Mekel, Casspi both earned their NBA place with lots of hard work

Sinai Says: They are set to face each other in the NBA next season.

July 3, 2013 02:31
3 minute read.
Omri Capsi in action against the New York Knicks

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 professionals.

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.

That is of course assuming Omri Casspi finds a new team after becoming a free agent on Saturday when his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers expired.

Casspi 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 years.

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 senior side.

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 for.

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 28.

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.

Casspi faces an equally difficult decision on where to continue his career.

With 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.

However, he continues to have his admirers in the league and is likely to find a team.

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.

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