What's in a name? In the case of Ronald Steele, who recently signed with Bnei Hasharon for the upcoming season, there are several possibilities. That hard, steadfast alloy certainly doesn't describe, the 1.91m point guard from the University of Alabama, who's been seriously hampered by various leg injuries for the past two and a half years and missed almost all of the past two seasons. But if the 23 year old from Birmingham is back in health, the super-talented Steele, signed at a modest cost, could be the steal of the Israeli basketball league season.
Steele's sophomore season at Alabama left NBA scouts drooling in anticipation and many considered him a surefire first-round draft choice, and possibly the best point guard in the country. His 14 points a game and four assists that year belie the full extent of his contributions. At age 20, he was already a cool, calculated floor general, who improved the play of the players around him. He was especially dangerous at crunch time as well as a lockdown defender. Steele considered leaving for the NBA but decided to return to school.
He played most of the following season with balky knees that made him a shadow of himself and later required surgery. He sat out the 2007-8 season before attempting a comeback last year, when he averaged 12 points a game in 15 contests and was probably overworked, logging more than 30 minutes a night. When it became clear in January that Steele was still far from 100% fit, he shut himself down for the rest of the season and his Alabama career.
Though clearly an NBA-level talent, Steele is now attempting to restart his career in Europe. Everything hinges on his fitness. According to Bnei Hasharon's new coach, Dan Shamir, "All the doctors' reports that we've received claim he's healthy. Bnei Hasharon has a long history of taking a chance on talented players with health problems, and patiently nurturing them."
Shamir has high expectations of Steele, if he is fit. He can play either guard position and will team up with returnees Erez Katz and Cookie Belcher. "Ron can do many different things for us and I expect him to fit in very well with our other guards," says Shamir. "Because of the fitness issue, we are getting a much more talented player than we could ever hope to obtain."
Steele falls into the limited category of true NBA-level talents like Anthony Parker and Haifa's Devon Jefferson, who for varied reasons like injuries or poor career decisions slip through the cracks and arrive in the Israeli league. If Steele reverts to his form of three years ago, he should be well worth watching.