General Jeter leading Donar Groningen's march in the FIBA Europe Cup
GRONINGEN (FIBA Europe Cup) - A unique player in the context of European basketball due to his imposing build for a point guard, Donar Groningen playmaker Lance Jeter has been the star contributor to the Dutch club's historically successful FIBA Europe Cup season.
There might not be a more powerful guard on the continent than the 28-year-old American player, affectionately dubbed General Jeter by the team's supporters, but the Donar stand-out has been showcasing other well-polished facets of his game throughout the campaign as well.
Averaging 19.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.5 steals per game, Jeter has been one of the top players in the competition, carrying the Groningen side on his broad shoulders throughout various obstacles in the FIBA Europe Cup.
We spoke to the Donar star about yet another season in the Netherlands, his American football background, and the situation in Group P ahead of the upcoming clash with Lukoil Academic.
Going into the final week of action in the FIBA Europe Cup, you face an up-hill struggle, needing a win against Lukoil Academic and for Enisey to lose in Lisbon. What are your thoughts before the final week of action in the Second Round?
We're just going to go out there and play how we play and control what we can control. We know the situation is shaky and we're going to need some help. We need to focus on what is in our control and take care of what we can take care of. Hopefully, they will help us out and we'll advance. We feel like we belong in the Top 16, especially with the way we have been playing lately. Unfortunately, we let a couple of games slip away a couple of weeks ago that set us back, but we're definitely confident about winning this game at home. And hopefully, Benfica will take care of business at home and we'll move on.
After two early losses in the Second Round, the team played great in Russia, there was urgency against SL Benfica last week as well and you got the win. What changed and what did you improve?We didn't improve much, really. We just talked about what we need to fix: communicating better, being more relaxed, more calm. We're a team that has been together for a good time now and we know what we're capable of. Not all things will go our way, so we just have to stay calm, stay poised and doing that has helped us going into the game in Russia. The Benfica game was decided by us being more relaxed and knowing we've been through tough games, a lot of close ones before. We've been more poised, more composed and allowed everything to take care of itself. I feel like we've been more relaxed and improved our communication both on offense and defense. It has been key to us winning the last two games.
In the last game against Benfica, you scored 15 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. Did you feel like you needed to carry the team on your back?
They play me a bit differently, because I'm the leading scorer. But I just take what the defense gives me. We're a team and we pride ourselves on sharing the ball, passing and playing for one another. At that time, I just had better looks for myself than I would have had looking for my teammates. We took advantage of that. We're usually a team that definitely take pride in finding the open man. In that situation, I played more aggressively than I usually am and it worked out for us. We got the win and we were happy about that.
You didn’t make it through the Basketball Champions League qualifiers, but had a strong FIBA Europe Cup campaign, which, of course, may still continue further. However, if you crossed a line in the sand and looked back at the international season for you guys, how would you rate the journey so far?
Internationally, it has all been very good. Our initial goal was a little higher, to reach the Basketball Champions League, but it didn't work out. So we set our minds to the FIBA Europe Cup and we knew we were going to be a tough team to play against. We've been together for quite some time, so we understand each other and had an idea of what we were going to be like. Coming into the Regular Season, our goal was to advance to the Second Round. We did that and we've also had a very competitive Second Round as well, still with a chance to make the Round of 16.
This season has been what we expected. We expected to win, to prove to everyone, not just in our league, but everyone in Europe, that we're a very good basketball team. I feel we've exceeded that. It's not over yet and we feel we're capable of even more. All in all, however, the season has been great for us.
You had multiple momentous wins. Which one stands out the most for you: perhaps the one in Kormend to book a Second Round berth or handing Enisey first loss on their home floor?
For me, it would probably have to be the game in Hungary, because we were in a situation where we had to win. Everyone knows that it is a very hostile place to play and the fans are amazing there. There's really good basketball there too. We were down very early, but we fought back and we won it. Playing in such an atmosphere was special for me and the victory allowed us to advance to the Second Round for the first time in the club's history.
Of course, when you beat any Russian team, because their league is so powerful, it's a plus. For us to go out on the road and play not only even, but better than them, was special for our organization and our fans.
You guys seem like a close-knit bunch. What do you feel the biggest strengths of your team are?
We really know each other. We do a lot of stuff off the court together. When you think about it, there's really no time when we're not together. We're mostly young, a couple of our wives are back home, so we pass our free time together. We'd be bored with just basketball stuff. More or less, this has been happening since last year.
And as a result, on the court, communication has been our biggest strength. We've been playing like this for two years and we know where people like the pass, we know what they don't like. And it's just been working. We share the ball even more this season than last year. Every game, we try to get 30+ assists and make sure we find the open man and share the ball to make it easier for us.
You have been one of the outstanding players in the competition, among the league leaders in scoring and assists. Do you feel like you’re having a special season individually?
This is why I came back to Groningen – to either play in the Basketball Champions League or the FIBA Europe Cup. I wanted to show not only what my team can do, but what I can do as a player. I think we exceeded what we wanted to do, yet I feel we can do even more. I wanted to prove that I can play among the best teams in Europe and I feel like I've proved way more than that. I feel there's a lot more I can do as well.
We've got better individually game-by-game and, as a team, we're even stronger. I'm satisfied with how we have been playing. I feel we could do a little more. We know that we can – we talk about it a lot. We're going to continue playing hard and hopefully it works out for us.
You seem to have a great relationship with Donar fans. They seem to love you, the feeling – we reckon – is mutual. How important is it for you to have the bond?
It's very important. It's been like this for three years now, where they have showed their ultimate support. I feel like this team has done something special, winning the championship last year and coming off strong this year as well. The supporters, they care about basketball. We want to win, they want to win and that has brought us together.
Everywhere we went, the fans of other teams were decent, only Kormend fans were really amazing, but I feel we've got one of the best fan bases in the FIBA Europe Cup, with the way they support and cheer us on every game. Every time we play at home, it pulses us up, when they load. We try to show our appreciation by playing hard, having fun and making some great plays for them. We can’t do it without them. Every time they come out and pack the MartiniPlaza, it's a fun atmosphere and an exciting game.
Is there a story behind the General Jeter nickname that has been adopted by the fans?
It's just a name I had in college. I feel like I'm a vocal leader, I get on my teammates, I tell them how I feel. There's no filter. It's just about me being a leader on the court and leading the team to the victory and leading the way. I think the fans caught wind of that and it's been going on for two years now. It's stuck with me. Especially as a point guard, a floor leader, I like it.
In high-school you were first-team all-state honoree in both American football and basketball. What made you choose basketball?
I actually chose football first. I went to University of Cincinnati for football. After football practice, I'd go straight to the gym and play basketball. So it was always with me, I always wanted to play basketball. After a whole year of football, I was missing it too much, so I switched sports. It worked out well for me. Of course, there are times when I do miss football, but basketball is my love, it's in my family, with my mother and my uncles. It's part of me, so I just switched sports because I missed it so much when I was in Cincinnati.
You have a unique frame for a point guard. How much of that is from your football background? Can you talk about how you and the coach have tried to maximize your strengths?
I pretty much have a football body. A lot of people see that I'm strong and I'm big, but I feel they overlook the fact that I'm fast with the ball, quick with my hands and quick on my feet. They don't expect that from me. Coach [Erik Braal] has known me for maybe five years, so he's just putting me in positions where I can be successful and our team can be successful. There are a lot of post-ups, because I'm going to be the biggest and strongest point guard out there. I definitely try to use the mismatch if there's a smaller guard closer to the basket. I assume there's going to be a double-team every time, so I look for the open man. We've been playing this game for two years, with a lot of post-ups and maximizing mismatches, I feel we use it very well.
You've won the Dutch League MVP in 2015 and picked up Play-Off MVP honors in 2016. You're the run-away leaders in the Dutch League this season; do you think anyone can challenge you?
When Play-Off time comes in the Dutch league, it gets very tough. Since we're playing in the FIBA Europe Cup, we didn’t really have much time to focus on our competition in the Dutch league, with our main focus usually being on FIBA Europe Cup opponents. I think once we're finished with our international season and our league has our full attention, both in practices and the video room, it's scary what we can do in that league. Of course, we’ve been getting by and winning anyway. When we can give our full focus, we’re going to be an even more dangerous opponent for other teams. There's a bulls-eye on our backs every time we play, because we're the top club in the league and we're going strong in the FIBA Europe Cup. We've got to come out and play hard every chance we get, so we have the best chance to win.
Not many players have a personal website. You're one of the few who does. It features stats, news, photos, videos and even an online store with unique branded t-shirts. Do you take care of that yourself?
I take care of that too, but my wife back home does most of it. It's a team effort, but it's my wife the majority of the time. When I have time, I do some things on there as well. But my wife is definitely in charge of the official website and my official Facebook page. I look at them every day, though.
Can you tell us more about the #SaluteHardWork hashtag that one might come across in your website and social media?
We do events back home in Pittsburgh & Beaver Falls in Pennsylvania. We do clinics with my brother. He's a coach at Polk State Community College in Florida. We just work out the kids back home where I'm from.
You're 28-years-old, still relatively young, what do you want to achieve? What goals do you set for this season, next season and the years to come?
Right now, I just want to advance to the Round of 16 in the FIBA Europe Cup. Of course, we also want to win all the championships and prizes in our league. Personally, I just want to play at the highest level. Whether it's in Europe or back home in the States, I just want to play top level basketball. But you have to take care of the business you can take care of right now and I feel we’re in a position to do that.