Season Preview Essays: Pooh Jeter
I must warn you – I can’t speak of Pooh Jeter without obvious bias trickling out in every word.
He was by far the most entertaining bro on my beloved Hapoel Jerusalem squad last season, and personally speaking, he was my second favorite player (the first was Uri Kukia, an undersized, unathletic forward with no discernable basketball skill except for the fact that he was clearly the smartest player on the court at all times). It wasn’t your idle, “OH GODZ BRIAN SCALABRINE IS SO AWESOMEZ” kind of love, either – Pooh is a baller, in every which way, and if he had another 3-4 inches, he would have never gotten to Israel in the first place.
However, to me, Pooh is also a representative of a system. Being an international NBA fan, I am constantly faced with both the need to defend the NBA against FIBA enthusiasts, who say the NBA is just an iso-laden, defenseless, sorry excuse for a pick-up game, and the need to defend European ball to NBA xenophobes, who say Europe is the kindergarten playtime to the NBA’s varsity.
The truth, as always, is in between – the leagues sport differents style of play, but while the NBA is obviously better, and Europe more team oriented, both display very high quality basketball, and a true fan of the game will find himself fascinated watching any one of the two.
There is one type of transition between the two leagues, though, that is rarely seen. Many European players have made the transition to the NBA, and almost every European team boasts multiple American key components. However, to my memory, there have been very few cases of American players moving to Europe to start off their pro careers, developing overseas, and then returning to the NBA as better players. Only Anthony Parker immediately comes to my mind – had a few uneventful NBA seasons out of Bradley, dominated in Europe, then returned as a key component on the Raptors before age caught up. While truly smart international basketball men such as ShamSports’ Mark Deeks or Ball in Europe’s Os Davis (and dozens more who I’m regrettably forgetting) will probably find you more, I would like to hope that I know world-wide basketball well enough to successfully point out that this transition is rare.
However, the fluidity of trans-Atlantic basketball development seems to have become more of a two sided affair. Guys like Brandon Jennings and Josh Childress have already spent time in Europe during their careers, and promise to be good (Childress) to great (hopefully Jennings) going forward. Again, though – these aren’t players who made a name for themselves in Europe, but guys who made both the trip from and to the States as pretty much the same guys.
Pooh is of that other breed. He who spent his early years in the Old Continent, and returned in his prime. A breed that I don’t see too much of around the league.
Which is why what Pooh does for this team can go a long way. I’ve gone on record here before saying why I like the signing, and that hasn’t changed. Pooh is a great fit for this system because of his similarities to Beno Udrih, and while he is inferior to Beno, I think one can ably plug him in for the Slovenian without experiencing your typical “backup’s backup” drop off. And even in another system, this is a lightning quick guard who has the ability to be a strong change-of-pace scorer off the bench (think Will Bynum).
The upside, though, extends beyond the realms of Pooh Jeter. Europe is still very much an untapped market basketball wise, in the sense that most imports come through the draft. Returning American players who improved at their trade, or international guys who slipped under the radar when they were draft eligible and have since improved are much rarer. It might be because some recent cases were unsuccessful – Sarunas Jasikevicius, who was among the best point guards in Europe before moving to the NBA in 2005 and flaming out in Indiana, is a prime example. However, to me he was always an outlier, choosing a team who was an abysmal fit for his break neck style of play (the mid-decade Pacers. I’m telling you, had Saras gone to the Cavs instead of Damon Jones, the NBA would be very different right now).
And it’s a shame, because even through the very narrow perspective of Israeli basketball only, I can tell you for certain that there are many NBA level talents working their tails off overseas just to get into Sternville. Pooh is a step in the right track – even though I suspect that most of the Kings’ scouting of him came from his summer league stints. Moving ahead in that path could give the Kings more cheap talent to help round out a roster on the cheap. With the minimal resources needed to successfully watch European basketball in this day and age, there is no reason not to.
Keep this in mind when you watch Pooh this season. Whether he gets his shot at major minutes or not is a storyline of it’s own – it also depends greatly on whether Beno Udrih will be a starter or will come off the bench. But it’s the journey that brought Pooh to Sacramento which makes him an interesting case. A similar player with a similar journey will always be available if the Kings look hard enough.