An Israeli hoopster learns to spread his wings abroad

Dallas Mavericks rookie Gal Mekel opens up about his transition from NCAA to Israel and now back to America.

Gal Mekel with the mavs 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Gal Mekel with the mavs 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When Omri Casspi became the first Israeli to ever play in an NBA game in 2009, many Israelis weren’t sure when the next Israeli would join Casspi.
Nearly four years later, Casspi was surprisingly joined by Gal Mekel.
Mekel, who spent the previous season starring for Maccabi Haifa, was signed to a three-year guaranteed deal by the Dallas Mavericks in the summer of 2013.
After playing two years of college basketball at Wichita State, Mekel returned to Israel and spent the following three seasons with Hapoel Gilboa/Galil.
During his time in the North, Mekel won an historic championship and was honored as the MVP of the league.
Following his successful stint in northern Israel, Mekel arrived in Italy with plenty of goals and ambitions.
But unfortunately for Mekel, he spent a large part of the season injured and struggled to find his game in Italy.
At the end of the season, the club dissolved and Mekel was once again left searching for a club.
Though Mekel’s intention was to stay in Europe, Mekel signed a contract with Maccabi Haifa and led them to their first championship ever over Israeli powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Towards the end the season, several NBA scouts and analysts stated that Mekel had the talent to play in the NBA.
In the summer of 2013, the Israeli star participated in several workouts with different NBA teams and was eventually signed by the Dallas Mavericks.
During his time with the Dallas Mavericks this season, the dynamic guard has averaged 2.4 points and 2.1 assists in 30 games. But the second Israeli to ever play in the NBA has missed the Mavs’ past 21 games after undergoing arthoscopic knee surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee.
Mekel, who is almost ready to return to the Mavericks, has been assigned to the franchises minor league team to play a few games before he returns.
On Thursday night, Mekel scored nine points and dished out six assists in his second game with the Texas Legends. Once Mekel and the Mavs’ front office believe Mekel is ready to return to the NBA, he will be back.
The Jerusalem Post spoke to Gal Mekel about his entire career from his college days all the way to the NBA, his duties with the Israel national basketball team and what he plans to accomplish now that he is in the NBA.
A lot of people forget you attended Wichita State for two years. How did you enjoy your time playing college hoops?
It was a great experience for me on the basketball side of things. It was the perfect step for me between high school and youth department basketball, before the professional level. In those two years, I really got better and worked on my game.
Off the court, things were a little tough as I was away from my country at 18 and had to get used to the new language and culture. But I made a lot of friends and the experience was worth it.
After returning from Wichita, Maccabi Tel Aviv sent you on loan to Hapoel Gilboa/Galil. During your time with Gilboa/ Galil, were you trying to prove to Maccabi you belonged with them?
I didn’t think about proving anything to anyone. For me it wasn’t at all about revenge. I was just focusing on getting better and playing the best basketball I could.
I had three great seasons in Gilboa, where we won a championship and I won the MVP.
I was very fortunate to work with two amazing coaches and it was a really great three years that helped me a lot.
After a very successful start to your career in Israel, you made the transition to playing in Italy. How did you deal with your serious injury and stay positive?
Again, on the basketball side, the injury really took me out of the rhythm. It was in the middle of the season, very similar to the timing this season.
It was the first time I was playing professional basketball out of Israel.
It also wasn’t easy because it was my first serious injury. I had a lot of time I was down because it was the type of injury where you never really know when you will be back healthy. But at the end of the injury, I became much stronger.
Why did you decide to sign with Maccabi Haifa?
First of all, I had another year in my contract [in Italy] but the team just shut down. I really wanted to stay in Europe, either in Italy or Spain.
I felt that I achieved everything in Israel and I wanted the next challenge. I waited and waited and had a few offers from Italy, Spain, and France, but they were not the offers I was waiting for. I said I would be patient.
I decided to come to the States and then the workout with the Jazz came out of nowhere. Basically for the first time in my career I said to myself, ‘maybe I should try this NBA thing, and try and chase this dream.’ In the end, it wasn’t relevant because I had visa issues and the timing wasn’t right. I didn’t like the offers from Europe and then it was almost November and Haifa approached me.
I realized they could have a nice run and I am very happy I was right. When I joined, everything clicked right away. We were a really good team and the season was very special.
How surprised were you that you got a three-year guaranteed deal, did you really expect to be an NBA player?
Sometimes during your career you have ups and downs and you never want to go too far or predict/ guess where you are going to be.
They key is to work day in and day out. When you focus on the now, good things happen.
You know, all the times that I played a lot or never played, I always believed in myself and I am very that I am in the NBA.
Last summer, I had a few camps with several NBA teams and I was doing very well and I felt that I belong and that I can play well in this league. I am very happy that Dallas saw the same thing and that they believed in me and followed me in the Israeli league.
What is it like to play for eccentric owner Mark Cuban?
He is very, very involved. That is his strength, that’s his magic. It’s amazing to see the guy that is in charge of the whole organization is so involved in the daily routine.
He takes such good care of the players and is involved in every small thing and that is why he has been a very successful owner.
Describe what it was like when you first competed against Omri Casspi in what the Israeli media has dubbed “the Israel derby”?
It was a special night. Both of us were very excited. Meeting on the NBA floor was really special. I am sure a lot of people in Israel stayed awake and were very proud of us.
In addition, we were both happy to have great games. It was an historical night for Israeli basketball and hopefully we will have many great derbies to come.
What are your plans for this summer’s Eurobasket qualifiers?
I am for sure going to play. I think I made the right decision not go to the national team last summer because I felt it was something that would help me prepare for my first season in the NBA.
Last summer was only a onetime thing. The national team is very important to me. Of course I will come this summer and give everything I have. I am really excited and looking forward to playing for my country.
What are your goals now that you are in the NBA?
I am the type of guy that doesn’t like to predict the future.
My first goal is to get back to the court as soon as I can. In the big picture, I think that coming to the NBA was very important to me to show myself that I can play in this league and that I really do belong.
I had a good chance in the beginning of the season and I think I played well. I know I can be a good player in this league.
Right now, I want to get healthy and establish myself in this league and be a player that can contribute to my team every night in a consistent way.