Yotam Halperin's moment of NBA truth arrives

David Blatt: Halperin has every chance to become the first Israeli to play in the best basketball league in the world.

yotam halperin 88 (photo credit: )
yotam halperin 88
(photo credit: )
"Yotam Halperin is ready for the NBA." Without a doubt in his mind, David Blatt, head coach of Italian champion Benetton Treviso and a former coach of Halperin's at Maccabi Tel Aviv, told The Jerusalem Post that the guard has every chance to become the first Israeli to play in the best basketball league in the world after Wednesday night's draft at Madison Square Garden in New York. "Yotam has come a long way in the last year," said Blatt, who coached Halperin for two years earlier in his career at Maccabi Tel Aviv. Blatt believes that the past season Halperin spent with Slovenian side Olimpija Ljubljana "helped Halperin come into his own." In addition to the highpressure intensity that comes with being floor general for a Euroleague team, Halperin lived alone in a foreign country for the season. So how does Halperin's mental readiness for the NBA compare to other 22-yearolds? "He is as ready as any other 22-year-old, and maybe even more prepared than the American 22-year-olds [for the NBA]," Blatt said. "Halperin is ready." Not so fast. To get into the NBA, Halperin must first be selected in Wednesday's draft, something Blatt said will be no problem, "For several months I said he would be a sure-fire second rounder, now there's a shot at the late first round." No matter what happens during the draft, Halperin has made sure to do everything he possibly could to show he wants to play in the NBA. Halperin added New Jersey and Miami to the list of six teams he has worked out for leading up to Draft Day, his agent Jason Levien told the Post Tuesday. Halperin wants to play in the NBA so much, he is even willing to pay as much as $150,000 to buy out the final year of his contract from Maccabi. Although the 1.96-meter guard finished his Slovenian season late and therefore had less time for workouts than most American players in the draft, Levien said that, "[Halperin] has just been great in terms of coming [to America] quickly and showing what he could do." According to Levien it has been worth it, as "three or four of the teams Yotam has worked out for have said he is first-round talent." Halperin will not be in New York for the draft, opting instead to watch the proceedings on TV from Levien's Miami home. Halperin is not the only Israeli player hoping to hear his name called on Wednesday. Lior Eliyahu, a 2.06-meter, 20-year-old forward from Hapoel Galil Elyon-Golan, has a shot to be taken late in the second round. There has been some speculation as to whether Eliyahu's game is ready for the NBA, but many scouts feel he may be worth gambling on now and then leaving him to ripen for another few seasons in Israel. If selected, Halperin and Eliyahu would become only the second and third Israeli players chosen in the NBA Draft. The first was guard Doron Sheffer, a secondround selection of the Los Angeles Clippers in 1996. Sheffer, however, was not issued a guaranteed contract by the Clippers and instead signed with Maccabi Tel Aviv. On TV: 2006 NBA Draft (live at 2 a.m. Thursday on Sport5).