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Tuesday, August 25th, 2009 at 11:24 am  |  37 responses

Detroit’s Mr. Do-It-All

Sweden’s Jonas Jerebko has already made NBA history and is ready for more.

Jonas Jerebko

by Anders Rönmark

The 39th pick doesn’t normally receive a lot of attention on draft night.

In Sweden, however, Detroit’s selection of forward Jonas Jerebko was big news, and the most devout basketball fans even stayed up until the morning hours (Sweden is several hours ahead of the U.S.) to follow the draft and celebrate with champagne.

Because Jonas Jerebko is a historic player.

Sure, both Maciej Lampe (who played for the Knicks, Suns, Hornets and Rockets between 2003 and 2006) and Damir Markota (a Milwaukee Buck during the ’06-07 season) started their basketball careers in Sweden, but Lampe and Markota left Sweden in their teens and chose to play their national team ball for Poland and Croatia, respectively.

And although Joakim Noah’s mother is a former Miss Sweden, and Miles Simon was actually born in Stockholm (to an American father and a Norwegian mother), it takes a lot of good will to label them as Swedish NBA players.

But Jonas Jerebko is just that.

When deputy commissioner Adam Silver announced that the Detroit Pistons had selected Jerebko with the 39th pick overall, the 22-year-old forward became the first Swede drafted.Jonas Jerebko And come November, he’ll be the first Swedish player to step on to an NBA court.

“I know that it’s special for all the basketball fans in Sweden. For me it’s just a bonus; it’s pretty cool to be the first one from your country,” Jerebko says. “The draft and my contract signing has generated quite a lot of attention back home in Sweden, but that’s the way it should be. I’m the first player from our country in the best league in the greatest sport in the world. That’s pretty big.”

The sentiment is echoed by Jonte Karlsson, one of Sweden’s most experienced coaches, a former national team coach and now a director at the Swedish basketball federation. “A lot of people thought that it would be impossible for a Swedish player to reach the NBA, but Jonas has shown that a player who’s got his basketball education in Sweden can make it to the League. It’s huge for us,” Karlsson says.

Born and raised in the city of Borås, in the west of Sweden, Jerebko grew up playing soccer, team handball, hockey and golf. Not surprisingly though, it was in basketball that Jerebko excelled. Jerebko’s father, Chris, played for Jim Boeheim at Syracuse between 1977 and 1981, and then moved from his home state New York to Borås to play professionally. There he met Elaine.

“My mom has played in the women’s league in Sweden and has also played a game or two for the Swedish national team. She’s very proud of that,” Jerebko says. “Actually, we’re three national team players in my family, since my sister has also played a few games for Sweden.”

And it was after playing for Sweden’s junior national team, in various tournaments in Europe, that Jerebko’s career gained speed. Just a teenager, he received long-term offers from European power houses like Real Madrid (Spain) and Treviso (Italy). Colleges like Syracuse, Boston College and University at Buffalo also showed interest in the lanky, at the time 6-8, Swede with the allround game and the ability to play both guard and forward.

But Jonas Jerebko decided to stay in Sweden.

After graduating from high school, he moved more than 800 miles up north, to join the best team in the country, Plannja. One year later, Jerebko was ready for the Italian league, where he joined Angelico Biella. And after two years in Italy, Jerebko is now ready for the NBA. “I could have played in any league that I wanted in Europe, I don’t think any club would have said ‘no, thank you’ to me. But I want to play in the NBA and I feelJonas Jerebko like now is a good time for me to make that move. I’m just as ready as the other guys in the draft,” Jerebko says.

He has signed a two-year deal with Pistons, received his jersey (number 33), got a car and found an apartment in the nice suburb of Troy, just a few minutes away from the practice facility of the Pistons. Now all Jonas Jerebko has to do is to get some playing time…

“I’m a rookie and I’m with a classic franchise with high ambitions; it’s going to be hard for me to get a lot of minutes, that’s a no-brainer. But I’m working hard on my game and I’m willing to do everything I can to show that I belong here,” he says.

Before the draft, a lot of scouts labeled Jerebko as a typical European tweener. Was he big enough to be drafted as a power forward? Were his ball handling skills good enough to place him in the group of available small forwards? Apparently, the Pistons saw potential in the 6-10 (in his shoes), 231-pound (he bulked up more than 30 pounds of solid muscle during his time in Italy) Jerebko, who never averaged double-digits in points in Italy, but gained a reputation as a defensive specialist.

His athleticism and ability to defend against both perimeter and post players, combined with his team-oriented attitude, made him a valuable player for Angelico Biella. A team that surprisingly advanced to the semi-finals of the Italian league, in large part thanks to Jerebko, who filled the role of a “doing a little bit of everything” kind of player.

Karlsson says the ability to do a lot of different things is what sets Jerebko apart from other players his age. “His greatest strength is his ability to adjust. If you tell him to play center, he’ll get you the rebounds you need. If you tell him to defend on a shooting guard, he’s all over him. If you tell him to clean the stands before the game, he would do that do. Jonas is a phenomenal young man with a great work ethic,” Karlsson says. “And I don’t think people should focus to much on his numbers in Italy. Sure, he didn’t average more than 9 or 10 points last season, but he could have had 20 a game if they would have run plays for him. He can score if that’s what’s asked of him, but he’s no flashy player who cares more about his stats than the team. Jonas is a very unselfish player.”

In Sweden and Italy, Jerebko tried his hand at every position from one to five, and he says he’s ready to do that again.

“Honestly, I don’t care about positions, I’ll play wherever the coach tells me to. In basketball today you can’t say that you’re just a guard, just a forward Jonas Jerebkoor just a center,” Jerebko says. “I’m working on my game everyday, trying to improve my ball handling and my shooting. I know what it’s all about: You have to work hard when you get the chance and you have to knock down those open shots.”

And with a healthy dose of self confidence, Jerebko is ready to show that the NHL isn’t the only league where Swedish players belong. “It’s kind of funny that I wound up in Detroit, where there’s like seven or eight Swedish players on the Detroit Red Wings squad. I’ll have to get in contact with them and go and see some games,” Jerebko says. “But of course I think it’s a lot bigger for a Swedish basketball player to make it in the NBA than for a Swedish hockey player to get to the NHL.”

And make no mistake, Jonas Jerebko is intent on not just playing in the NBA. He’s there to make an impact: “I might have surprised a few people just by making it to the League. I think I can surprise them again.”

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  • http://slamonline.com/ Ryne Nelson

    Thanks for the excellent article. There’s a good chance the Pistons found themselves a major steal in the second round. Any player this versatile and defensive-minded can play in the League for a long time.

  • http://www.another48minutes.blogspot.com Gerard Himself

    very nice article

  • AlbertBarr

    I am totally stoked to see this guy play now. Just maybe, Joe Dumars has put together a nice young squad.

  • Jao

    Har Jonte Karlsson ridit på Jonas rygg tillräckligt länge nu?

  • Ken

    Good piece. You misspelled his name though in the middle of it, leaving out the K in his last name.

  • LeoneL

    I’m just wishing he gets at least some decent playing time.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Wayno

    Awesome! I’m glad to have him on my Pistons. He’s got a humble yet confident attitude and what seems like a great work ethic. David Lee part 2 perhaps?

  • TADOne

    Please, PLEASE, do not be another Darko! Thanks.

  • http://slamonline.com/ Ryne Nelson

    Thanks Ken… SLAMonline’s copy editor extraordinaire!

  • http://slamonline.com Adam Fleischer

    Really good piece. Just realized that I must have seen him play when I was in Rome a few months back, but didn’t realize it at the time. Curious to see what he’s gonna do at the next level. Seems like a kid with his mind in the right place.

  • http://www.shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    I’m starting to think that maybe Dumars made good on all 3 picks in the draft this year. I know it is early, but the first returns on Daye, Summers, and Jerebko are all positive. The Pistons couldn’t afford a bad draft.

  • trick..

    i like him.. good luck to him

  • http://www.slamonline.com Wayno

    cosign TAD – Although it’s early, I think Joe D might have made the best picks in the draft considering where his picks were. He has a solid track record in the middle/late 1st round and the second round though. High picks, not so much…As for him being another Darko, I seriously doubt that. This kid actually has a work ethic, and he wasn’t a #2 pick. If Darko had the work ethic of this kid he could be a top 10 PF/C in the league.

  • http://www.manutd.com Z

    ”Chris, played for Jim Boeheim at Syracuse between 1977 and 1981” DAMN, Jimmy B been hustling on the sidelines for that long?? Co-sign Ryne. Versatile players as far as roles and positions with no egos will always find a job in the L.

  • http://www.kzine.se Tanny

    Sweden represented on Slamonline! Never thought the day would come, shout out from Sthlm, Anders knows what I’m talking about.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Wayno

    Always good for the L to get players who represent new countries. It’s awesome seeing the league reach ballers all over the world.

  • Felix

    Sweden baby! We’re on the come up! I hope Jonas gets some playing time. Great article. Peace from Göteborg!

  • Tuomas

    LOLLED at Jao a bit. Quite happy with what I’ve seen from all three of Detroit’s picks, in all seriousness.

  • http://slamonline.com/ Ryne Nelson

    Any chance you’re referring to Stockholm, Tanny? ;)

  • Marcus

    I´ve seen Jerebko play here in Sweden. He had never played a single game in the Swedish First League but immediately when he started playing for the Swedish champions Plannja he adapted. He actually made the winning shots to bring the Championship to Plannja. He only played one year in Plannja before he moved to Italy. When he arrived there he immediately adapted. Jonas is a Player that is lifting his game everytime he needs to. I think that Detroit made a really good pick and that they will get a lot of fans from Sweden now.

  • http://sevendeu2u.wordpress.com/ Seven deuce

    It seems like the Pistons drafted 3 small forwards this year, but they all have different games. Daye is a perimeter scorer, Summers is a slasher and Jerebko is a defender. Hopefully, they all get a chance to show their potential because TP and Charlie V look to get the lion’s share of minutes this year.

  • http://slamonline.com/ Ryne Nelson

    Seven, I couldn’t agree more. No Piston rook will likely get a lot of burn, but Detroit at least looks like it won’t fall off hard while it reloads.

  • http://www.shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    I disagree somewhat, Ryne. I actually think one or two of teh rookies could get a fair share of burn this year, if only out of necessity. I believe that Summers will get the most.

  • http://slamonline.com Susan Price

    I’m loving my people in Sweden representing on SLAM!

  • Lz – Cphfinest 3

    Nice article, good luck Jonas. But as a Dane it sure annoys me that the Swede’s will have a guy in the NBA before us. Especially after we had Christian Drejer (drafted by the Nets in the first round some years ago) ruined by injuries while playing for Barcelona and in Italy. Christian would have been a surefire starter or 6th man after a few years in the League no doubt.

  • http://www.shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    On a complete sidenote: Jonas looks like he should be in some Swedish boy band.

  • Lz – Cphfinest 3

    TAD; aside from Jonas not wearing a Italian-style hairband he looks like every other Swedish guy.

  • http://slamonline.com/ Ryne Nelson

    Blonde/blue eyes is standard in Sweeden. Record labels should be on the lookout for singers, TAD.

  • Lz – Cphfinest 3

    TAD; apart from Jonas not wearing a Italian-style hairband he looks like the average Swedish guy.

  • Lz – Cphfinest 3

    TAD; apart from Jonas not wearing a Italy-style hairband he looks like the average Swedish guy.

  • Vikturus

    Nice to see you at SLAM taking note of Jonas. The commentators at nba.com would barerly say his name even when he scored 19 pts in the summer L. Would be awesome to see him get some playing time!

    Representing Linköping Sweden!

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  • JCDP

    congrats JJ! You deserve all that´s coming to you. That´s why it is…. Good luck man!

  • http://www.hibachi20.blogspot.com Hursty

    Good for him.
    Regardless of whether he can actually play or not (and it seems he can), he’ll take over the honourary role of “Fabio” for the Pistons now that Walter Hermann has departed.

  • http://www.triplejunearthed.com/dacre Dacre

    Nice call Hursty, “The Sweet” (swede) looks to be a keeper for a few years.

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