Devin Smith: “I Learned A Lot At Fenerbahçe”

Devin Smith from the USA, who played Fenerbahçe in the 2008-09 season, won the EuroLeague championship with Maccabi Tel-Aviv in 2014 and currently works as an assistant coach in the NBA G-League team Iowa Wolves, told Ayberk Acar and Erdi Tiran from Salon Tribünü about the year he spent at our club. (Thanks to Tuğçe Nur Erdoğmuş for the translation)

• Dear Devin Smith, thank you very much for accepting our interview offer as Salon Tribünü team. It will make us very happy to be interviewed by a valuable person like you. Let’s move on to the questions. You were born on April 12, 1983 in New Castle, Delaware, USA. What was your childhood and youth like? How did you get into basketball?

My childhood and youth were great. I’m coming from a basketball family having two older brothers who also played. My parents worked hard to provide for us so we could have what we needed. I guess I got into basketball because of my father and brothers who all had strong interest in sports.

• After your adventures at William Penn High, Coffeyville Community College, and the Virginia Cavaliers, you couldn’t find what you were looking for in the 2005 NBA draft. How would you describe this period?

It was a process I had a good support system in place with my family and agent. After school finished I passed on some workout in order to finish my degree. I needed another class so I decided to stay for a month in order to finish.  I ended up signing with Bruesa in Spain late in the summer like late August so I had to really just trust the plan that we had.

Fenerbahçe – Montepaschi Siena, March 11, 2009. Photo: Uğraş Özyurt

• After this process, you came to Europe and had a successful period. Between 2005 and 2007, you fought with the San Sebastián Gipuzkoa team. Then, what would you say about the Italian cup and “most valuable player” award won with Air Avellino?

Playing in Avellino really changed my career. We had a great group of guys that really supported each other and wanted to win first. Winning the Italian Cup was amazing moment because Avellino had never accomplished it before. The support of the fans and community there was amazing.

• In 2008, you signed a contract with Fenerbahçe, headed by Bogdan Tanjević. Would you like to tell the story of the transfer?

I signed with Fener not know much about the league and Bogdan. It was probably the most challenging year of my career but I also learned and grew the most from that season. I am thankful for my time at Fener because of this.

Bogdan Tanjević and Devin Smith. Photo: Regina Hoffmann

• After coming out of the 2008-09 EuroLeague regular season third place in Group C, we were unsuccessfully eliminated from the Top 16 groups, how do you evaluate the team and your own performance? What went wrong in the EuroLeague that season?

I can really only speak for myself. I know that my play was inconsistent especially in EuroLeague. It was a growing process for man trying to find my place a EuroLeague team and really not know what was expected game by game of myself. When you come from a team were your minutes are consistent and you are a featured player it’s easy to play. Finding your place and role in a team full of great players can be tough without the right communication.

• Again in the same season, under the leadership of coach Tanjević, we lost the championship to Efes Pilsen in the final series overshadowed by the doping scandal, although we were ahead 2-0 in the Turkish League. What can you say about this series and Tanjević?

Easy way to put is I think basketball was changing and Efes coach played to that. The two games we won we had to adjust to Efes playing with Preston Shumpert at the four (small ball). The rest of the games I think we were stubborn and failed to adjust in a timely manner.

Lottomatica Roma – Fenerbahçe, November 27, 2008. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli

• What were your thoughts about the atmosphere and the fans in Abdi İpekçi Hall when you wore the Fenerbahçe jersey? You also fought against Fenerbahce as an opponent, how difficult was the atmosphere you encountered?

I enjoyed the atmosphere in there, you could really feel the energy from the fans especially during EuroLeague games and derbies. For me, it’s also easier to play in a hall with a good atmosphere so playing Fener as an opponent was exciting.

• Is it possible to tell us about the Milano series in the Playoffs and the subsequent CSKA Moscow Final-Four match and the Real Madrid final, while Maccabi team was not given a chance to win the EuroLeague championship in the 2013-14 season?

Going into the Final-Four we were sure of ourselves and really believed that we could win. I know that journalists and members of the media didn’t give us a chance but really respectfully their opinions didn’t matter to us. Getting the semi final win was huge. We fault and never stopped playing to win. I also felt that after that win I knew we would beat Madrid. Played them well both games during the season and felt at the end of the game they didn’t have Tyrese Rice or Ricky Hickman.

• Maccabi Tel Aviv, as the last EuroLeague champion, faced Fenerbahçe in the playoffs in the 2014-15 season, and you were against Fenerbahçe in that series. Is it possible for you to tell us about that series from the eyes of a rival player?

Really just came down to them being the better team. They had more depth than us and really took advantage of that. We were without key players Guy Pnini and Sylven Landesberg, so going against an opponent of that caliber we needed to be a full strength to have a chance. The atmosphere was great.

Devin Smith playing against Fenerbahce at Ulker Sports Arena. Photo: Aykut Akıcı

• The matches played with Galatasaray and Efes Pilsen in your period were always tense and competitive. As a player who took the field in these matches, what were the things that remained in your mind? How important do you think it was for the team and the fans?

I know the derby games are a lot of times the most important of the season for the fans and for the club. Just wanted to give my best in order to win and have those bragging rights.

• During a season in Fenerbahçe, you played with names such as Damir Mršič, Willie Solomon, Mirsad Türkcan, Marques Green and Ömer Onan. Who was your favorite player to play with and team up with?

I learned a lot from all of them. Marques and myself came to Fener from Avellino to continue playing together and til this day remains one of my best friends so for sure him.

• As you know, Fenerbahce has taken a big leap forward in the last fifteen years and brought the EuroLeague trophy to our museum and has become one of the giants of Europe. How do you see the process and the situation of our team this season?

It’s great to see because I think management finally figured out the way to do so.  They hired a “great” coach and signed players who fit together and kept those players year after year.  The teams that win EuroLeague championships have continuity and stability. Change one or three players maybe but keep their core group of guys. Actually give the coach a chance to coach the team and implement his philosophy over time.  Teams that are looking for instant success are usually the most inconsistent.

• Finally, what is your message to us Fenerbahce fans?

Thank you for your support while I played for your club. Your support through the ups and downs helped the team to reach its current heights!

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