When Zach LeDay arrived at Virginia Tech, expectations were non-existent because he was an undersized power forward at 6'7'' who averaged less than 5 points and 17 minutes per game in each season at South Florida, a program that was one of the worst in the AAC. In addition, Buzz Williams also gained a big transfer pickup from Maryland star Seth Allen, an addition that shocked and excited many Hokie fans.
While Allen turned out to be a very good player that lived up to much of the fan hype, LeDay turned out to be a star.
LeDay became the heart of the Virginia Tech rebuild, helping launch the Hokies' basketball program into its best era in school history. While LeDay's leadership was critical to VT's rise, his performance was just as important averaging 16 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game during his two seasons in Blacksburg as the best big man of the Buzz Williams era.
Despite those numbers, LeDay was once again seen as an undersized power forward and wasn't selected in the 2017 NBA Draft. For many players still pursuing a NBA career, their next stop would likely be in the G-League.
However, LeDay followed a growing model for young American players looking to put together a successful basketball career and earn an NBA opportunity by crossing the Atlantic.
As basketball has grown globally, the quality of leagues in Europe and elsewhere have steadily improved, creating opportunities for young players to develop overseas after college instead of being limited to the NBA's G-League.
One of the best examples of this is former Hokie Malcolm Delaney.
Like LeDay, Delaney went undrafted in 2011 and went to Europe starting his career in France and Ukraine. Then, after two strong seasons that included earning All-EuroCup First Team honors for the 2012-13 season, Delaney got his big chance with one of the best basketball teams in Europe, Bayern Munich.
Once at Bayern, Delaney continued to improve averaging 13.9 points per game in the EuroLeague during the 2013-2014 season while earning Bundesliga MVP honors before heading to Russia with Lokomtiv Kuban for two seasons.
In those two seasons, Delaney was once again a star leading Lokomotiv to the Final Four of the EuroLeague after the club played in the EuroCup the previous season. Delaney had the best season of his European career in the process averaging 16.3 points and 5.5 assists in 31 EuroLeague games.
Delaney's strong European performances didn't go unnoticed stateside with Delaney emerging as a top European free agent and signing with the Atlanta Hawks.
Now, Zach LeDay is looking to follow the route of Delaney starting his career overseas and like Delaney, he's already climbing the overseas ladder.
LeDay spent the past year in Israel taking a one-year deal with Hapoel Gilboa Galil, one of the smaller clubs In his first (and only) season, LeDay immediately became a star just like he did in his first season in Blacksburg.
LeDay was one of the league's best players leading the league in scoring with 19.5 points per game while finishing in the top 5 in rebounding in the Israeli league with 8.2 rebounds. Unsurprisingly, his impressive performance earned him All-Israeli League First Team honors, the only rookie to make the First Team.
In addition, LeDay had one of the best single-game performances of the year overseas with a 22-point, 20-rebound game in December of 2017; the first 20-point, 20-rebound game in Israel since 2014.
Zach LeDay took a chance signing a one-year deal, but his risk paid off with his outstanding performance giving him lots of opportunity to climb the European ladder. While LeDay briefly joined the Atlanta Hawks' Summer League team, LeDay got that shot with one of Europe's premier basketball teams, Olympiacos.
LeDay's move from being an instant star at his first club to joining one of Europe's top teams is an even more impressive jump than Malcolm Delaney who starred for a pair of smaller teams before making the jump to a EuroLeague team.
In addition to the success he's had on the court, Zach LeDay is also set to have plenty of financial success with this deal.
If LeDay plays out the full three years of the deal, it'll be worth just over $1.4 million. For a guy that has had low expectations and been seen as undersized throughout his career, that's quite impressive.
The fact that a club like Olympiacos is willing to make a multi-year financial commitment to LeDay is another sign that they believe he can be a significant contributor for them.
At Olympiacos, LeDay joins a team with a few recognizable names including former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt, former Gonzaga star Nigel Williams-Goss, and 2015 NBA Draft first round pick Nikola Milutinov.
While Olympiacos has some very talented players, LeDay appears poised to be a major contributor immediately and a future star with Milutinov and Williams-Goss both likely to head back over to the U.S. in pursuit of a spot on the NBA team that currently holds their draft rights.
From Blacksburg to Israel, Zach LeDay has exceeded expectations and immediately been a star in his pursuit of reaching the NBA. Whether LeDay does end up playing in the NBA or not, the former Hokie big man is already putting together a very successful pro basketball career as one of the best young American players in Europe.
However, no one should be surprised if LeDay ends up playing in the NBA after his contract at Olympiacos runs out given his reputation for exceeding every expectation.
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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