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Few experts believed in Omri Caspi during his early days at Elitzur Yavne. But the "Diamond from Yavne" has done it the hard way, transforming himself into Israeli's leading candidate to make it to the NBA.
The road to success was not easy and the 19-year-old forward had to overcome numerous obstacles to burst into the spotlight. However, his standout perfomances for Israel in the Under-20 European Championship in July illustrated the depth of his potential.
Caspi enjoyed a breakout season last year, after going on loan to Hapoel Galil Elyon Golan. The dynamic forward was left out of the rotation at Maccabi Tel Aviv in the 2005/06 season and decided to prove his worth under the guidance of Oded Katash. The result was an amazing season, which launched Caspi's career.
The young star proved all critics wrong last season, dominating his opponents and leading Katash's side to the domestic Final Four. Caspi showed a newly found toughness in defense and a knack to shoot crucial match-winning clutch shots. He also played some physical basketball, dominating the boards like never before.
"I am aware of the expectations, but I try not to think about it too much," Caspi told The Jerusalem Post. "I prefer to concentrate on my duties on the floor. The [Israeli] BSL League is very competitive and you have to maintain the same level of intensity in every game in order to succeed. I always give it my best shot."
Showing that the success has not got to him, Caspi added: "I'm still trying to improve some aspects of my game. I take hundreds of three-pointers on a daily basis to improve my shooting range.
"Players in my position have to be consistent. I have to keep working hard in order to become a more complete player."
Caspi's impressive performances also earned him an invitation to the prestigious Nike Hoops Challenge in Memphis. The Israeli played his heart out and proved that he can hold his ground even against the best players in America.
The reliable DraftExpress.com is predicting a first round pick for Caspi in the 2008 draft.
But Caspi seems unimpressed with the interest he's drawing from overseas. He admitted that the training camp in the USA did wonders for his confidence, but still wants to prove himself in European competition. Caspi was not in the rotation during Maccabi Tel Aviv's last Euroleague triumph and is looking to change that.
The humble lad from the south is probably the most complete big-guy Israel has produced so far. Other NBA prospects such as Lior Eliyahu and Amit Tamir have also shown glimpses of potential, but lack the vast array of skills that Caspi boasts.
Caspi can play both forward positions and has a very versatile and polished game.
Despite his good form of late, most notably in the U-20 Euros in Slovenia, senior national team coach Tzvika Sherf chose to omit Caspi form his squad for the Eurobasket last-chance tournament that the national team is currently competing in. The young forward was obviously looking to be in the mix with his fellow teammates and was very disappointed to learn about his fate.
"I was a part of the junior national team earlier this summer," Caspi said proudly about his motivation to represent his country. "I can't say that I didn't want to be a part of the senior team squad, but I have no complaints. I'm sure the decision to leave me out was professional. The coach can always count on me in the future."
Putting his disappointment behind him, Caspi said he is focusing on the coming season.
"I'm looking forward to the new season with Maccabi Tel Aviv. My only goal now is to impress Oded Katash in training camp and earn a place in the rotation. I want to continue this positive run and improve as a basketball player."
Sherf, who is also the Maccabi Tel Aviv CEO, briefly addressed the issue a few weeks ago and said the team has no plans of loaning Caspi this season. It remains to be seen how the player will fit into a side loaded with NBA caliber forwards.
Over the summer Tel Aviv released Sharon Sasson to Hapoel Jerusalem, opening up a spot for Caspi. But the inspiring forward will have to fight for minutes with former Chicago Bulls star Marcus Fizer, former fan-favorite David Bluthenthal and also Lior Eliyahu.
But Caspi believes he is up to the challenge and he's more than willing to fight for the yellow-and-blue.
Coach Katash, one of Israel's greatest players, developed and promoted the player last season. Caspi is sure that another year under the Maccabi coach will work wonders for his game.
Caspi is now officially Israel's biggest NBA prospect.