An Israeli hoops star in the Lone Star state

Wheelchair National Team member Amit Vigoda embarks on Texas stop in his inspiring journey.

Israeli teenager Amit Vigoda (#24) is studying at the University of Texas at Arlington while playing hoops for the school in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association.  (photo credit: USTA/COURTESY)
Israeli teenager Amit Vigoda (#24) is studying at the University of Texas at Arlington while playing hoops for the school in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association.
(photo credit: USTA/COURTESY)
Ben-Gurion Airport has been quite desolate over the last eight months since the outbreak of the coronavirus. This emptiness was especially noticeable in August, a month in which the travel hub is usually packed with tourists and Israelis on vacation. However, it seemed that the joy of the Vigoda family from the Southern community of Omar near Beersheba managed to fill it again.
This summer, Amit Vigoda said goodbye to his family in Israel and flew to the US to fulfill a lifelong dream. The nearly 18-year-old will be playing wheelchair basketball at Arlington University of Texas, where he will also study business administration.
The college which Vigoda is attending is considered a top-notch facility in disabled basketball and competes in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. Founded in 1949, the NWBA is composed of 181 wheelchair basketball teams within twenty-two conferences and consists of men’s and women’s, intercollegiate and youth teams throughout the United States and Canada.
Over the years, many players have left Arlington and gone on to start in the professional league in Europe, which has been Vigoda’s goal since he was little.
What playing hoops has done for Vigoda’s life is highlighted in a recent video he uploaded to Facebook, in which he discussed fitness and explained how the sport of basketball has given him a sense of belonging. He also has spent a lot of time teaching others to participate with a wheelchair, which is not a simple matter at all.
Vigoda, the youngest of three siblings, was born with a congenital non-connection problem of the tibia.  At the age of 11, after undergoing several surgeries to try to repair the bone, he underwent amputation of his leg and has since moved around with a prosthetic leg.
“When Amit came out of the surgery, I swore he would be no different from the other children, and Amit fought to make it happen,” said his mother, Zimra, to Shavvim, a website and forum designed to help people with disabilities integrate into media and communication.
Vigoda started playing basketball at a young age in the United States, where he lived for a time with his family, and when he came to Israel he started playing at the ILAN Sports Center in Ramat Gan.
“Today I declare victory in the name of mothers and fathers, uncles and aunts, foster parents and any other adult who raised a child who for some reason had difficulty in the education system,” Zimra wrote a few months ago in an online post she posted.
To her, the admission of her son to Arlington University is the end of a 17-year journey – “a sometimes-frightening journey, through four education systems, in four cities and two continents.”
“I just want to strengthen you, the adults who are raising a child, and dealing with a system in which nothing but the mainstream is considered outcast,” Zimra continued. “Today I thank the helpers and try to forgive those who have hindered [things] along the way. Do not give up and always believe in your child. Aim high. Come out safe and sound again – we all encourage you.”
During his time at ILAN Ramat Gan, Vigoda brought the team to great achievements and scored an average of 25 points per game. Lior Dror, the team’s coach, says that Amit is an inspiration to the young children at the club.
“I have no doubt that he will succeed in the United States,” stated Dror unequivocally. “The perseverance he had in coming to Ramat Gan four times a week is phenomenal. It shows his dedication. Already at the age of 12, I discovered him through an article made about him when he lived in the USA.  I told the family that when they returned to Israel, I wanted him to play for me and it paid off.  I have no doubt that he will be among the great players who will be recognized in Israel and around the world.”
The coach of the Israeli wheelchair basketball national team, Ariel Otolengi, also congratulated Vigoda on the next stage in his sporting career.
“I’m happy for any of our basketball players to play abroad, both in Europe and the US,” said Otolengi. “I congratulate Amit, our reserve player, on the fact that he will play in the United States, but also on the fact that he will study there. Studying in a different setting and training in a new and unfamiliar setting will only do him good. I’m sure Amit will enjoy the American experience, and his college friends will enjoy him. In my estimation, this will be a tremendous, constructive and rewarding experience for Amit.”
Last week, an online video of Vigoda went viral in which he made a one-handed half-court shot from his wheelchair. If the young hoops phenom’s career maintains its current trajectory, there will be plenty more highlights and memorable moments as Vigoda’s basketball journey continues to take flight.
This article was originally published in Hebrew by Shavvim. For more information on the organization, please visit www.shavvim.co.il.