For Na’ama Shafir, setting precedents has become somewhat of a
Hailing from the religious community of Hoshaya in the Lower
Galilee, Shafir went against all conventions by choosing to chase her dream of
becoming a professional basketball player while maintaining her devout way of
Eleven days ago, the 21-year-old recorded yet another first,
leading the University of Toledo to a 76-68 victory over Southern California in
the Women’s National Invitation Tournament championship game, guiding the
Rockets to their first ever title with a career-high 40 points.
15th time this season – and as she has done throughout her three years in Toldeo
– Shafir walked to Savage Arena, as it was still Shabbat. While her teammates
gave interviews to the media and signed autographs, she was preparing to make
the 20-minute stroll back home.
Shafir is adamant on practicing her
religion while doing all she can to realize her potential on the basketball
court, agreeing to play for Toledo only after receiving assurances that she
would be able to maintain her Kosher diet and wear a t-shirt under her
UT coach Tricia Cullop agreed to make sacrifices, including
scheduling workouts all season long around Shabbat, practicing on Friday
afternoons before sundown and Saturday nights after sundown, so that Shafir
could balance playing basketball with being a student and a religious
Cullop would not regret that decision.
“She’s as good as they
come, and I think tonight she showed she’s one of the best guards in the
country,” Cullop said after Shafir earned tournament MVP honors for her 40-point
display, which included 23 points in the second half. “She was unstoppable. She
had that will and desire that she wasn’t going to let this go the other way.
Na’ama has shown that at times when we’ve needed her the most.”
who is believed to be the first female Orthodox Jew to earn an NCAA Division I
scholarship, had her doubts before deciding to move to the US, but she now
relishes every moment in college.
“After discussing my options with
different people I decided that I had to give it a shot. I knew that this was an
opportunity I had to take and that it was now or never,” she told me last week.
“I’m not sure how they heard of me but from the first time I spoke to them they
sounded like they really wanted to help.
“It is an amazing experience. At
the beginning it wasn’t simple, but everyone helped and welcomed me very warmly.
I’m very happy I made this decision, especially from a basketball standpoint. It
is amazing to play in front of thousands of fans.”
Cullop was alerted to
Shafir’s talents by a friend who sent her a DVD of a few of Na’ama’s games for
Israel’s under-18 national team, and the coach believes her point guard has
helped her team in more ways than one.
“It would be easy for her to say,
I’m away from home, I’ll eat whatever, I’ll practice over Shabbat,” Cullop said
when Shafir first joined Toledo. “It’s to be admired that she said, ‘this is
what I want to do.’ My team admires what she’s doing. She’s a great example of
someone who is sticking to their guns and doing what they
Shafir credits her teammates and coaching staff for allowing
her to make a smooth transition and achieving such success.
“I’m sure it
was slightly strange for them at the start,” she said. “But they were very
interested, and now they have gotten used to it and do all they can to make life
easier for me.”
Shafir, who averaged 15.3 points, 5.1 assists and 3.4
rebounds in 30.8 minutes this season, feels that her game has significantly
progressed over her three seasons in Toledo, but she still has no idea what she
will do when she graduates with a Business Management degree in the spring of
“I’ve really improved. I can’t really put my finger on exactly
what, but I’m a much better player overall. My shooting and understanding of the
game have improved and I’m a much more mature player,” she said.
one more year in Toledo and I really have no clue what I’ll do after
I’m not thinking of that yet. I believe that I’ll continue with
basketball but I have no idea exactly how and where.”
Like each of the
past two years, Shafir will return to Israel in the coming summer, but this time
she will be doing so not just to spend time with family and friends, but also to
join the senior national team in its preparations for EuroBasket Women 2011 to
be played in Poland in June.
Israel’s Group B opener will be played
against the Czech Republic on June 18, which happens to be
However, Shafir has found her way to combine tradition and
sports and is happy with the balance she has achieved.
“I first played on
Shabbat for Israel’s youth teams and I’ve gotten used to it. It really isn’t a
big deal for me to walk to the arena and back,” said Shafir, who stays with a
teammate in a hotel near the arena when Toledo plays on the road.
people around me are very supportive, but I’m sure that there are people who
don’t agree with me 100 percent.
However, I asked people I trust and I’m
at peace with what I’m doing. I try to listen to those who support me rather
than those who criticize.”
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