A whole new world for returning players

Hapoel Beersheba’s Israeli-American captain Spencer Weisz documents his travels, excited to hoop

SPENCER WEISZ returned from America once the Israeli basketball season announced it was resuming the season, and the Hapoel Beersheba guard can’t wait to get back on the court for game-action next month (photo credit: DOV HALICKMAN PHOTOGRAPHY)
SPENCER WEISZ returned from America once the Israeli basketball season announced it was resuming the season, and the Hapoel Beersheba guard can’t wait to get back on the court for game-action next month
(photo credit: DOV HALICKMAN PHOTOGRAPHY)
“I’d been pretty skeptical that the league would return to action because of the media frenzy and health scare around the coronavirus, but here we are just a few weeks out from playing our first game,” began Spencer Weisz, Hapoel Beersheba’s captain just days after landing back in Israel as the Israeli basketball league gears up to resume play in June.
Numerous American players landed this week in the Holy Land as preparations began in earnest to complete the 2019/20 season. New and old faces flew back from Newark for the chance to do what they love – play basketball.
Weisz, who is in his third year in the top division and holds dual Israeli and American citizenship, went to Princeton where he captured the Ivy League title in his senior year while also being named the 2017 Ivy League player of the year. The 24-year-old guard also featured for the blue-and-white in international play and is one of the country’s up-and-coming stars.
“I wasn’t sure if everyone would be able to coordinate the league coming back, but I had seen the charts where Israel was right at the top in knowing how to combat the virus,” said Weisz to The Jerusalem Post this week. “The country had been ahead of the game compared to the rest of the world in terms of getting things under control and seeing how the stay at his orders had been effective.”
With that in mind – and with the Israel soccer leagues being able to resume their season – basketball also looked hard to find a way to get back to work as well.
“Over the last few weeks a list of items had been checked off, from the Ministry of Health to the Israel Players Association, and it looked like slowly but surely that it was going to be pulled off,” noted Weisz. “I had seen the rumblings on Twitter about the potential return of the league and had been in touch with my agent about what the process might be and he said that there is a definite possibility that the league will return to action.
“Then I spoke to people from the team and they said it is coming to fruition and it’s going to happen. I had a lot questions that were health related as well as financial and what the process would be to come back. Once things got squared away a week ago, I was looking for the first flight out of America to begin my quarantine process. The team booked the flight and I’ve been here since this past Saturday.”
The 6-foot-4 (1.93-meter) New Jersey native stayed with his parents since returning from Israel in March just as COVID-19 was spreading like wildfire throughout the western world.
“I had been at home in New Jersey for the last two months with my parents as sister who was living in New York City which was the epicenter of the virus. I didn’t see any friends and I only went out for essentials. It was a tough go, but the silver lining was that I was able to be with my family the past couple of months, which was certainly great.”
Returning to Israel was quite the surreal experience for Weisz, but he had already had a taste of what was waiting for him.
“I had already been acclimated to the situation when I flew back from Israel to New Jersey in March. There was no one at Ben-Gurion Airport, we were the only flight and none of the stores were open, so I had an idea of what Newark was going to look like when I was about to fly out. Everyone had masks on and while gloves were optional, there were actually more people than I thought would be traveling in the airport, however, not nearly as many on a normal day prior to the coronavirus.
“Everyone had their own row on the airplane, which wasn’t empty, but there weren’t that many people, perhaps 75-100. We all had to wear a mask the entire flight and everyone was super courteous in keeping space due to the situation as no one wanted to step on anyone else’s toes. It was quite the flying experience that I will always remember due to the unique circumstances, but now I’m glad to be back in Israel at my apartment getting back to some semblance of normalcy and being able to play basketball.”
There were a couple of other players on the plane, both of which who currently play for Hapoel Gilboa/Galil, the team where Weisz made his professional debut.
“Mike Young and Tim Coleman were both on my flight. I’ve known Mike for some time as we played against each other from our AAU days and from high school, while Tim is also from New Jersey and we had a number of mutual friends. We talked about the situation and we were all on board that it was exciting to play basketball again and getting back to the normalcy that was before the virus.”
“Once we landed we had to lineup to get our temperatures taken and the officials asked if we had any symptoms which I had not and that was followed by completing a form stating where I would be located for the 14-day quarantine. I met a member of the Beersheba team and then made our way to the city and back to my apartment that I had loved in prior to the pandemic.”
Some foreign players decided not to return to Israel for one reason or another, which forced teams to find new ones to fill their places. One of those players happens to be someone that Weisz is very familiar with.
“I’m extremely excited to have one of my closest friends and Princeton Tigers teammate, Amir Bell, join the squad. It’s an amazing feeling to be able to play with him again after three years in college together where we won an Ivy League Championship. We had great chemistry on the court and now we will have a chance to show what Princeton basketball is all about to the people of Israel.”

Of course, signing new players presents challenges in a regular preseason, but the abridged nature of the situation means the challenges are even greater for every team.
“There were big changes that were made and a lot of new foreigners will be featuring to end the season. The most important factor will be who can find chemistry the quickest. There’s talent throughout the league and now it’s about honing it and getting in sync with each other before the games begin on June 20. It’s like a fresh start and a brand-new season for us. The standings are so close and a game here or there will make waves. If we play good basketball anything can happen.”
With the Israeli league being only one of two that will be playing in June (Germany returns to action on June 6), basketball aficionados from across the globe will cast their eyes towards the Holy Land to get their hoops fix.
“The fact that we can play basketball is incredible, but to have all eyes on us from around the world is going to be a great opportunity for the league to show what we are all about. I know all of my friends and family in the United States are eager to see the games begin and they’ll have some live sporting events to watch. It’s a chance for the league to make its mark and show off the talent that we have here. I’m sure excited to get going and give people some sense of normalcy during these tough times.”
One thing that is certain is that getting back to business will be tons of fun for everyone, but what will be the key to success?
“It’s going to be challenge and it’s going to be fun; that’s why we play the games. There will be ups and downs, but whoever hits the ground running together will have the best chance to win some games.”
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 at sportsrabbi9@gmail.com.