Young basketball star Dovrat dishes on hooping for Israel - interview

The young guard said he was excited for the opportunity to play for Israel's national team and hopes to lead the blue-and-white past Sweden.

IN ISRAEL’S 75-62 loss to Slovenia on Friday in their FIBA World Cup qualifier, 20-year-old guard Noam Dovrat had eight points and two assists in 16 minutes (photo credit: FIBA)
IN ISRAEL’S 75-62 loss to Slovenia on Friday in their FIBA World Cup qualifier, 20-year-old guard Noam Dovrat had eight points and two assists in 16 minutes
(photo credit: FIBA)

Noam Dovrat is one of Israel’s up-and-coming basketball stars.

Just this past summer he led the Under-20 squad to a fourth-place finish in the European Championships while also being named to the All-Star Five of the tournament.

Despite coming out on the wrong side of a 75-62 loss to Slovenia on Friday in World Cup qualifying, the 20-year-old guard, who is now playing with Hapoel Jerusalem after beginning his professional career at Maccabi Rishon Lezion, has a golden opportunity to lead the senior Israel National Team.

With the retirement of some of the veteran players, along with the unavailability of others due to NBA and Euroleague commitments, Dovrat has a chance to help guide the blue-and-white through the balance of 2023 World Cup qualifying with the two games now in the November window along with another pair on contests in February.

Just before Dovrat takes to the court against Sweden on Monday night, The Jerusalem Post spoke to the young phenom about the task at hand.

“I am excited as I always am when I have the opportunity to play with the Israel National Team. But this time I will have a leading role with the squad. Even though we don’t have a lot of time to get ready for the games, we will be prepared as best as we can to win.

ISRAEL TEAMMATES celebrate on the court at the Drive-In Arena in Tel Aviv after beating Estonia  96-77 to advance to the next round of FIBA World Cup qualifying. (credit: BERNEY ARDOV)ISRAEL TEAMMATES celebrate on the court at the Drive-In Arena in Tel Aviv after beating Estonia 96-77 to advance to the next round of FIBA World Cup qualifying. (credit: BERNEY ARDOV)

National Team coach Guy Goodes is someone very familiar to Dovrat as he coached him with Rishon at the start of his career in the top division. However, Goodes will be finishing his contract at the end of the qualification process and having so many new faces in the blue-and-white camp could present a challenge.

“We are coming into these games as almost an entirely new team, with new players and some others that have been part of the National Team before. We will all make the necessary adjustments as quickly as possible to this unique situation, but it’s not optimal. However, we do know each other and many of us here have played together before. We will need to build good on-court chemistry in the short time that we have.”

In July, Dovrat helped lead the Under-20 team to an impressive fourth place in the European Championships while averaging 17.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game. This competition was a big help for the Rishon Lezion native as it allowed him to play against players his own age and see how he would fare.

“We had a great tournament with the Under-20 team and it was fun to be with a lot of guys I hadn’t had a chance to play with in some time. The European Championships gave me confidence ahead of the new season and I really enjoyed playing there, which also allowed me to work on parts of my game and continue to improve. I had a very significant role and was one of the top players which was very important for my development.”

Immediately after the championships, Dovrat joined the senior Israel National Team training camp for the Eurobasket group stages in Prague, but ended up being one of the last cuts just before Goodes’s team left for the Czech Republic.

“I was disappointed as I wanted to be a part of the team, but they thought that they had the 12 players that would be able to do the best in the competition and I understood that it was a professional decision. I made sure that I would be available should they need me and I worked hard on my game and I will continue to work hard and hope that the national team will keep considering me to be a part of the squad.”

At the end of the last calendar year, Dovrat made a surprise move to Hapoel Jerusalem from Rishon and was able to turn over a new page in his young career.

“I think that this has done a lot of good for me. I went to a new team and had a new start. While we didn’t reach our goals and I didn’t begin and end the way I wanted to, everyone at the club welcomed me with open arms. I feel very good with the staff, players and management and the club is very family oriented and it’s fun to be around everyone.”

This season, veteran coach Aleksandar Dzikic took over the reins and has brought a new philosophy around the game of basketball, one that is different and one that the entire team is getting used to as the Reds strive to reach the upper echelons of Israel basketball. Dovrat has been seen having many conversations with the bench boss before, after and during the games as Dzikic looks to bring the best out of the Israeli starlet.

“I think he brings something different to the table and it’s something new for me both in practice and in the games themselves. It may not be totally different basketball, but there are some small things that he brings to the team. I feel that from game to game and practice to practice we keep learning each other more and more and I understand what he expects and vice versa.”

Over the past few games, Dzikic has started playing Dovrat alongside point guard Speedy Smith. This has allowed the Israeli’s offensive game to pick up, which has been very noticeable on the court and makes him that much more dangerous.

“I think I can play next to him and also play as a lead point guard. It depends on the type of game and the team we are playing. Anytime we are together, I am very happy to play with him and I am also very comfortable playing as the lead point myself as well.”

Last season with Jerusalem, former Israeli star guard Yotam Halperin coached the team after it let go Oren Amiel very early on in the campaign. Once Dzikic became available during the offseason, Jerusalem pounced on the opportunity to bring in the esteemed Serbian tactician and Halperin moved back upstairs in management, where he is in the role of professional consultant.

However, that doesn’t mean Halpern is no longer involved in helping guide Dovrat.

“I was able to learn a lot from Yotam last season as he was a guard as well and we are very similar in size and style. I was able to learn so much from him and he gave me confidence and allowed me to play my game. I really enjoyed the time we spent together and he is still around to talk with me, give me advice as well as tips as someone who sees my game from the outside, so to speak, and not from the bench.”

Dovrat has never made the fact that he would like to one day play in the NBA a secret and that is still something he is striving towards. But right now, he is focusing on his time in the here and now and making the best of the chances he has to continue to hone his trade and improve.

“I do believe that it is something that I can reach and my agent here and the agency that I am in contact with abroad are in touch with me and are following my progress. But right now I want to play as much as I can and when it will be realistic and closer to a possibility I will then be more focused on that goal. Right now, my focus is on where I am.”

Dovrat burst onto the scene at a very young age and has been in the public eye for quite some time, which is something that he very much appreciates.

“It’s fun that people know me and that they want me to do well. Many see me on TV and it’s great that I can act as a role model where children can see that one can reach the highest of heights in basketball. I very much appreciate the love, but I also have to keep all of that in proportion as I want to stay levelheaded, which my family and friends do a great job of making sure.”

As for dreams, Dovrat says that he has something that has always been in the back of his head.

“I want to reach the highest level of basketball that I can, but I really want to be able to hit a shot to win a championship. That is a dream of mine.”