Portland Trail Blazers Draftee Jon Diebler Growing On And Off The Court In Greece

via 4.bp.blogspot.com

Jon Diebler had no idea this is how his first year out of college would turn out.

After growing up in Upper Sandusky and spending his entire life living in Ohio, the state's all-time leading scorer now finds himself halfway around the world. In a matter of three months, Diebler went from graduating as the Big Ten's all-time leader in 3-point field goals at Ohio State, to a newlywed, to being selected by the Portland Trail Blazers (51st overall in the 2011 NBA Draft) and suddenly playing for Panionios in the Greek League and living in the Nea Smymi district in Athens, Greece.

Not bad for a 23-year old who thought he'd have to battle for a roster spot with a non-guaranteed contract in Portland.

Funny how life turns out. While the NBA lockout was a curse to some players around the league, it's truly turned into a blessing for Diebler.

"I have no regrets waiting (to play overseas). I looked at this as an opportunity to get better as a basketball player, but most importantly grow as a man," Diebler told Ridiculous Upside.

"This has taught me patience and made me realize how truly blessed I am to play the game that I love in another part of the world."

Back in late June when the Blazers introduced the 6-foot-6 guard at a press conference along with fellow rookie Nolan Smith and point guard Raymond Felton, Diebler's agent, Lance Young, and Portland had already discussed the option of his client playing overseas with the lingering NBA lockout casting a dark shadow across the league. The opportunity was multi-beneficial: Diebler would find a club willing to feature him, and in return he'd be able to develop his overall game in a competitive league in Europe. So when Diebler signed a one-year contract to play in Greece with Panionios in the Greek League in early August, Portland borrowed a page from their old "draft and stash" playbook. But instead of being an overseas project in the guise of Victor Claver or Joel Freeland before him, Diebler would have the chance to experience the game from the other side of the world fresh out of Ohio State.

"We drafted him because of his shooting and this year in Greece will provide him with an opportunity for good minutes and a chance to develop other areas of his game," explained Portland's acting General Manager Chad Buchanan.

The development side of Diebler's game is in full-swing.

In 11 games this season, Diebler is averaging 8.1 points and 1.5 rebounds in 20 minutes per game, while shooting 50% from the field, 52.8 % from 3-point, and 92.3% from the free-throw line. Numbers aside, playing in Greece has provided Diebler the chance to soak in the knowledge of the pro game the only way a rookie really can -- by actually playing and experiencing in-game scenarios for himself.

"The adjustment basketball wise has gone well. It still is taking some time to get used to some of the things here -- like reading the defense when coming off screens and pick-and-roll situations -- but we have a great coach and I have great teammates so that helps a lot. They are always making sure I understand the philosophy, both offensively and defensively," said Diebler who arrived in Greece in August.

He is one of three American import players on the team along with point guard William Keys (New Mexico State) and forward Alex Stephenson (USC). Panionios (8-4) currently sits fourth in the Greek League standings behind league leading Olympiakos, Panathinakos and Kolossos Rhodes.

"It has really been a humbling experience as well, coming from being a senior at Ohio State to being a rookie here on this team. I have just tried to come out and do my best to help the team win. It has been a lot of fun though. I have really enjoyed it. Like I said before, the people involved with the club -- coaches, players, manager, and the team president -- have just been awesome and very professional. This year I'm just trying to help the team win, whatever that is. But as far as working on my game individually, I'm trying to improve on creating my own shot and continuing to get better defensively. The coaches have really helped me in all of these areas."

Now take a step back and look at Diebler's year overseas from Portland's point of view.

It's been reported Diebler's contract is worth over $100,000 for the season - with a set amount coming upfront - his deal did not include an NBA opt-out clause, but when the lockout hit the work stoppage still hampered their chances of personally interacting with a player they own the draft rights to.

"We were not allowed to attend any of his games during the lockout," Buchanan added.

Portland got creative.

Their international scout, Jason Filippi, gauged Diebler's progress by watching DVD's of his game footage with Panionios provided by the team and by speaking to a few close reporter friends about his play. Despite the direct interaction strains, Filippi was able to mix in a trip to Athens that helped put Diebler's development into perspective.

"His stats may not look that impressive but he is playing on a very balanced team where nobody plays more than 28 minutes a game and there are four guys scoring between 8 to 13 ppg," said Filippi, with Diebler seeing minutes both at shooting guard and small forward.

"He looked good in the game I saw with 13 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and was very active on both sides of the court. He moves well without ball and knows how to get open. Despite being considered primarily as just a 3-point shooter I was happy to see that Jon is trying to expand his game -- the coaching staff confirmed this was their objective too --beyond that. He was uncharacteristically aggressive at putting the ball on deck and tried to go one-on-one more. He caught the ball down low a couple times and surprised me by hitting a pair of turnaround shots in low post. He may not get many opportunities like this in NBA but he is actually pretty crafty around basket. Had a couple nice drives where he fed big man too. He has a pretty light frame and in my opinion needs to get stronger to get off shots at our level. Defense is always a concern at our level but I was happy to see he plays hard on every play."

Filippi plans to see Diebler again sometime this month, where the two will grab dinner and discuss life off and on the court in Greece. Other Blazers front office and scouting staff members will visit with him later in the season too and have the chance to do the same meet-and-greet this spring.

"We will be tracking him closely this year obviously. We will stay in touch with his agent throughout the year," said Buchanan, with the two sides planning to discuss Diebler's future in Portland at the end of the season.

Until then, Diebler and his wife Caitlin are enjoying the experience in Greece -- getting the chance to explore Europe, and even having extended family come visit brings them a sense of home.

"It has been a smooth adjustment off the court. I am very blessed to have my wife here with me, so that definitely helps a lot. Being ten minutes away from the beach isn't too bad either. But the people here in Greece are very nice. Everyone involved with the Panionios club have made living here in Greece easy and exciting. It is still pretty crazy to think that my wife and I are living in Greece for a year. We like to look at it as an extended honeymoon. Not many people can say they are just married and get to live abroad for a year. We feel we are truly blessed for this opportunity to live here in Athens."

He's also keeping tabs on the Blazers and their season, even flashing back to draft day when Portland selected Diebler and he envisioned playing alongside the since-retired Brandon Roy.

"I am definitely following the Blazers. I am wishing them all the best of luck and I think they can have a very successful season. If guys can stay healthy then they should do very well," Diebler stated. "It was very unfortunate to see Roy retire. As many people know and would agree, he was one of the better players in the NBA. You never want to see injuries to anyone. I would have loved to have the opportunity to maybe play along side of him and learn from him, but I wish him all the best."

On Sunday, Diebler put another game in the Greek League behind him.

He finished with 11 points and 3 rebounds, on 1-3 from the field and 3-8 from beyond the arc in a rough 89-69 loss to Panathinakos.

Even abroad, a loss is still a loss. Yet Diebler has so much to gain from being in Greece and playing basketball that he'll one day walk away from this opportunity remembering he won.

"God has truly opened many doors in my life and this has been an amazing experience," he said.

"I'm enjoying my time here and when the time comes I am looking forward to trying to earn a spot on the Portland Trail Blazers."


Wendell Maxey is a featured writer with Ridiculous Upside and covers basketball overseas and the NBA and D-League at large. After spending the last eight years covering the NBA in New York, New Jersey and Portland, Wendell now lives in Nuremberg, Germany. You can read more of his writing at Beyond The Beat and follow him onTwitter @w_maxey.

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