‘Super Excited’

Jerebko raring to go after productive summer for Team Sweden

After a summer on the Swedish national team, Jonas Jerebko is happily anticipating the upcoming Pistons season.
Allen Eintstein/NBAE/Getty Images Sport
When Swedish national team officials began to press Jonas Jerebko last spring, as the compacted 2011-12 NBA season wound down, his instincts were to sit out Eurobasket qualifying competition this summer. Pistons strength coach Arnie Kander supported him. As pleased as both were with Jerebko’s recovery from the October 2010 Achilles injury that cost him his second season, they didn’t want to overburden the tendon and further stall his career.

But as April turned to May and May to June, a re-energized Jerebko felt the itch.

“I just kept working out and working on my game and started discussing it with Arnie,” Jerebko, back in town after leading Sweden to its first Eurobasket berth, said this week. “I was like, ‘We’re not playing until late summer.’ I started thinking maybe a few games would be good for me to keep working and come back here in shape. So I changed my mind.”

Now the Pistons hope to be the happy beneficiaries of a busier-than-expected summer for the 2009 second-round pick who wound up crashing the starting lineup in that season’s fourth game when ironman Tayshaun Prince suffered a back injury.

Jerebko carved his NBA niche by making plays without the ball in his hands – creating extra possessions by chasing down missed shots or loose balls, fearlessly sticking his nose into every fray, unofficially leading the team in hitting the hardwood. With Team Sweden, the ball was in his hands on virtually every possession.

“I felt like I could have done a lot more with the ball, but when you’re a team you’re trying to get everyone involved,” he said. “You could tell by the turnovers that I tried to pass it a little too much, but it was fun. I was the main guy and got to do a little bit of everything.”

He comes back to the Pistons understanding he’ll still have to earn his minutes as a blue-collar role player who won’t likely have plays called for him.

“I know I can do a lot more, but I’m just going to play my game and let the game come to me and do what’s best for the team. I’ve always done that. I know what I can do and my teammates know what I can do, so we’ll see what my role is. But whatever it is, I want to be on the court, I want to help the team and I just want to be out there playing.”

In Monday’s pickup play after conditioning drills led by Kander and individual drill work with Lawrence Frank’s assistant coaches, Jerebko oozed confidence, draining jump shots with unerring frequency from mid-range to the 3-point line.

On at least a few levels, Jerebko is convinced playing for his national team was the right thing to do. Qualifying for next September’s European championship is a source of national pride and a boost for the future of basketball in his homeland.

“I’m definitely planning to play,” he said. “It’s a big tournament, the biggest tournament in Europe, and Sweden has never made it. So I definitely feel I should be there and represent my country. It’s going to be fun. Sweden has never been in that kind of a tournament.”

But the benefits worked both ways, he feels. He comes back not only with renewed confidence but more comfortable as a leader. Never shy, the experience of being the on- and off-court face of his national team has Jerebko even more sure of his voice in a locker room that’s transitioning to a younger core. Only Tayshaun Prince, entering his 11th season, and newcomer Corey Maggette among the 17 players headed to training camp next week are 30 or older.

“It definitely helped me this summer, coming back after the injury,” he said. “I got to show everybody I was back and I can still score the ball, that I have the same athleticism and all of that. It took a year, year and a half to do that. We went straight into the season last year. Now I don’t feel anything. My body feels good. I just want to be out there and play. It helped me a lot to get my confidence back and to show everybody I can still play.”

While Jerebko’s national team duties kept him away from Auburn Hills, he was aware of the level of activity in the team’s practice facility over the summer and excited about the additions. Of the newcomers, he’s most familiar with fellow European Slava Kravtsov, who led his Ukrainian national team to a 6-2 record and a berth in next summer’s championship round, as well.

“We were in the same Eurocamp when we were 19 or 20, maybe, and I’ve seen him over the years,” he said. “We had our draft workouts in Houston, had some different draft workouts together in 2009, and I played against him I think when I was 18. We know each other. He’s very, very athletic and can run. He’s a great player to have on your team. He’ll block a lot of shots and turn a lot of shots away.”

Jerekbo caused a few ripples when he told a European TV crew in August that the Pistons were “going to make the playoffs,” this year, which should really only be news when a player says his team won’t make the playoffs in a season about to launch. But his optimism for the 2012-13 season is genuine.

“It’s time for us now,” he said. “I feel if you look at the teams that made the playoffs, we’re one of the teams that can compete with them. I just feel like we need to get our stuff together and play well the whole season. We ended the season playing .500 basketball – it was playoff basketball. I’m very excited for the season to start. I haven’t had a real season since my rookie season, it feels like. So this is going to be a great season. I’m very much looking forward to it. I’m not tired (after two months with his national team) – I’m the opposite. I’m super excited.”