Karam Mashour wants his basketball to do the talking.
He understands the significance of being the only player of Arab heritage in the BSL. But the 25-year-old Bnei Herzliya forward is desperate to make a name for himself with his play on the court.
He could have hardly done a better job so far this season.
After being selected as the breakthrough player of the year last season, his first in Herzliya, Mashour has taken his game to the next level in 2016/17, staking his claim as one of the best Israeli players in the league.
The Nazareth native took the long route to success. He made his first steps in basketball on one of the only courts in his hometown, choosing a sport few of his friends had any interest in.
A lack of infrastructure and tradition in the sport mean few Israeli- Arab youth seek a future as professional basketball players.
Soccer tends to be their game of choice, with under 4,000 Israeli-Arabs registered with the Israel Basketball Association, and most of those being women and youth and not adult men.
Despite numbering more than a fifth of Israel’s eight million residents, only two Arabs, including Mashour, have played in the top division in more than a decade.
The first Israeli-Arab to play in the top division was Nizhar Dahi, who played for Maccabi Netanya during the 1987/88 season. There have been only three other Arab players in the first division since, with none achieving any sort of success.
That has all changed with Mashour.
When he was 18, Mashour followed the advice of his uncle, who lives in Las Vegas, and moved to the United States. He was offered a scholarship at Nevada-Las Vegas but after two seasons at UNLV he transferred to Morehead State.
He sat out one season, then played two more before returning to Israel ahead of the 2015/16 campaign.
Mashour’s NBA dream seems unlikely to become a reality, but he has become a force to be reckoned with in the BSL. He got his rookie season off to a slow start, but displayed a glimpse of his potential in a heavy defeat against Maccabi Tel Aviv, finishing with 25 points and seven rebounds.
Mashour’s play is one of the main reasons Herzliya has been one of the league’s pleasant surprises so far this season.
Herzliya is in third place in the BSL standings with an 8-4 record, winning six of its past seven games, including victories over both Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem.
Mashour, who has started all but one game, is averaging 14.2 points (third among Israelis) and 9.6 rebounds (third in the league) in 32.8 minutes per game. He already has five double-doubles this season, including in the win over Maccabi (16 points and 17 rebounds) and last week’s victory against Jerusalem (18 points and 12 rebounds).
He was selected as the Israeli player of the month in both November and December, missing out on the honor in the first month of the season in October by a single vote.
Herzliya went 3-1 in the BSL in December, with Mashour scoring at least 15 points in the wins and being held to seven points in the only defeat. He also had 21 points and 11 rebounds in the victory over Maccabi Rehovot in the State Cup round-of-16.
Mashour missed Saturday night’s quarterfinal in Jerusalem with a leg injury suffered in the league win over Hapoel, and his absence cost Herzliya, which struggled in a 68-56 defeat.
“It feels really good to be selected as the Israeli player of the month,” said Mashour. “I will continue to work hard and remain humble. This honor belongs to the entire team. We are playing like a cohesive unit and our mission is to continue winning.”
Mashour is set to sidelined for two more weeks, but he has become such an important player for Herzliya that his place in the rotation will be waiting for him when he returns.
Mashour’s play hasn’t gone unnoticed by Israel national team coach Erez Edelstein, with the forward being called up to last summer’s Israel B roster.
The team only played friendly games due to the blue-and-white’s automatic qualification for Euro- Basket 2017 as one of the hosts, but the historic moment was not lost on Mashour.
“I was very excited,” said Mashour after becoming the first Arab to play for Israel’s senior national basketball team. “It is a great honor to play for the Israel national team. I just want to help the team win like any other player.”
Mashour has tried to distance himself from all the talk regarding his ethnicity.
“I don’t represent anyone other than Bnei Herzliya,” he said in an interview last year. “In basketball there is no religion. You just play the game. I don’t care about anything else and I’m not anyone’s representative.”
Whether he likes it or not, Mashour’s background will always be an issue. It has not earned him any shortcuts though.
Mashour’s rise to the top is well deserved, and if he continues at his current rate, there is plenty more still to come.