Can Zoos reach the top of the mountain?

Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Israeli swingman suits up for Cleveland Cavaliers’ NBA Summer League squad

By JOSHUA HALICKMAN
July 4, 2019 23:21
Can Zoos reach the top of the mountain?

AFTER GOING unselected in last month’s NBA Draft, 21-year-old Israeli Yovel Zoosman still has high hopes of ascending to the top of the basketball universe. He is currently playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Summer League. (photo credit: DOV HALICKMAN PHOTOGRAPHY/COURTESY)

 
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There have been very few Israeli players who have graced the basketball courts of the NBA, with Omri Casspi, Gal Mekel and T.J. Leaf being the only three to date. However, Yovel Zoosman is trying to buck that trend as he takes part in the NBA Summer League with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Zoosman starred for the Israel Under-20 team in the European Championships last summer in Germany and took home the competition’s Most Valuable Player award as he led the blue-and-white to its first ever tournament win. This past season he played with Maccabi Tel Aviv, his second with the club, and began to really break out , averaging 7.4 points in roughly 24 minutes a game while pulling down 3.5 rebounds and dishing out 2.4 assists per game in Israeli league action.

During the playoffs, “Zoos”, as he is affectionately called, raised his game against Hapoel Tel Aviv in a derby quarterfinal series, in which he dropped 10 points per game while shooting 50% on three-pointers in a three-game sweep.

Right after the season in mid-June, Zoosman, who has already declared in April for the 2019 NBA Draft, headed to work out for a number of NBA teams, including the Philadelphia 76ers and Cavaliers. Upon his return to Israel on the day of the draft, he spoke about the experience of working out for top-level clubs.

“The practice sessions were very intense and they wanted to see how strong I was both mentally and physically,” he said. “I’m satisfied with what I was able to do and I did the best that I could this past season. I really want to play in the NBA.”

For the cool, calm and collected Zoosman, who is rarely emotional on the court, pressure didn’t play a factor at all.

“I didn’t feel any pressure at all,” he noted. “I’m confident in myself and I did the best that I could. The rest isn’t in my hands. If I am selected I would be very happy and if not then I will have plenty of motivation to continue on.”

The 21-year-old swingman was bypassed by all 30 teams over the two rounds of the draft on June 20 as he looked to be added to the blue-and-white list of NBA-drafted players, which has included Casspi, Leaf, Lior Eliyahu, Yotam Halperin and Doron Sheffer (Mekel went undrafted before signing on with the Dallas Mavericks in 2013).

But, alas, it was not to be. Zoosman had been projected to be selected somewhere between picks 50 and 60 (the final 10 picks of the draft), but other players were chosen in his stead.

However, immediately after missing out on being selected, Zoosman’s agent Nadav Mor was upbeat about his client’s prospects of one day making it to the world’s best hoops league. Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, More said that the “first thing we will do is rest and relax. It’s been a long season and a wild and exciting couple of weeks – from helping Maccabi win the championship, to the pre-draft NBA workouts to draft night. The motivation to play at the highest level is stronger than ever, and the dream is alive and well. The journey continues.”

With his defensive game and basketball instincts as desirable asset, the Kfar Saba native had a number of NBA teams looking for him to join them at the Summer League, one of which was the Cavaliers. After working out with them before the draft, and also due to the fact that the Cavs will field teams in both the Utah and Las Vegas leagues, it seemed like a natural fit for Zoosman to join new coach John Beilein’s squad.

Also in the Cavaliers’ mix is former Israeli agent Liron Fanan, who is the Director of G League Development for Cleveland, while her brother Regev will be the Summer League team’s athletic trainer, a role he also fills for Maccabi Tel Aviv. Indeed, there will be some familiar faces for Zoosman as he attempts to impress the Cavaliers brass.

So far, Zoosman has had mixed results in the Cavaliers’ first three Summer League games. After not playing in the first game, Zoos scored four points in 14 minutes in the second and went scoreless in six minutes in the third contest as he tries to showcase his wares.

Should Zoosman not be signed by the Cavs after the Summer League, he could be picked up by another NBA team and offered a non-guaranteed contract. From there, he can try to make the team’s roster during training camp or he can head back to Maccabi Tel Aviv, who would welcome his return with open arms.

Zoos still has two years remaining on his current contract with Maccabi, but it would most likely be renegotiated with more favorable terms.

Should he end up back with Tel Aviv, he could continue to gain experience, especially in the Euroleague, which would help mold him into a stronger and better player. With 30+ more games against the best in the continent, there’s no question that he will toughen up, obtain a better understanding of the game and be put in crucial situations that could help propel his career.

At the end of the day, Zoosman is taking every day in stride as each minute he spends in the NBA Summer League. No matter what transpires, being around the professional game in North America gives him more experience that he will be able to use as he continues to grow and develop as both a person and a player.

His path to the NBA may need to be navigated differently than that of the typical basketball player, but ultimately Zoosman has the same goal as every up-and-coming hoopster worldwide, which is to play at the highest possible level, because in his words, “it’s every child’s dream.”

Joshua Halickman, the Sports Rabbi, covers Israeli sports and organizes Israel sports adventures for tourists and residents (www.sportsrabbi.com) Follow the Sports Rabbi on Twitter @thesportsrabbi or feel free to contact the Sports Rabbi via email at sportsrabbi9@gmail.com.

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