans splitting into two different camps.

Half of all EuroBasket 2022 teams feature a naturalized player in one of the positions, most often a guard. During an interview with Mozzart Sport, Croatia's Jaleen Smith expanded on the topic.

"Small countries like Croatia need it," Smith told. "In particular, Croatia is well-filled in positions from two to five, but they have lacked a playmaker for years. Some national teams like Spain can choose which playmaker to play with, yet Spain now called Lorenzo Brown because they are in a deficit. He brought them great quality, and they are in the semifinals largely because of him."

"Teams like Croatia or Montenegro have to look for players from the side who can bring that quality," the player continued. "I know they are trying to develop a domestic playmaker in Croatia, but it has not been successful for years. It is difficult, and that is why I am here. I want to help as much as I can to get a local playmaker. At the end of the day, everyone wins. I believe we can help a lot."

The vast majority of naturalized players are guards, with Smith, Brown, Montenegro's Kendrick Perry, Bosnia & Herzegovina's John Roberson, and Turkey's Shane Larkin at the forefront.

Most basketball experts agree that European basketball is trending towards the USA, with smaller players being the main catalysts behind major victories and offense being the driving force. Jaleen Smith thinks similarly.

"Just look at the match between Germany and Greece. Probably one of the games with the most points in EuroBasket history. You watch both of them running from one end of the court to the other, shooting from open positions, there was a lot of isolation... In big games, the most difficult thing is to prepare the defense and do proper scouting," Smith explained.

Another widely discussed topic during the tournament was the difficulty of the yearly calendar for players who play for their national teams. Many notable figures commented about the issue, and Smith got to experience it first-hand this year.

Previously, all his summers were mainly free. This year, he got an invitation at the end of July to represent Croatia. Following the call, Smith did not have many spare days as the team began preparing for the upcoming matches.

"I was just thinking about that. It's hard. Usually, I had between a month and two before I could go home, now not even a full month. Now the schedule will be even more brutal with so many double weeks, plus qualifiers throughout the season, and with all that, the domestic championships will be more challenging than ever before," the guard said. "That's why I have to find a way for myself to recover faster and be more prepared for everything that awaits me so that my body fully adapts to the EuroLeague rhythm."

Croatia got eliminated in the Round of 16 by Finland. Smith did not travel to Croatia with other members of the team, he stayed in Berlin, the city where he plays during the regular season. The ALBA Berlin guard watched the remaining games of EuroBasket 2022 and can now name his personal favorite to take it all.

"After what I saw from Germany against Greece, I think they are my first pick,' Smith admitted. "The Germans really look good. I believe they have the quality to take the gold."

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