Bursting through to stardom at the highest level

Eliran Atar and Gal Mekel established themselves as the Post's young players of the season in their respective sports.

eliran atar 248 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
eliran atar 248
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
It was only in the last couple of months of the season that Gal Mekel's career really took off. Basketball The 21-year-old returned to Israel from two years at Wichita State when he was signed to a long-term contract by Maccabi Tel Aviv late last season, but only really made an impression after going out on loan to Hapoel Galil/Gilboa this campaign. Under the guidance of Oded Katash and his assistant Lior Lubin, two former superb playmakers, Mekel grew in both confidence and ability as the season progressed, and ended it as one of the best Israeli guards in the league. Mekel averaged just 6.9 points and 2.6 assists in 16.8 minutes on court during 22 regular season games. But he was a real revelation in the playoffs and Final Four, dictating the play both on the offensive and defensive ends of the court. Mekel's playing time rocketed, averaging 29.7 minutes in the postseason, and he repaid his coach's trust in him with multiple excellent performances. He averaged 13.3 points, 3.9 assists and 2.3 rebounds, but just as importantly, became Galil's leader on court and proved he's ready to realize his potential. The biggest compliment he has received for his performances is the persistent speculation that Tel Aviv is planning to bring him back into its roster for next season. Maccabi is desperate for homegrown talent, but a bench role may not be the right move for Mekel at this stage of his career, and it remains to be seen if he is ready to play at a Euroleague level so soon. However, even if Maccabi decides that the time isn't yet right, the last couple months of the season have shown that it will only be a matter of time until Mekel will be playing at the highest of levels. Soccer Three years ago, at the age of 19, Eliran Atar's career came to a grinding halt. Not long after Bnei Yehuda had warned him that he should be careful about who he hangs out with, Atar paid a dear price for keeping the wrong company. Two of his friends decided to spend an evening back in April 2006 snatching handbags from bypassers, with Atar given the job of driving the escape car. The three were quickly tracked down by police and Atar was eventually given a six-month prison sentence, which was converted to community service. The Bnei Yehuda striker's career seemed to be in real jeopardy, making his rise to stardom this season all the more amazing. Atar not only ended the season as the joint top scorer in the Premier League, with 14 goals, but he found the back of the net in true style. His sensational overhead bicycle kick from the edge of the area against Maccabi Netanya at the start of February was not only the goal of the season, but will be remembered as one of the greatest goals to ever be scored in Israel. Atar displayed the full array of skills needed by a top striker, scoring goals with both his right and left feet as well as his head, and with his speed and strength, his potential is simply boundless. It won't be long before Atar makes his international debut and moves on to a bigger club. For the time being, however, he's remaining at Bnei Yehuda, the club which gave him a second chance when nobody else would.