There’s no question that Ryan Turell turned plenty of heads in his Holy Land hoops debut this week for the Israel Select Team against Arizona and Kansas State, by dropping 30 and 32 points, respectively.
The US-born swingman was the star of the show as he received oodles of ovations from the partisan crowd of over 1,000 fans made up of expats and Israeli hop aficionados at the Hadar Yosef National Sports Center in Tel Aviv.
Turell, who is currently playing for the NBA’s Detroit Pistons G-League franchise, the Motor City Cruise, is attempting to become the first Orthodox Jew to play in the World’s Best League after having featured for Division III Yeshiva University in New York.
Standing at a slender 6-foot-7, Turell was able to showcase his shooting abilities from long range and within the arc as he was cheered after each and every bucket, whether it was a 3-pointer, deuce, or even free throw.
A number of local Israeli coaches, from Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Tel Aviv, and Hapoel Haifa, as well as agents and scouts, looked on intently as they all watched Turell, who could make Aliya via the Law of Return and become a naturalized Israeli.
“It’s truly a blessing, as it’s always been a dream of mine to play in Israel. To come out here with Athletes for Israel is really special,” Turell told The Jerusalem Post following the game.
A non-profit, Athletes for Israel is working to combat the dramatic rise in global antisemitism and promote a positive narrative about Israel by bringing professional and collegiate athletes to the Holy Land. AFI is credited for bringing not only Turell, but also the full college squads of Arizona, Kansas State (this year), and Auburn (last year) to the country.
The final score of the game against Arizona was quite telling at 124-77 for the Wildcats, and not unexpected as the university is ranked 11th overall in the United States in the most recent ESPN preseason poll, along with the fact that the Israeli team were a collection of players from around the nation and are playing at varying levels.
However, against Kansas State, the Israeli crew played its second Wildcat opponent toe-to-toe before ultimately succumbing 94-87.
“We got put together like a week ago so it was really tough,” explained Turell. “Once we got going, we got going, but it was tough to get that chemistry in one week. Overall, I would have liked to put up a better game as a team. If we had more time together we could have played a better game. But we showed some good stretches and it was great to have all the fans come out and support us. Arizona is a powerhouse and is a really well-coached, talented team and I hope nothing for the best for them. I think they can win the national championship this year.”
There had been questions including, from this author, if Turell, who was recently featured in Amazon Prime’s “Destination NBA: A G League Odyssey,” could play in Israel’s top league and those seemed to have been answered with his performance. Many fans finally were able to see the California-born hoopster live and in person instead of YouTube and various streaming services on the web.
Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd, whose team is made up of both international and American-born players, has seen quite a bit in his many years in the business, feels that Turell has some intangibles that will help him as he strives to reach his goal of playing in the NBA.
“He is a really good player and he’s making an adjustment having played D-III. He is very comfortable having a heavy workload and being a high-volume guy, which is a great skill to have, and with that comes confidence.”
“What I noticed about him is that he is very opportunistic. He had a few really nice individual offensive plays, but a lot of his points were after he got a loose ball and put it in. Things like that you have to have a knack for and it’s a skill. I’m excited, as this is the first time I’ve seen him play and I’m glad he played well for us and I’m excited to see what he can do in the future.”
Light-weight and silky smooth
His shot is silky, his craftiness is unparalleled and his attitude is addictive. There are plenty of clubs in Israel, including the National Team, that could use a naturalized Ryan Turell right now as the 2023/24 season is about to begin.
Of course, Turell also needs to put on some upper-body muscle in order to be able to withstand the pressure and intensity of European basketball, whether it’s the Euroleague, EuroCup, or Champions League.
Weighing in at only 190 pounds can make him an easy target for the opposition on offense while creating difficult matchups on defense. However, there are a number of D3 players who have been able to make that jump, both shorter and taller, whether it has been Maccabi Tel Aviv captain John DiBartolomeo as well as Willy Workman.
“Regardless of what happens NBA-wise, it’s always been a dream of mine to play in Israel and play for Israel,” Turell noted when asked about potentially playing in the Promised Land and perhaps even Maccabi Tel Aviv as he wore yellow-and-blue for the Select Team.
“That’s definitely something down the line. As for Maccabi, possibly. Any team out here, but [Maccabi] are such a prestigious team and such a well-cultured team it would be a blessing, for sure.”
The Israeli league and G-League are very similar in style and in the pace of play, and in that sense, Turell could fit in fairly easily in places like Kiryat Ata, Eilat, Beersheba, and even Haifa, but for the top-level teams, he’s still a work in process.
Can he make that jump to those teams or can he make the giant leap to the NBA? Certainly, it will work, work, and yet more hard work, and that’s something the modest Turell seems to have plenty of - ethic, drive, and desire.
“That’s the goal - to make the NBA. I have to put in the work and take it one day at a time. Anyone can look at a dream and look at a goal and say ‘It’s too far or too hard.’ But if you take it one day at a time you can achieve that goal. Absolutely [I feel I can make it next year,] but I am just going to keep working hard to try and get there.”