(photo credit: FIBA EUROPE/ COURTESY)
With this season’s NBA Draft just behind us, the question remains who will be the next Israeli in the world’s best league?
The answer perhaps is Tomer Levinson. Levinson is a unique talent coming out of Israel and his goal is to play basketball at the highest level – the NBA. The budding star has not only taken part in the Jordan Classic and the NBA’s “Basketball Without Borders” camp that took place in Israel last summer, but also featured for Israel at the Under-18 European Championships Division B competition last year as well.
To top that off, Levinson was named the “Most Talented Player” at the 2018 Albert Schweitzer Tournament that was held in Germany last month when he again represented the blue-and-white.
There’s no question that the Be’er Ya’acov native who stands at 6-foot-9 (2.05 meters) and weighs in at 205 pounds (93 kilograms) has all of the intangibles and is on the right trajectory to potentially be a first round pick in an upcoming NBA Drafts. The most interesting part of Levinson’s development is that he’s playing abroad as a 17-year old who left his family and home in Israel to hone his skills in Osijek, a town in eastern Croatia a couple of hours away from Budapest and Belgrade.
Why would anyone go to Osijek? And is it really a hotbed for basketball? A small town of roughly 100,000 residents, the city has seen better days, but it has been undergoing a recent renaissance.
“I realized that I wasn’t going to get enough playing time in the Israeli first division,” said Levinson. “I had previously received an offer from Partizan Belgrade, but at the time it did not feel like it was the right opportunity. Later on we had a national team tournament and we played Croatia where I played really well although we lost. That’s where Osijek showed even more interest. They were the first to make me an offer last summer, so I went for it.”
But who is Levinson and where did he come from? What are his aspirations and goals? Where did his love of basketball come from?
“I really enjoyed watching the older children shooting the ball in the basket and I fell in love with the sport,” he said. “When I was growing up, I was always much taller than everyone else my age, so it was a fun sport for me to play as well. As I got older I watched more and more basketball and I really liked it.”
Ness Ziona has always been home for the youngster, and he always experienced support from his family.
“I went to a high school near my house. My parents and grandparents would always be at my games whether it was in the north of south of the country, they never missed one. They are really supportive and hope that my dreams will come true.”
Scouts began to take notice in Levinson and his uncanny ability as a unique hoopster and he was invited to one of the most exclusive tournaments in the world.
“I took part in the 2015 Jordan Classic and I played really well. I ended up being the top scorer and that made a lot of people take notice of my basketball abilities.”
The youngster has also featured for his country, where he’s been able to share many great moments with a tight knit group of guys.
“I had experiences that will be with me for the rest of my life with the national team.”
In 2016, Levinson played for the Under-16 Israel national team averaging 14.6 points while leading the blue-and-white to the silver medal, and last summer he dropped 14.1 points a game in a fourth-place finish for the Under-18 team. This summer he’ll once again represent his country in the Under-18 Group B European Championships in Macedonia.
“The national team to me is not only fun but one of the most important parts of the year. Each summer I have the opportunity to represent my country, represent Israel with the same guys who are my best friends whether it’s Ofek Malca, Yair Kravitz or Tomer Porat. I wear the blue-and-white jersey with the greatest pride.”
In March, he helped Israel to finish in sixth place in Germany, which included a win over the United States and a 4-3 record overall.
“I believe that we played well as a team and were able to record some nice results as we were able to gel together as a team and create chemistry.”
Levinson would end the competition with a 12.7 points per game average while also pulling down 5.3 rebounds a game and leading the team in scoring against Japan and Turkey.
“On a personal note, I had a good tournament despite not coming in at 100% due to an injury and didn’t practice as much as I would have liked with the team. I also had the honor of receiving the “Most Talented Player” award and I have no doubt that the credit for that also has to go to all of my teammates.”
With the Israeli native now plying his trade in Osijek, Levinson spoke about his game play to date in the Croatian town.
“The positive thing about Osijek is that the coach [Vladimir Krstic] gives me a lot of advice and help. He told me that I don’t necessarily have to play the center or power forward. He told me I can play small forward with my set of skills. The coach is also the assistant coach of the Croatian national team. He was a Euroleague player for Zagreb and he has been giving me the tools to succeed. I also have many private practice sessions to improve myself as well. I have had some pretty good games lately and my minutes continue to increase.”
Levinson puts in hours and hours of work to continue to improve his game and he hopes that it will pay off ahead.
“I hope to keep moving my career forward. I’m looking forward to the national team tournament this summer and I need to keep working hard if I want to reach the top of the top.”
It may be lonely at times in Osijek without any family or childhood friends, but ultimately Levinson is driven to make sure he gets the best tools possible in order to succeed.
“I personally saw that in order to improve I needed to be in Osijek opposed to Israel. The rules in Israeli basketball create a situation that not many young Israeli players can receive important minutes during the actual games. I believe that coming to Osijek was the correct decision at this point in time. I have many friends who are on the team and they are all helping in my quest to succeed.”Joshua Halickman, the Sports Rabbi, covers Israeli sports and organizes Israel Sports Adventures for tourists and residents. Follow the Sports Rabbi on Twitter @thesportsrabbi or visit www.sportsrabbi.com. Contact the Sports Rabbi via email at firstname.lastname@example.org