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(photo credit: )
By virtue of leading upstart Maccabi Rishon to the BSL Final Four and being among the most explosive offensive players in the league, forward Omar Sneed has been selected The Jerusalem Post's 2005/06 BSL Most Valuable Player.
Sneed led Rishon and was among the top 10 in the league in the three major statistical categories, averaging 18.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game. His play propelled Rishon to a 17-13 record and a surprising third-place finish in the regular season.
"It means a lot to me to come from where I was last year and to branch out on my own to be the leader of a young team and to be an MVP candidate this year," Sneed said. "It means a lot to my team, too. Without them, I definitely couldn't have done it."
Sneed edged Maccabi Givat Shmuel's Timmy Bowers and Hapoel Jerusalem's Mario Austin, who finished second and third, respectively, in the closely contested voting.
"Off the floor, they're great people and on the floor you're talking about two very talented young guys," said Sneed of his counterparts. "For me, Mario is the best of the best of the big men in Europe. Tim is one of the great guards in Europe, too. He came on pretty late, but he has great talent. The amazing thing is those guys went to school together [at Mississippi State University]. I would've hated to play against them in college."
Among the factors that saw Sneed gain the award was that he played his best against the best. He averaged 18.7 points and eight rebounds in three games against Jerusalem, and 21.7 points and nine rebounds in three contests against Maccabi Tel Aviv.
"It's not on purpose, I try to do the best I can against anyone," Sneed half-joked. "I feel overlooked in some instances. The guys on Maccabi and Jerusalem have achieved great things in their careers, so I feel a sense of urgency every time I play them to prove to myself and to my teammates that we can play with these guys."
While two of Rishon's three games against Maccabi resulted in wins, all three against Jerusalem resulted in losses, a trend that Sneed hopes he can help reverse Tuesday night.
"Jerusalem is the only team we haven't beaten," Sneed pointed out. "They match up well against us. Even the guys off the bench can be starters on any other team in this league.
"The only thing we can do is come in with our game plan and not back down. For us, we don't have anything to lose, only something to gain. That's what makes us dangerous. On any given day we can compete with anyone. We're going to go in there with a load of confidence, but it's going to be one of the toughest games of the year."
For Rishon to advance to the finals, Sneed will undoubtedly need to be at his best, not only in terms of the stat sheet, but also as a team leader.
"In Rishon, I'm the rock. I give my guys all the confidence," he said.
He attributes his newly fine-tuned leaders hip qualities to Guy Goodes, who earned The Jerusalem Post's Coach of the Year honor.
"When I first got here, Guy called me down a lot, taught me how to be a leader," Sneed said. "I was always concerned about getting myself together. Up until this point I never had to be a leader so much, a vocal guy talking to guys off the floor. He taught me how to read situations on the floor. That's been the biggest thing for me in my career.
"What's so great about Guy is that he was a player, and he understands from a player's perspective. He's very easy to talk to; it's almost like talking to another player and a teammate. He listens to your suggestions, which makes the job a lot easier."
The 30-year-old Sneed, a 1.98-meter cornrowed University of Memphis graduate, had numerous personal highlights throughout the regular season. He scored a season-high 31 points in a 116-111 triple-overtime loss to Givat Shmuel on April 23. He grabbed a season-high 16 rebounds in an 85-62 win over Ramat Gan on January 22, and he dished out a season-high 10 assists in an 88-76 win over fellow Final Four participant Ironi Nahariya on January 8.
His seven double-doubles ranked fourth best in the BSL, but it's the intangibles, said teammate John Gilchrist, that Sneed brings to the table that make him even more valuable.
"He's been unbelievable in all our games," Gilchrist said. "He's carried us emotionally, he's really pumped the team up when we needed it, and he just comes every day and works hard.
"He really wants to win more than the opponent, and you know he's going to give 110 [percent] every time he plays, and you feel comfortable that you've got a guy that's going to go to war with you night in and night out. He can make the big shots, and he doesn't shy away from the moment."
Sneed will get his shot to shine in the moment by starting at forward Tuesday night for Rishon's semifinal against Hapoel Jerusalem at Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv. Tip-off is slated for 6:25 p.m., and the game will be followed by the other semifinal, Maccabi Tel Aviv vs Nahariya, at approximately 8:50 p.m. The semifinal winners meet for the BSL title on Thursday.