Figuring out the foreign-player rules in Israel

Tricky maneuvering for clubs as they try to navigate the complicated system of employing imports

MACCABI TEL AVIV forward Quincy Acy (left) and Hapoel Beersheba’s Da’Sean Butler (right) are two foreign players who make a big impact on their Israeli teams. (photo credit: DANNY MARON)
MACCABI TEL AVIV forward Quincy Acy (left) and Hapoel Beersheba’s Da’Sean Butler (right) are two foreign players who make a big impact on their Israeli teams.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
The Israel Basketball Winner League just ended its first round of games and while there was plenty of great action on the court, there was some off of it as well.
Every year close to 80 foreign players or “imports” are signed by the 12 teams, but many never make it to the end of the campaign for one reason or another. In some cases a player may get injured and is then replaced with another, while in other cases a player just doesn’t fit into the team that the coach is building. Occasionally a player may get an NBA contract offer or an upgraded opportunity with a more prestigious team.
Each club is allowed to register up to eight foreign players per season in domestic league action and there needs to be at least one Israeli player on the court at all times during the course of a game. In addition, the league pays bonuses to teams that play with less than five foreigners on their roster, but some clubs have found that competing or even staying afloat with less is difficult.
There is already one team that has replaced all of its foreigners and has registered a total of eight imports – which means it won’t be able to add another should there be an injury or two – while another team had two foreign players who have featured only in Europe and have yet to be registered for domestic league play.
Sounds confusing? Let’s take a look at some of the fascinating import storylines we’ve seen so far this year. Make sure to get your scorecards ready!
Hapoel Tel Aviv began the season with four foreigners – Malcolm Griffin, Rodney Purvis, Desi Rodriguez and Demetrius Treadwell – who were all presented at the club’s Media Day back in September, but none remain as the first three were released due to not fitting into coach Ariel Beit Halachmi’s system while Treadwell was injured and will be out for the balance of the season.
In came a trio of players with prior Israeli league experience in Mark Lyons, Jordan Hamilton and Lenzelle Smith Jr. and out went the inexperienced ones that had never significantly featured in the Holy Land before.
However, what happened next was even more bizarre. The Reds signed David Laury, who had played for Maccabi Ashdod two seasons ago, but before he even played his first game, big man Latavious Williams was released by Hapoel Holon due to an incident with the fans and Hapoel Tel Aviv grabbed him and released Laury. In essence, Beit Halachmi’s squad has already gone through nine imports!
At the opposite end of the spectrum and in last place sits Ashdod. Brad Greenberg’s team signed three imports at the start of the season – Elijah Johnson, LaDontae Henton and Noah Dickerson. The latter was moved to Bnei Herzliya in the second division, but a nine-game losing streak meant that Ashdod had to make a move quickly or else it would be headed down a league and the bonus money for playing with only three foreigners would be useless.
In came Israeli league veterans Paul Stoll and Ike Ofoegbu to right the ship and very quickly the club recorded a victory at Ness Ziona. It apparently doesn’t always pay to get that cash bonus.
How about Maccabi Tel Aviv? Well, the yellow-and-blue has registered seven imports leaving it some flexibility with one more slot, but Maccabi has played with more foreigners overall due to the club being in the Euroleague, where there is no restriction on the amount of non-Israelis that can play.
Elijah Bryant, Scottie Wilbekin, Quincy Acy, Othello Hunter, Tyler Dorsey, Nate Wolters and Tarik Black have all been registered, but the latter two are out injured. In addition, Sandy Cohen III and Angelo Caloiaro began the season with the team but have only played in the Euroleague while Jalen Reynolds and Aaron Jackson have just come on board for the yellow-and-blue as injury replacements for a total of 11 imports.
Over at Hapoel Jerusalem, the club had only registered five imports up until this week, when it brought in John Holland to replace Trent Lockett, who is back in the US due to a personal issue. In addition to Lockett, the Reds have used James Feldeine, TaShawn Thomas, Suleiman Braimoh and J’Covan Brown as foreigners in the Israeli league, with Mindaugas Kupsas and the recently released Isaiah Cousins only having played in the Champions League.
Hapoel Holon just changed coaches but it has also flipped imports like cards, having played with seven already this season. Malachi Richardson, Jaylen Johnson and Latavious Williams are all gone, while Ryan Thompson, Marcus Foster and Troy Caupain remain, with Angel Delgado arriving recently to replace Williams.
Nahariya – with Tony Gaffney, Dominic Waters, Jeff Adrien and Jerel McNeal – along with Ness Ziona have only registered four imports, including former NBA three-point shootout champ Daequan Cook, Corey Fisher, Jeremy Hollowell and Jeff Withey on the squad.
Hapoel Gilboa/Galil – with Jarmar Gulley, Justin Tillman, Edgar Sosa and Jarvis Varnado – and Hapoel Eilat – which features Larry Gordon, Kyvon Davenport, Rayvonte Rice and Eric Thompson – are each playing with four foreigners and released one earlier in the season.
Hapoel Beersheba – with John Petrucelli, T.J. Williams Steven Zack and Da’Sean Butler – and Maccabi Rishon Lezion – which has Jordan Swing, Darryl Monroe, James Kelly and Alex Hamilton – have both registered six and play with four, though as one import – Johnathan Williams from Rishon – signed with the NBA’s Washington Wizards.
Last but not least, Maccabi Haifa has registered and played with five foreigners on its roster, which is an entirely different approach for teams that are not named Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem. Gregory Vargas, James Young, Eric Anderson, Nestor Colmenares and Scott Suggs round out the imports who are currently plying their trade in Israel as the five-foreigner formula may in fact be the way to go as the Greens sit in fourth place with a 6-6 record.
Joshua Halickman, the Sports Rabbi, covers Israeli sports and organizes Israel sports adventures for tourists and residents (www.sportsrabbi.com). Follow the Sports Rabbi on Twitter @thesportsrabbi or feel free to contact the Sports Rabbi at [email protected]