Former York County standout reflects on his pro basketball journey across Europe, Israel
Steve Zack has made quite the basketball journey since leaving York County.
Zack was part of the Red Land High School boys' basketball team that reached the PIAA tournament twice in 2010 and 2011. In Zack’s final two seasons with the Patriots, they won 46 games. In his senior year, Red Land fell to York High in the District 3 Class 4-A final and reached the elite eight at states.
He joined La Salle University’s men’s program after graduating high school. In his four years there, he finished second all-time in blocked shots and earned a spot on the Atlantic 10 All-Defensive team.
Zack was undrafted in the 2015 NBA Draft, but after impressing at the Philadelphia 76ers mini-camp during the 2015 NBA Summer League, he joined the team for four games. He then joined Latvian team Liepajas Lauvas where he became the league’s best rebounder for that season.
In 2016, Zack moved to the Bulgarian National Basketball League to play for Lukoil Academic. He won the FIBA Europe Cup Top performer of the week after he scored 20 points and 15 rebounds against Portuguese team Benfica. That season Lukoil Academic went on to win the 2017 Bulgarian League championship.
Since then, he has joined Tefl Sopot in the Polish Basketball League and VEF Riga in the Latvian Basketball League. Now he currently plays for Hapoel Be’er Sheva, a team in the Israeli Premier League.
Zack responded to a few questions sent him via email about his journey across Europe and how things stand for him now amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q: What do you remember from your time with Red Land? Are there any achievements you look back on fondly or remember being proud of?
A: I remember mainly the many lessons that were taught to me by Coach [Scott] Slayton that carried a message that went further than just the basketball court. I owe a lot of my career success to him. Secondly the group of guys we had. In all [four] years of playing at Red Land we all had a great bond together and were always having a blast! Having a great coaching staff and awesome teammates is something I'll always cherish about my Red Land days.
Q: Do you keep in contact with any of your old coaches or teammates?
A: Yeah we all get in touch from time to time. It's much different now that we're getting into our mid-late 20's so everyone has a busy life of their own going on, but the communication between us is definitely not lost.
Q: You’ve played in Latvia, Poland, Bulgaria, and are currently in Israel. What differences have you noticed from league to league?
A: I’ve worked my way up the European ladder throughout my [five] years of playing. I would say the toughest leagues I have competed in are the Russian VTB League when I was with VEF Riga (Latvia) and then this year the [Israeli] league was loaded with talent, a lot of [ex]-NBA guys. One notable player that was in Israel who was an idol of mine growing up and I got to play against him this year was Amare Stoudamire.
Q: How did it feel when you won the Bulgarian League with Lukoil Academic?
A: It was awesome. It was my first title in a European league, and Bulgarians know how to have a good time, so the after party celebrations with my teammates that I formed a bond with for [nine] months was something I'll always remember!
Q: How do you feel basketball is looked upon in Europe compared to the U.S.?
A: I think it's two different games. There is not a lot of [one-on-one] basketball in Europe. It's very team oriented. So having a high IQ for the game is one thing that's very important. Also the fans in Europe are a lot crazier. Drums, flares, noise makers are common at every game.
Q: It looks like you were pretty close to finishing the season at the beginning of March. At what point did you realize the season would be canceled, or has it been postponed, due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: It actually was set to finish in May/June, they just structure the [third] round differently so those games were not released yet! We kind of knew pretty quickly it was going to be shut down because everywhere else was closing down their leagues starting with Italy. Every day we were watching the news seeing how everything was being abruptly stopped.
Q: Are you back in the U.S.? If so, did you have any difficulties in trying to return home once it was clear the season was canceled?
A: I am back in the US now safe with my wife and [7-month-old] daughter. Luckily they were in the United States already at the time of the COVID breakout visiting family, so I was the only one who had to travel during the crazy time. The president of Israel put out a message on a Monday in March saying any foreigners or Israelis who wish to leave the country need to do so before Friday and then the border was being completely shut down. The club gave us Americans the blessing to leave and go be with our families until further notice so I packed my bags quickly and got home safely.
Q: What are your plans for the future? Will you be competing with Be’er Sheva again next season? What goals do you have for yourself and your team?
A: The future is always in the air. I usually sign [one-year] contracts because as you improve and have success, higher contracts have been offered to me every single year, so there is a chance I could return to Israel in the fall or head to another team in another country. And who even knows with this whole COVID if it returns and next season is cancelled as well, it might be time to put my Business degree to use and put on a shirt and tie!
Q: Any final remarks?