Digging deep with Israel’s Shawn Dawson

Veteran guard discusses his return to Herzliya and National Team after three years in Spain

Israel national team players (from left) Amit Simhon, Shawn Dawson and Oz Blayzer (photo credit: RUSSIA BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION)
Israel national team players (from left) Amit Simhon, Shawn Dawson and Oz Blayzer

Israel will tip-off against Germany in Heidelberg on Monday night in the back end of a pair of home-and-home World Cup qualifiers after having fallen 71-67 in the first game on Friday in Tel Aviv.

The loss moved blue-and-white’s record to 2-1 after three games as Guy Goodes’s team was outclassed by Gordon Herbert’s squad with its size and physicality along with clutch three-point shooting from Robin Benzing and Justus Hollatz to take the four-point win.

Tomer Ginat’s strong play helped Israel grab an early lead, but Germany headed into halftime ahead 35-33. While Ginat continued to score for Israel, along with Nimrod Levi and Yam Madar, to put the hosts up 56-51 in the final frame, Hollatz and Benzing began nailing their shots from the outside to snatch the road win.

Israel’s Shawn Dawson scored five points after having rejoined the blue-and-white for the first time since 2017 when he took part in World Cup qualifying. During the gap between appearances, Dawson, who had won the Israel League championship with Maccabi Rishon Lezion in 2016 and then played for Bnei Herzliya until 2018, moved to Spain where he continued his career with Badalona.

However, a couple of devastating injuries cut his time in the ACB League short while also limiting his chances to play for the Israel National Team. But after returning to the Holy Land for this campaign with Herzliya and now coming off of winning the State Cup, Dawson is back and better than ever and he was a no-brainer for coach Goodes to bring back into the fold.

 SHAWN DAWSON (shooting) is back on the National Team and hopes to help the blue-and-white beat host Germany tonight in World Cup qualifying (credit: FIBA/COURTESY) SHAWN DAWSON (shooting) is back on the National Team and hopes to help the blue-and-white beat host Germany tonight in World Cup qualifying (credit: FIBA/COURTESY)

Dawson spoke with The Jerusalem Post about the challenges he had to face over the past few years, returning to play at the highest of levels, the development of the younger Israeli players, and returning to the Israel National Team as a veteran player.

“I feel good and I am always happy to come back to the National Team and represent the country,” said the 28-year-old guard. “It’s been a while and it’s great to be back. I have always felt that I have a lot to contribute to the National Team and I am in good shape right now. So I want to give of myself what I can and help the team win as many games as possible.”

The Eilat native will be one of the keys for Goodes to help unite a mixed group of players from veterans to newcomers.

“We haven’t had a discussion as to what my exact role will be, what my standing with the team is or what his expectations are,” noted Dawson. “Right now we are working on getting everyone up to speed in order to play with one another and making sure that we all know the system. We want to win these games against Germany and I will contribute what I can with what I get.”

With Dawson back in the saddle, he is also looking towards the possibility of not only playing in the qualifiers but also in this summer’s Eurobasket tournament.

“I very much want to play and it’s an incredible experience as well as a very important one. Advancing to the World Cup would be special, but to also be able to play in the European Championship as a veteran and experienced player who can potentially be one that has a chance to contribute a lot would be extraordinary.”

Dawson returned to Israel to continue his club career with Bnei Herzliya after a couple of tough injuries and didn’t get off to the start he had wanted to this season. But things came together quickly enough and he was able to help his team win the State Cup just two weeks ago.

“This was really something after having a slow start to the season and coming back from the injuries. So it was a ton of fun to all of a sudden be at that grand stage and to win something of historical nature just like when I won the League title with Rishon Lezion. It was really amazing.”

Herzliya GM Zufer Avdija was the one responsible for putting together the State Cup-winning team and has had a lot of influence on the club’s success in this campaign.

“He was once a player so he understands us. He is someone who we can talk to and sees things in a different light than the coaches or management. He has a lot of experience.”

Dawson’s coach with Herzliya, Oren Aharoni, has also done a superb job in molding the team into a well-oiled machine once understanding what needed to be done and getting over some growing pains.

“It took a bit of time to understand one another and we had a rough start,” said Dawson. “But now that is all behind us and we are in a much better place. The communication is going well and you can see that on the court as I am playing better and we are talking a lot.”

After winning the State Cup, Herzliya also finds itself battling it out for the top spot in the standings and the thought of a “double” is definitely something that Dawson is thinking about, despite the club losing guard Quinton Hooker for a few months with a foot injury.

 “Hooker’s injury is a tough one and he has been our starting point guard who contributes a lot. The question is how we can handle this challenge and if we will sign a player to take his spot or the rest of the players can pick up the slack during his absence. I guess we shall see.

“As for the double, as players, we want to compete and go as far as we can and that is our objective just like all of the other teams. We have shown the quality that we have as a team and that we are capable of beating any team in the league, so that is our goal, but there is still plenty of time. We have many games to go to ensure that we clinch a playoff spot and finish as high as we can.”

As a child, Dawson looked up to Allen Iverson but he also had a role model right at home in his father, Joe, who was a star player in Israel and helped Shawn get his feet wet on the basketball court as he helped him take his first steps as a basketball player.

“I began playing thanks to my dad as he was a player and I always went to his practices. We of course also had a hoop at home so I was always around the game of basketball. It was a huge advantage as he was very experienced and was a scorer as well just like I am today. We may not have played the same position as I am a guard and he was a forward, but he was a great help to me. Not only on the court but also on the mental side of the game and how to handle the injuries that I had or during times when things just aren’t going the way they should or not getting along with a coach or not getting minutes. Things like that.”

As Dawson moved up the ranks, he was able to win the league title for the team he had grown up in when Maccabi Rishon Lezion downed Hapoel Jerusalem in the 2016-Final-Four.

 “It was incredible and it added a tremendous amount for me because winning the championship was with the team that I had been groomed in and honed my trade. I arrived at Rishon as a 15-year-old and went through its youth department where I developed and improved year to year until we won a historic title and the first for the club. It was a dream come true for me, it was amazing.”

Dawson moved to Spain for the 2018/19 season where he got off to a great start until succumbing to an injury that limited his abilities over the following two campaigns.

“It was an experience – whether it was getting off to a dream start or getting hurt and going through the mental anguish as well as not getting many opportunities my final year. It was a very meaningful learning experience in my life.

“The injuries haven’t had any after-effects and I don’t even think about them when I’m playing and there haven’t been any problems since I’ve been back in action. I love the game, I’ve worked hard, I didn’t give up and I continued to believe in myself and that I would come back and be physically ready. I’m also happy that my confidence has remained the same and I’m still playing without fear. The injuries are far, far away. They happened and they’re done.”

Following the three years in the ACB, Dawson returned to Bnei Herzliya this season despite having wanted to stay in Europe.

“I was against the idea of coming back to Israel and wanted to stay in Europe. But after most of the summer had gone by and nothing came to be, I thought that perhaps coming back home would be what I needed and Herzliya was ready for me.”

Having played in the NBA Summer League in the past, Dawson has yet to play for one of the “big clubs” in Israel and hasn’t featured in the Euroleague yet. However, that is something he would very much like to do and believes that he is worthy of.

“Euroleague? For sure I believe that I can be there. The NBA has always been a dream, but as time goes by the chances of playing there are lower. You never know what will be in the future. As for my abilities and talent, I certainly think that I am capable, but that is not enough. You never know, I totally believe in myself.

“Playing for a big club definitely interests me and I also want to return to play in Europe as well which could all happen in the future. Right now I’m with Herzliya and we are having a great season and that is where the focus is.”

Dawson, who has experienced much throughout his career in Israeli basketball, also reflected on what he sees as the future of blue-and-white hoops.

“There’s a lot of talent and we’ve seen that the younger age groups in the National Team program have been very successful over the past number of years. But it’s hard to see the development of the Israeli player in league action due to the ability to field four foreigners on the court at once, which means Sabras are playing fewer minutes and are having fewer opportunities.

“There are more Israelis playing in the Leumit League, the second division, than in the Premier League where we are seeing fewer new names breaking through and who are succeeding in earning significant minutes and having the chance to make an impact. There are also many naturalized Israelis, which also reduces the minutes that young Israelis who grew up will be able to play.”