Shay Doron: Back home and loving it

Though she denies pressure put on her for the EuroBasket, the guard shoulders significant responsibility for her team.

shay doron 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
shay doron 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Ramle's Menachem Begin Arena is hardly Madison Square Garden, but for Shay Doron, basketball is basketball, no matter where it's played. "Playing in Israel feels equally as professional as playing in the United States," Doron tells The Jerusalem Post. "It's a professional lifestyle of my whole day being consumed. I eat and sleep basketball." Doron, the 22-year-old shooting guard, returned to Israel in September to play for Elitzur Ramle in the offseason of the WNBA, where she just finished her rookie season of professional basketball with New York Liberty. Doron was the 16th overall draft pick in 2007 and the first Israeli to play professional basketball in the US. Though many WNBA players join international teams in the offseason, with an increasing number coming to Israel every year, Doron's time in Israel is not time away but a return to her roots. "I feel at home here, and a lot of players never feel at home overseas," she says. A native of Ramat Hasharon, Doron is excited to have her real family here, as opposed to the family she had to create for herself while in America. Her eyes light up at the mention of her mom's home-cooked meal waiting for her at home after a particularly rough game. Doron left Israel midway through high school to live in New York and play for Christ the King High School in Queens. Her outstanding performance brought her national attention and opened the door for her to play at the University of Maryland, where her impressive four-year tenure was decorated with five Maryland records, two All-American awards, three All-ACC honors and three years as team captain. She is widely credited with turning Maryland back into a women's basketball powerhouse, leading the Terrapins to their first NCAA championship in 2006. Since that year, Doron has ridden a roller-coaster of both success and tribulation. Maryland lost early in the 2007 NCAA tournament and, though she was drafted to the WNBA soon after, her freshman season playing professionally was spent largely on the bench. The college phenom played a mere 35 minutes throughout the Liberty's 34-game regular season, scoring 10 points overall. Upon return to Israel this fall, Doron joined Israel's national team at the EuroBasket competition with high hopes, but the team fell out of contention in the first round. Though she denies any pressure put on her by Israel for the EuroBasket, the usually humble guard shoulders significant responsibility for her team in that championship. "I wish I was in better shape when I was there, and I was disappointed that I couldn't have come better prepared. We could have done much better if I had been ready," she admits. Defeat does not deter the young guard. If anything, it spurs her determination. "It's not going to change my approach, or the way I work," Doron stresses. "I came to Maryland to do something that no one thought was possible, and I have patience and will just keep working hard. That's all I can do." Doron has come out strong for Ramle, wanting to "be a part of Israeli basketball." She is thrilled at seeing more WNBA players coming to the Israeli league on several levels. From a professional standpoint it is better for the league and she sees the international influence improving the league's overall quality. On a more personal note, Doron is eager to come face-to-face with WNBA guards, many for the first time since her playing time was so limited with Liberty. "It's fun for me to play WNBA players, and know that I can guard them," she says. Unselfish in every aspect - from a deep respect for team play to stacking up honors for assists as well as scoring - Doron's anticipation at the progression of women's basketball both in Israel and America is as much for her own self-improvement as that of the sport as a whole. She is aware that she is an integral part of the albeit slow process of making women's basketball a premier sport. "It takes little girls growing up wanting to play for the WNBA, and those little girls come up to me after games," she recounts. "They didn't build Rome in a day, and we're not going to build this in a day, but most of our games are televised and that's huge. You never saw that ten years ago, especially in Israel." Doron has taken an active role as a model for those little girls, particularly in the Jewish community of New York, participating in the Israeli Day Parade and fundraising for local JCCs. Coming back to Israel, as easily as she transitions between the two societies, she feels committed to positive representation. "I'm always breaking misperceptions," she says, be it about how basketball is played overseas or giving American fashion advice, convincing her teammates about the stylishness of Uggs boots. In every situation, Doron attempts to lead by example, sporting moccasins in the locker room and playing her hardest every night on the court. As much as she loves the professional circuit, and can't imagine a better job than being a professional athlete, she knows there will come a time to get out of the game. "I don't want to play until I'm dragging on the court," she pledges. "If I'm not peak, I'm out." She holds interest and a degree in criminal justice, and may pursue working for the FBI or in law enforcement after her basketball days are over. Until then, it's a hardworking, focused mentality pushing Doron, a player who shrugs off suggestions of external pressure. "I don't do anything special, I don't live by anyone," she avers. "And I don't think I'm too bad." She laughs softly. "But I guess you can ask my teammates about that."