Visiting American college basketball team Auburn put the hammer down early and often against the Israel Maccabiah team 117-56 as Bruce Pearl’s team dominated every facet of the squad’s first preseason matchup all the way to the final bucket. Six Tigers finished in double digits as freshman Yohan Traore scored 20 points in his debut while junior center Dylan Cardwell recorded a double-double with 12 electrifying points and 14 rebounds to go along with a trio of blocks in the victory.
With close to 1,000 fans in the Malha Arena stands, Auburn put on a show right from the get-go as they treated the crowd to plenty of dunks, defense and domination at both ends of the floor. Traore made his presence felt over the course of the first half while Jaylin Williams (9p) and KD Johnson (13p) controlled the tempo against an overmatched Blue & White squad to grab a 57-22 lead at the break.
The second half was more of the same for Pearl’s charges as freshman Chance Westry (13p), transfer Johni Broome (17p), Traore and an active Cardwell took care of business to the delight of the pro-Auburn crowd who couldn’t get enough of their new heroes. Roie Avneri (12p), Oz Lavi (8p), Omer Hamama (8p) and Daniel Guetta (8p) all tried their best to keep the result as respectable as possible for Israel but no matter both teams snapped selfies and spoke to the fans following the game as the two squads came together in prayer to end a spectacular evening of hoops.
Auburn’s Israel preseason tour billed as “Birthright for College Basketball” was put together by coach Bruce Pearl, who is Jewish, and Complete Sports Management’s CEO and founder Lea Miller. “Athletes for Israel,” headed up by Daniel Posner, has also partnered with the program and so far the trip has been a smashing success. The organization works to combat the dramatic rise in global antisemitism and advocate for positive messages of inclusiveness through professional and collegiate athletes and influencers.
“Athletes for Israel is an organization that we are going to hear more and more about. Like many of us of American Jewry, we want to have as many people as possible come and visit of all faiths. Just come and visit Israel."Bruce Pearl
The nonprofit’s director of operations, Gabi Sackett, helped ensure that the arena was set up perfectly for the Tigers as blue-and-orange pom-poms along with hundreds of fans in special Auburn shirts were able to give Pearl’s crew a welcome that they will never forget.
“Athletes for Israel is an organization that we are going to hear more and more about,” Pearl said. “Like many of us of American Jewry, we want to have as many people as possible come and visit of all faiths. Just come and visit Israel. That is their dream and that is their mission led by Daniel Posner. Together with Complete Sports Management and Lea Miller, who is doing a phenomenal job, and ESPN as a partner, if this week can be successful, a lot of teams will come to play in Israel.”
AS FOR THE game itself, Pearl was pleased with what he saw.
“I think the guys played pretty hard. I think they enjoyed playing together. The actions that Israel runs are hard to guard, so it forced us to communicate. Our size and athleticism helped us. The good thing about our situation is that we have a deep team. We can put 12 guys out there.”
One of the new players on Auburn’s roster is Frenchman Yohan Traore, who was pleased with his debut.
“Yes I was very happy,” Traore said. “Just playing defense and playing hard. Everybody passes the ball and we have to keep being unselfish. Coach was great as we can sometimes be tired and his motivation can really help.”
Dylan Cardwell, who looks to be taking on a bigger role in his third year at Auburn, also spoke about the team’s performance.
“I get my passion from God,” Cardwell said. “Today it was time to be a kid again. I want to thank the fans who were cheering for both teams, it was just fun. Once our energy picked up, we played strong and we had a lot of second chance points. I want to thank everybody else for missing shots so I could get them. That was the first double-double in my life, I think. It was fun. Hopefully, it’s not the last. That’s my job to go out there and rebound, play defense and play with energy. I’m just thankful to God and BP for putting me in a position to get a double-double.”
Many college players end up coming to Israel to play professionally. Pearl has made it no secret that he believes Cardwell would thrive in the Holy Land.
“Dylan is a great player,” Pearl said. “If he doesn’t play in the NBA, Israel would be great for him. He has Bible study, he walks the walk. I think with his size and his ability to move and rebound, I would love to see him play in Israel.”
Cardwell also spoke about the possibility down the line.
“I love Israel,” he said. “I want to bring my whole family here. Just seeing everything come to life I would love to visit. Israel is beautiful and I love everybody.”
As for the visit thus far, Traore has been blown away by the experience.
“It’s a lot of highlights and touring while getting close to God and learning about each other,” he said.
After the game, all of the players and staff from both teams made a circle at center court to pray together as brothers in arms, which meant a tremendous amount to an emotional Cardwell.
“The bible preaches unity,” he said. “Even though we competed against each other, we are all in it for one thing; we are all in this in unity. That meant the world to me. It shows basketball has no borders.”