Omri Casspi is getting used to making headlines. Just two months after becoming the first Israeli to play in the NBA, the Sacramento Kings forward has become a regular in coach Paul Westphal's starting line up, attracting massive media attention in the process.
Now Casspi has another accolade to add to his quickly growing resume - The Jerusalem Post's 2009 Israeli Sports Personality of the Year award.
Casspi said he felt "unbelievable" after finding out he had won the reader's poll, beating off a challenge from Israel national soccer team captain Yossi Benayoun.
Speaking to the Post by telephone from Sacramento this week, Casspi appeared humbled by the outpouring of support which swept him to victory in the online vote over the last two weeks.
"It's a great honor for me and I really appreciate it," he said.
"It's great to know and to see people appreciate what I do and the way I play. It's been an incredible year. Thank you."
The 22-year-old, who is averaging 11.8 points and 25.9 minutes per game, garnered 40 percent of the vote by readers of this newspaper and the Web site jpost.com, who chose him from a list of seven outstanding nominees.
Watch Casspi net 21 points vs. Sixers on Wednesday night
Liverpool midfielder Benayoun came second with 30%, followed by tennis sensation Andy Ram, who polled 12%.
Casspi's is one of five end-of-year sports awards announced by the Post today, as chosen by a sports department panel.
Also celebrating are Maccabi Haifa coach Elisha Levy who has been named Coach of the Year, gymnast Alex Shatilov who is our Young Sports Personality of the Year, Israel's Davis Cup tennis squad which has been named Team of the Year, and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt named our Foreign Sports Personality of the Year (see page 10).
But it is Casspi who has outshone all of his rivals with a consistent display of sporting excellence in recent months.
Since being drafted by the Kings in June, the ex-Maccabi Tel Aviv player has worked hard on his game, thrusting himself into the starting five and becoming a key member of the Kings squad which has revitalized Sacramento's love for professional basketball.
After an average showing in the Las Vegas Summer League, Casspi burst onto the NBA scene in October when he scored 15 points in his first regular season game.
His performance in the 102-89 home defeat to Oklahoma City on October 28 was far more impressive than most analysts had expected, and was followed up by improvement after improvement.
As the new Kings team began to click and start winning games Casspi stayed with it, exhibiting a maturity which put him at the forefront of Californian sports.
The young player admitted it has been difficult to adapt to the grueling schedule of four games a week, compared to playing only once a week in the Israeli league.
But, after playing 28 regular season games, Casspi has begun to show his true colors, holding his own against opponents including Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
Monday night's home victory over Anthony and the Denver Nuggets was another example of the massive strides made by the Kings since the start of the season, when Casspi played 36 minutes and scored 11 points.
"It's really really tough, playing a lot of games with very short timing between each other," Casspi said.
"Sometimes you play night after night against the best players in the world in the best league in the world. That's tough. I try to make adjustments all the time and I try to rest as best as I can. To control my body and prepare."
Casspi said he hopes this is only the start of a long NBA career, and who are we to argue.
The full interview with Omri Casspi will appear in Friday's sports section.
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