News : MHP giants dominate the basketball Bundesliga – sport
Things are going so smoothly for Jaleen Smith that you don’t know what to congratulate him on first: the birth of his first child, a boy, less than two weeks ago? Or the greatest success in the history of the MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg, first place after the main round of the Basketball Bundesliga (BBL), to which he has contributed so much that he will most likely be named Player of the Year next week, the “Most” Valuable Player “(MVP)? Or should one rather wait with the congratulatory course in case Smith leads his team to the first German championship title soon?
That is not unreasonable, even if the Ludwigsburg giants ran under the radar of public perception this season in view of the international appearances of FC Bayern Munich and the national double winner Alba Berlin. But with a 91:77 victory over FC Bayern on the last main round matchday, the giants completed the second BBL season in a row without a home defeat on Sunday, and if they maintain this series in the upcoming playoffs, the title will not be taken away from them.
First place after the main round is rewarded with a continuous home advantage in the knockout rounds – if you want to challenge the giants for the championship, you have to win at least once. And her head coach John Patrick said the other day confidently on TV station Magentasport: “We are strong at home, even without fans.”
Smith himself is amazed at the MVP debate: “I never thought I’d be a candidate.”
The 53-year-old American doesn’t want to think too much about the playoffs, as they won’t start until after the cup finals this weekend. But when it comes to Jaleen Smith, his 1.93 meter tall playmaker, he has a clear opinion: “For me he is without question the league MVP.”
Smith himself followed this debate with astonishment: “I would never have thought to be an MVP candidate in this league, that’s crazy,” he said recently Ludwigsburg newspaper. Two years ago, the 26-year-old from Freeport in the US state of Texas was still playing in the second division, at Academics Heidelberg; In Ludwigsburg he started in late summer 2019 with a limited trial contract, which was only extended during the season until the end of the season.
The appreciation Jaleen Smith earned in a short time is easy to prove: The Ludwigsburg giants already had the best season in their club history in 2019/20, with second place in the main round, which was canceled due to the corona pandemic, and entry into the finals at the final tournament in Munich which they then just lost to Alba Berlin. In the summer, their four best shooters were lured away from them: Khadeen Carrington and Nick Weiler-Babb switched to Euroleague teams in Vitoria-Gasteiz and Munich, respectively, Marcos Knight went to Monaco and just helped AS win the Eurocup, the second most important competition in the Continent; and Thomas Wimbush accepted a well-paid offer from Turkey.
But for coach John Patrick “renewing his contract with Jaleen was the top priority,” he said. Smith, the fifth man in Ludwigsburg’s top scorer list, could also have changed, Virtus Bologna was interested in his services, allegedly also Hapoel Jerusalem, and according to reports he could have earned significantly more anywhere. But Smith stayed with the Giants for another year because Patrick offered him a leadership role. “I didn’t know that before in my career. To be one of the go-to-guys on the team was what I wanted. That was one of the main reasons why I stayed in Ludwigsburg,” he explained District newspaper.
Smith has been twirling on the floor as long as no other professional in the BBL
Now Jaleen Smith is the linchpin of a team that includes players of all ages, with 39-year-old Tremmel Darden and 17-year-old Jacob Patrick, the coach’s youngest son, as the cornerstones. In this ensemble, Smith spins around on the floor as long as no other BBL professional, an average of 33:44 minutes per game.
He is one of the best point collectors in the league with 15.7 points, he either pulls to the basket with his quick steps, or he hits from a distance, if you offer him the space for it. He collects rebounds, gives assists, and often looks for the ball from his opponents, but rarely loses it.
And because he also does above average in defense, he personifies the game philosophy of his coach like no other at the moment. “John Patrick is very careful on the defensive,” explains Smith, “and everyone knows that a player who played in Ludwigsburg automatically gets a better reputation as a defender.” Patrick’s focus on the defense was also evident in the signing of Yorman Polas Bartolo, 35, the German-Cuban who was named “Best Defender of the League” twice during his time in Bonn, in 2018 and 2019.
Of course, Jaleen Smith fits well into a John Patrick team in one more respect: The coach has had a reputation for years for getting more out of his teams than what seems to be in them. And there is apparently still more potential slumbering in Smith than many have seen in him.