Damon Smith is a 28 year old 200cm forward from Milwaukee, Wisconsin that is going into his fourth professional season and third in Germany and first with the Bayer Giants Leverkusen. He started his basketball career with Ellsworth CC (JUCO) and then finished at Mary (NCAA2) and as a senior played 26 games averaging 16.5ppg, 6.6rpg, 2.1apg, 2.1bpg, FGP: 57.8%, FT: 67.9%. He started his professional career in 2012 with SISU Copenhagen (Denmark-Ligaen) playing 30 games averaging 15.8ppg, 5.3rpg, 1.4apg, FGP: 54.2%, 3PT: 35.1%, FT: 72.6%. In the 2013-2014 season he moved to Germany to the Dresden Titans (Germany-ProB) playing 27 games: 13.4ppg, 6.9rpg, 1.4apg, FGP: 61.5%, 3PT: 26.2%, FT: 69.2%. In the 2014-2015 season he stayed with the Dresden Titans playing 29 games averaging 12.7ppg, 5.4rpg, 1.1apg, FGP: 51.4%, 3PT: 34.3%, FT: 69.4%. Recently he got further experience with Trigueros de Ciudad Obregon (Mexico-CIBACOPA). He spoke to German Hoops about basketball.
Welcome back to Germany. Congrats on signing with the Bayer Giants Leverkusen. This will be your third season playing in Germany. What makes Germany and it´s basketball so appealing to you as a professional player?
Thank you. What makes German basketball so interesting? I think it’s how very different it is from the way I was shown here. US basketball is worlds apart from German basketball. Not saying it’s a bad thing. Every country has their style but Germany is one of the areas that I’ve learned the most.
After two seasons with the Dresden Titans in the east, now you will play in the west in Leverkusen. What was the selling point that made you chose this club?
The Championship background the club has. Titles shows that they are moving in the right direction and continue to.
Did you already learn about the tradition of the Bayer Giants Leverkusen when you played two seasons with Dresden or is the fact that they belong to the top teams in German basketball with the most titles?
No I did not know about the tradition of Bayer. Playing in the east I noticed that they always made playoffs and did well.
What was your first impression of Giants head coach Achim Kuczmann during talks? Do the both of you speak the same basketball language?
He’s passionate about winning. That’s one thing that he has in common with every coach I’ve played for. Passionate coaches have winning records and I want to play for those kind of coaches.
It was refreshing to see in the official Bayer Giants press release that you said “”It is always something special when you can practice the sport you love as a job”. You seem to really speak from the heart. How do you feel is your love to the game and approach to the game different from most other players?
I’ve loved the game since I started playing at 14 years of age. Granted I had no idea that it would take me to places like Mexico, South America, and Germany but I knew I wanted to be good at this. Approaching the game is different as the years go on. Different countries different weather and equipment so you have to find your way around those struggles. I think it just depends on where you are.
Leverkusen head coach Achim Kuczmann describes you as a very versatile player. How would you describe your game and to what NBA player would you compare it too?
Growing up watching the NBA I admired players like Rudy Gay, Carmelo, and The mamba….KOBE. Just because of their hard work, body similarities, and the way they play defense.
You can fill up the stat sheet on any given night. But what would you say is a hidden strength in your game that doesn´t get noticed right away on the court?
I think the part of my game that is HIGHLY missed is my passing. Growing up I was really short so passing was the first thing I learned. I would easily get an assist then score any day.
You played recently with Trigueros de Ciudad Obregon (Mexico-CIBACOPA). You didn´t play for a team at the start of the 2015-2016 season, but came to Mexico late in March. This season you signed early, but was the transfer market last summer more of a thorn in your side for being able to find the right fit?
Yea getting to Mexico mid season was an adjustment but a blessing. I wouldn’t change any thing. I met some great people and made a lot of good friends there.
What kind of overall experience was it for you playing for Trigueros de Ciudad Obregon (Mexico-CIBACOPA). How would you describe that level of play to the German Pro B?
I had a blast in Obregon. The level of basketball isn’t equal to Germany. Nevertheless I learned from that experience.
In Mexico soccer is the number one sport and you were living in a city with 405,000 person´s. Was the soccer atmosphere very present in this city and did that make it easier to concentrate on basketball more?
The soccer atmosphere is great everywhere some more than others. I didn’t have the chance to witness a game in Mexico unfortunately. Nothing distracted me from basketball. The game comes first because that is why your there.
You played with the Dresden Titans from 2013-2015. Was this your most cherished time as a professional player so far in your career?
My cherished moment. haha That’s easy. It’ll be the off court events. The team events that people don’t see. That’s when the players get to know each other. Those times are what you don’t forget. As far as my favorite for Dresden I would have to say our Christmas Team Dinner where my former teammate Kevin Butler sang a Christmas song. The worst yet funniest thing I witnessed.
Last season the team had a fantastic season moving up to the Pro A. Was there not a chance that you could have stayed a third season there?
Yes there was a chance for me to stay but I wanted to go to another country and play.
You reached the playoffs both seasons and had some exciting playoff series and wins against BG Karlsruhe and Recklingshausen. What memory on the court stands out for you most?
Hmm the only memories that comes to mind is for BG Karlsruhe was their guards. Their PG and SG were very talented. Gave us real problems haha For Recklinghausen it’ll be how physical they play. They were the most physical team in the conference. I remember all four times we played. I was EXTREMELY sore the next couple days.
In your first season with the Dresden Titans, you played together with American Andrew Jones. You and him were the back bones of the club that season. What did you respect and like most about his dedication to the game?
Andrew went solely hand and hand with my success. His approach was unique and still is. He’s always mentoring and trying to do the right thing. Even if you don’t want to sometimes. He’s still my mentor to this day even though we don’t play on the same team anymore.
As a rookie you played for SISU Copenhagen (Denmark-Ligaen) playing 30 games: 15.8ppg, 5.3rpg, 1.4apg, FGP: 54.2%, 3PT: 35.1%, FT: 72.6%. Even though you were living in the country capital, what was your wake up call to being a rookie in Europe where you knew that you were very far away from home in Milwaukee?
The biggest thing my first year in Danmark was trying to make the All-Star team. Yes winning was first but that was a very big achievement for a first year player.
How key was teammate Mickey Dennis for showing you the ropes as a rookie? The American was playing his ninth season at that time?
I could talk about my dude Mickey all day. That dude is one of the smartest players I’ve played with!!! He knew how to get to his spots on the floor and he knew how to bring out the best in players in practice and the games. His basketball IQ is unbelievable still to this day. He is a player you want to be like when your his age. Not just a player but a person. Just a real stand up guy.
After playing at Ellsworth CC (JUCO), you finished your college basketball career at Mary´s(NCAA2). How do you feel did you develop your game in JUCO that gave you the chance to move up to Mary(NCAA2)
I think just learning about yourself helped get me get to Mary. Knowing what your good at and what you need to get better at. Many players just work on what their good at. That’s fine and all but your weaknesses is what separates you from the best.
How did head coach Jevin Budde groom and prepare you best for a college career at Mary(NCAA2)?
Coach Budde was the main reason why I went to Mary. The main thing coach did to help was keep it straight forward with me. I saw both paths and he told me if I took the hard path that he’ll do everything in his power to me. Which he did. I’m beyond grateful for having such a person in my life.
Who won a one on one in practice you or Alex Dorr?
Haha totally me!!!! Alex is a great player but I had him on the height and weight side. He was a better shooter but that would mean I would have to miss. Haha
You have a few months before you have to report to Leverkusen. How does a normal work out day look like for you in the summer of 2016?
A normal workout day for me would go. Eat breakfast Shower Go shoot Run Shower Eat again Stretch Shower again
If you had to prepare your own NBA Rushmore, which 4 NBA legends would you chose?
Shaquille, Kobe, Duncan, and Iverson
What was the last movie that you saw?
The last movie I watched was a movie called Race. About the track gold medalist Jessie Owens.
Thanks Damon for the chat.