College basketball has taken Israel by storm as both Arizona and Kansas State have been making an impact in Jerusalem and its surroundings since arriving in the Holy Land a few days ago.
Both Wildcat squads have seen some of the historic sites from the Old City of Jerusalem, the Western Wall, Yad Vashem, as well as Bethlehem, and the Church of the Nativity.
In addition, the pair of teams and staff along with Athletes for Israel Founder and Chairman Daniel Posner had a meaningful Shabbat dinner in the capital before beginning the new week on the court with some very special guests.
Following Coach Tommy Lloyd’s early Sunday morning practice for Arizona, the Wildcats welcomed a pair of local youth basketball teams – ASA Jerusalem and Elitzur Yavne – to the Malha Arena court for a joint training session where the young aspiring hoopsters had an opportunity to learn and practice with some of the best college basketball players.
The two teams came together in Israel thanks to Sylvan Adams as well as the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem. Adams aims to show the world what he calls “normal Israel,” tackling its often-negative portrayal in the media by revealing the beautiful reality of the country to large audiences around the world. He has promoted this concept by bringing world-class cultural and sporting events to the country.
Tamir Goodman acted as the facilitator for the joint practice and the “Jewish Jordan” had already taken part in programming with Arizona at a sumptuous Friday night dinner.
“Shabbat dinner was great,” exclaimed Lloyd. “Tamir was able to come and tell his story and Daniel Posner of AFI explained the significance of Shabbat and what it means to the Jewish people. The guys were able to learn about something that they had previously not known anything about.”
The practice began with each college player introducing themselves, as well as coach Lloyd, to the wide-eyed youngsters sitting in awe. The two sides split up into mixed groups and ran various plays on the court as there were plenty of laughs and smiles around the arena.
Adams was thrilled at the opportunity to share in this wonderful experience.
The joy of showing people the real Israel
“As I call myself the self-appointed ambassador for Israel, bringing first-time visitors here from a variety of backgrounds is part of my mission. This group of elite athletes will be able to see for themselves how different the reality is from their preconceptions, which are influenced by constant negative media coverage. Members of this group will themselves potentially become ambassadors for our warm and welcoming nation when they return home. We will continue to support events like these, which both build bridges while promoting the values of tolerance, understanding and excellence through sport.”
The head coach of the special team, Nadav Boker, talked about the importance of such an opportunity for his youth team.
“We have a group of 15-18 year olds here with us today thanks to Sylvan Adams, the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem and of course Athletes for Israel. We’re very fortunate to have the opportunity to have our guys train together with one of the premier college basketball programs in the US in Arizona. All of our players were so excited to have this rare, once-in-a-lifetime chance to be on the same court as such amazing athletes and we are all so thankful.”
Coach Lloyd also spoke about what such an event means to his team.
“It’s great for our guys to interact and meet young kids from different cultures and understand that they were just like them, with big dreams, big hopes and big aspirations, I’m happy that we can make that connection. “
Arizona center Oumar Ballo from Mali was having the time of his life out on the court with the children.
“When I was that young it was my dream to be able to play with guys in university and with future NBA players, I am happy that I can give back to these kids.”
As for the trip as a whole, Ballo has had an excellent time and pointed out the most meaningful part thus far.
“The trip has been so much fun. The city of Jerusalem is great and there is so much history here. Yad Vashem was the most moving part of our journey so far. It made me realize how much the Jewish people suffered, how much they had to go through as well as how much they are united and appreciate everything that they have.”
Lloyd reflected on what Ballo had mentioned about Yad Vashem.
“Oumar is a special individual. I spoke to Oumar after visiting the Holocaust museum and he is from Mali in West Africa and things like that have happened in Africa and have not been in the world news. One life lost is too many. For him to make that connection is really good and I think that continuing education for all of us is really important. I have been to Auschwitz and Dachau, but to come here and tie everything together was really powerful.”
“There are a lot of aspects to look at here. The American guys have not really traveled internationally and for them to come to Israel is really eye-opening. Not just from a historical and cultural perspective, but this is really a great place and not everything that you hear is necessarily true,” Lloyd noted.
After defeating the Israel Select Team 124-77 – with the Israel team being led by sensation Ryan Turrell who scored 30 points – it’s on to the United Arab Emirates for even more hoops.
“We’re in our offseason preparation, and I am looking for guys to gain experience together and be able to come together and connect as a group,” Lloyd said.
Lea Miller from Complete Sports Management, the company that put the entire trip together, sees the importance of linking Israel and the UAE parts of the journey.
“From the historical and educational perspective, to come to Israel and learn what it is and about and then to transition to the UAE and be a part of the Abraham Accords, which is one of the first peace treaties in many years between Israel and the Arab world, is incredible. This is an opportunity to understand through sports how historic this really is. Once in the UAE, both Arizona and Kansas State will be able to mingle with the USA World Cup Team and we will also be going to the US vs Germany game. They will also play a pair of exhibition games in Abu Dhabi and will be the first college basketball teams to ever play in the UAE.”
The lone question remaining is Arizona and Kansas State will find their school logo T-shirts in Arabic as they did find in Israel at the local market in Hebrew.
“That was cool,” noted Lloyd. “Before the trip my wife mentioned to me ‘remember when we had been here in Israel and saw all those university logo shirts,’ so to see that now was pretty cool and some guys also bought them.”