casspi in action 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
At the time, there didn’t seem to be anything particularly special about the
2004/05 Maccabi Tel Aviv youth team.
It of course won the championship
the way any Maccabi team is expected to, beating Hapoel Jerusalem 91-79 in the
league final in Ramle on May 16, 2005.
Co-captains Gili Bash and Omer
Zamir lifted the championship shield, but as is the case with most accomplished
youth players, they both failed in their quest to become successful
Another starter, Daniel Gur Arie, has played in the BSL in
the past five years, the last three at Maccabi Ashdod. However, at 26 his career
is faltering rather than peaking after he averaged a mere 0.9 points in 6.1
minutes over 27 league games in 2012/13.
As for the two remaining
starters? They are set to face each other in the NBA next season.
of course assuming Omri Casspi finds a new team after becoming a free agent on
Saturday when his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers expired.
is expected to land a job in the best league in the world despite two
disappointing seasons in Cleveland. But his teammate in Maccabi’s youth side
eight years ago, Gal Mekel, has beaten him to it, already securing his place on
an NBA roster for 2013/14 after agreeing to a threeyear deal with the Dallas
Mavericks on Monday.
Mekel will be officially unveiled as a Mavs player
next week when the NBA’s annual moratorium on signings and trades is lifted on
July 10 after committing to sign a multiyear guaranteed contract at a league
minimum salary, which will still earn him almost $2.3 million over three
Casspi took the orthodox route to the NBA, being selected in the
first round of the draft by Sacramento in 2009 after two seasons with Maccabi’s
But while the forward has played in the NBA in the past four
years, two with the Kings before spending the last two in Cleveland, Mekel
didn’t even have a team at the start of the past season.
It’s not that
the guard, who celebrated his 25th birthday in March – three months before
Casspi – was short of offers, but none were of the caliber he was hoping
Mekel was holding out for a lucrative deal in Europe, but ultimately
he joined Maccabi Haifa until the end of the season, not making his first
appearance for the team until its seventh game of the campaign on November
Haifa may not have been his preferred destination, but the decision
to join the Greens ended up changing his life.
Mekel denied Maccabi Tel
Aviv the championship for a second time in four years last month, scoring 21
points and registering seven assists in a shock 86-79 win over the
yellow-and-blue, which signed him to a long-term contract in 2008 but never gave
him a real opportunity to prove himself.
Mekel, who also helped Hapoel
Gilboa/Galil to the league title in 2010, averaged 13.1 points, 6.8 assists and
2.7 rebounds in the post-season and shortly after leading Haifa to the
championship and being crowned as MVP, he left for the US and held extremely
impressive workouts with the Milwaukee Bucks and Dallas.
He also had an
offer for a guaranteed contract from Indiana, but the Mavs were the only team
willing to commit to a three-year deal and Mekel made his choice.
faces an equally difficult decision on where to continue his career.
averages of just 4.0 points and 2.7 rebounds in the 43 games in which he took
part last season, it is no surprise that there are those who are questioning if
Casspi will even be given another opportunity in the NBA.
continues to have his admirers in the league and is likely to find a
Although Mekel and Casspi took different routes to the NBA there
are similarities between the two which can help explain why they have achieved
such remarkable success.
Both are extremely talented, but it is their
character which truly separates them from the likes of youth teammates Bash,
Zamir and Gur Arie.
The unyielding determination to work on weaknesses
and eventually conquer them is something both Mekel and Casspi share and is the
main reason they will be playing in the NBA next season.
Both refused to
throw in the towel when the going got tough and never lost hope despite being
doubted by others.
Dreams don’t always come true, but they did for the
ambitious Mekel and Casspi, who continued to believe, and just as importantly,
work, when others would have given up.