By Achilleas Mavrodontis / firstname.lastname@example.org
Zach LeDay is preparing for his first career Final Four in hopes to continue an excellent season, throughout which he’s been averaging 10.1 points and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 48% from two and 44% from the three-point territory.
The American big spoke to Eurohoops ahead of the Final Four, taking a look at the semifinals against Barcelona and his former coach Sarunas Jasikevicius, his winning basket in Game 1 versus Bayern, as well as his partnership with Kyle Hines, but also about his childhood and everything that led him up to this point.
– This is great. Everything is coming in full circle, from all the hard work I’ve been putting in and trying to do to improve, to help my team. It comes back in full circle and it’s good to be in the Final Four and be among the elite teams left in Europe.
– You played for Saras in Zalgiris, so what do you believe that will be his plans for the semifinal game?
Saras is going to have a great game plan, personally that’s not for me. Coaches will go and try to figure it out, trying to study, see what advantages that we can take. But Saras is all about just playing hard, he believes in his assistants, so we will try to figure out ways around that.
In the power forward position, you’ll have to play defense against Nikola Mirotic. Tell us about this match-up.
He’s a really good player, he’s played in the NBA. He’s played at a high level for a long time. I look forward to coming out and doing whatever it takes to help my team win.
So far in your EuroLeague career, you played for coach Blatt, coach Saras, and now coach Messina. Three coaches with different approaches to the game. How was your experience with them?
Coach Blatt was more laid back, he’s kinda free-flowing, as well. Taking advantage of the opportunities when you have them. Our team was build different when I was in Olympiacos, we kinda played slower, post-up basketball, we would do a lot of ball screen actions, with Billy and Nigel at the point guard. Saras is all about his system and running his system to the t. He’s all about running his system and you’ll get the answers from the system. Coach Messina is about that our team is build to play fast, play hard, that’s what we’re most successful, when we run up and down the floor fast, getting to the free throw line, getting open shots, extra passes. Playing team basketball together.
As a child, have you ever imagined yourself in the EuroLeague Final Four? How was your life back in the day in Dallas?
As a child I didn’t even know what Europe was! (laughs). I was in Texas, my mom raised me and my brother. She made a lot of sacrifices for us but it’s also good for me because I also had to mature faster and be able to deal with older people, be able to deal with stepping up. Me personally, I’ve always been kind of the younger guy around older guys, my whole life just having to step up. It’s good because it helped me prepare for adult life and I never, as a child, I never knew what EuroLeague was. I didn’t know what EuroLeague was even after my first year in Israel! (laughs) So I kinda just stayed in the moment, and I just do whatever I can and give my heart and my soul.
Now you’re one of the hottest power forwards in EuroLeague. You said that your mom had to do many sacrifices to make you who you are and let you follow your dreams. Because we had the International Mother’s Day two days ago, what’s your message to her?
Thank you mom. My mom already knows me, we talk every day. We grew together as people. Obviously I was a child and she was grown but we learned a lot of things together. Lot of sacrifices made. She put me around people that tought me how to work and be able to complete missions, journeys the right way. So I’m thankful for my mom. I’m blessed. As she would say “keep going, keep your head down, don’t worry about the outside noises. Keep your head down and keep going”. And, I love you mom! (laughs)
I remember you have a scar on your left shoulder. Is it something weird or is it a vaccine or something?
I got in a heated situation at a park one day and this happened. I got pushed into a fence. You know, at a park they have fences, they’re like broken. The fence kinda jumped in my back and cut deep down in, so it’s part of basketball, part of learning, part of the journey.
When you finished high school, you had many offers, and in the end you chose South Florida, your stay there wasn’t so big. Do you believe that if you had chosen another college team, your career in the States would be different?
No, I’m so grateful for every step of my career, because the ups and downs in basketball are part of the journey. They are all lessons learned. I learned what type of player I am, what type of system I fit in and the university in South Florida, the team that I was on didn’t have a particular style that I was supposed to choose. But I was young and I made a decision and I learned from it. When you’re young and you make decisions and you learn from them, that’s what my family taught me. I’m glad that I was able to bring my work ethic every day, I learned how to work and keep working, even though you never knew what the results would be. Just believing in the process, and that’s what I was able to learn there. I worked tirelessly, I went to the gym late at night, 2-3 in the morning, working. And I never knew what my results would be. God was able to bless me with my next situation.
When you didn’t get drafted in 2017, you came straight to Europe and you chose Israel. Do you think this might end up the way for you to have a chance in the NBA?
I saw the style that coach had build with his team. I knew back then Israel didn’t take rookies a lot. He told me this on the phone. He said, Israel doesn’t take rookies but I believe in your ability, I believe in what you do on the floor to fit in with our style. And I think we had the youngest team in Israel at that point. I was able to join a young and hungry team and we all just grew together as guys, we grew to love each other as brothers. We were kind of in the middle of nowhere and at one point I was the only rookie in the league. But like I said, learning a lot from my veterans and learning spots in the floor, just playing hard, do whatever it takes to win, I was able to grow a lot there and learn.
Do you have the NBA at the back of your mind?
Personally, whatever the situation I’m in, I just focus at the present. So, my goal is to focus to be the best version of myself in the next day and the next day and just try to get better. I can’t think about the future because that will take away from the present. I just try to control it, do whatever it takes to win and just focus on dominating the present.
When you signed with Olympiacos, many compared you with Kyle Hines. How is it playing with him now?
It’s huge, it’s monumental. I’ve always felt we had the same demeanor on the court. Our personalities are different but our demeanor is the same on the court. He’s helped me a lot, as far as dealing with people, dealing with situations. Any time I have a question, I ask him. And/or if we are able to talk things on the floor, it’s been great, it’s been a huge blessing to my career. I just take notes and whatever I can from my teammates, but especially him as well.
When you were in Greece, many rumors were talking about your position. All the reports were saying that you were playing as an undersized center, but you were explosive when you played as a power forward. Which is the position you feel more comfortable in?
I’ve always thought about this since I got started. I just look to fit in any position the coach put me on the floor. With the right adjustments, any position the coach put me on the floor I can fit in. In my rookie year, my coach put me at the 3. I’ve always thought about positions in basketball and being able to be versatile and to be able to play different positions. In Zalgiris, I played a lot as a center, so it’s just giving the right reps and adjusting to the system, the place. I’m a power forward that can play center.
You have a great relationship with Breanna Stewart, the best female basketball player on the planet. So how is it like being friends with her?
I wanna say we’re like brother and sister. We are friends, talking basketball. We speak every now and then, saying hello, check-in. She’s a great player, she’s an icon in women’s basketball. She’s very successful in everything that she tries to do. So I wish nothing but the best for her. It’s good to see her keep on being successful, keep going and trying to be great.
Many players try to be like Giannis, Steph Curry, LeBron. Why do you want to be like Draymond Green?
I want to be like Draymond because he’s a winner. What he’s been able to do and the influence he’s been able to bring. I just want to do whatever it takes to win, and that’s what he’s been able to do. He’s very versatile, he’s a positional player that can play 3 positions and can guard all positions, so that’s what I’m trying to be like.
Many players have their own shooting form. Yours may not be the ideal, because of the non-vertical style, but it works. How was this style created?
Honestly, I played football my whole life so I was never really able to break down and do fundamentals as far as creating the perfect shooting form, I played American football when I was in 9th grade. When I was finally able to play basketball, it was really just about touch, and making sure that my touch was right. The coach that trained me when I was younger, he would always tell me that my touch was right no matter what it looked like. What I just focus on is touch, base and just following through.
We’ve talked with a former teammate from Olympiacos, we will not tell you who, and he told us that you have a lucky pair of shoes from 2005, 2004?
(laughs) They actually stopped making these pairs of shoes so I had to change to a new pair but I just have my shoes at my backpack, I stick to them. I don’t change a lot of things. I see players change, and that’s cool. I’m just very big with sticking with what I do, sticking with my routine, as far as in everything I do. Sticking with the same thing and getting results.
Do you have any weird routines?
I just set my backpack, this is the thing I’ve done from the beginning of my career. It gives me a sense of security. Just (making sure) I have things I need with me and I feel I’m ready to go. I always set my backpack same way before the game.
One last thing about the backpack, what is in there? (laughs) It was a myth here in Greece.
It’s nothing serious, just things if I get caught in an emergency situation, there are items like bandage and tape. I can’t even think. And then I have my notebook, that I take notes in and I learn. I learn from my teammates and I learn from different people. I take my notes.