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Chanan Colman – Denmark’s man on Israel’s hardwood

Courtesy Basket.co.il

As the Israel Basketball League Playoffs continue on, one of the most surprising teams of course is Hapoel Eilat who finished the regular season in second place. One of the key players on the team is Chanan Colman. Sounds like an interesting name. His first name Chanan is very Israeli, his last on the other hand, well not so much. Who is Chanan Colman and why has he played for no less than 7 teams in the Holy Land including winning a championship with Maccabi Haifa? The Sports Rabbi sat down with the 33-year old guard who just keeps on going to find out who he really is and where he came from:

“Chanan Colman is a laid back guy, raised by a Jewish mother in Denmark Copenhagen, and that’s me. My mother moved from Israel to Denmark at the age of nine when my grandmother got a job there so she moved at a very young age. She met my father who was traveling the world at the time and ended up staying there. Copenhagen is an awesome great city; it’s very easy to be a kid in some parts of Denmark.”

In fact, Colman spent his childhood and youth in Denmark and didn’t leave to begin his basketball journey abroad until the age of 19: “I stayed in Denmark and then went to college where I played one year of college ball. I was supposed to go to Florida State, but ended up taking SAT way to late, so they ended up putting me in a Junior College right next door. By the time I finished my first year I was playing for the Danish National Team, so other teams in Europe knew about me. Then I got an interesting offer in Finland, went there for two seasons and was very successful.”

Growing up in Copenhagen as a young Jewish boy is certainly a challenge which Colman experienced in many ways: “I was more attached to Judaism when my grandmother was alive and we used to keep the traditions by celebrating the holidays. It’s a very small Jewish community and it was maybe even stronger than it is now.”

Courtesy Basket.co.il


Growing up in Denmark also meant that Chanan would be exposed to a number of languages due to the fact that the maternal side of his family came from Israel: “My first language is Danish and when I was very young I spoke Hebrew. So in total, Danish, Hebrew and English. Unfortunately, I was teased in kindergarten about Hebrew because it sounded funny, so when I was younger I put my fingers in my ears and refused to listen. Eventually my mom gave up, though now we both regret that very much.”

Basketball isn’t exactly the number one sport in Denmark, so how did Colman get hooked on it? “Actually my mom, not my American dad dragged me down to play basketball. I used to play soccer, but one day my mom said that my dad used to play basketball, so she said let’s go and try it out. I was horrible at the beginning especially during the first five years that I played. I even quit for a while. Then I had some success in school because I was better than some of the kids and then it just became fun. Once it became fun, I got even better.”

With basketball in Denmark not being the premier sport, Colman was able to take advantage of the opportunities that were presented to him: “When I was playing with the Junior National Teams and when I was representing Denmark I met this guy by the name of Masai Ujiri. He had amazing connections with almost every big school at that time and today he is the GM at the Toronto Raptors. He pushed me to every school right after he left Denmark and since I had played with the Men’s National Team at age of 18 I was getting a pretty good look from a ton of people. We actually played Israel several times early on, but no one really contacted even though I would qualify as an Israeli player. I played the National Team and played well and there were talks, but nothing really happened until my second year.”

Colman’s first professional experience came in Finland before making the move to Israel. The Scandinavian country is not considered a hot bed of basketball but nonetheless it was a fabulous opportunity: “It’s actually tougher going to the United States than Finland because of the different time zones and it’s farther, so going to Finland was much easier. I was very lucky that I was part of a good team and that I had five guys on that team who became family. We really connected both on and off the court and luckily I wasn’t on a team with married guys that didn’t want to socialize. They were some amazing years but is was not my favorite country in the world.”

Since his time in Finland, Colman has played for a fair number of Israeli teams including Maccabi Haifa, Hapoel Jerusalem and of course his current club Hapoel Eilat. But this in fact may not be his final stop: “I think I have a few years left to play. I will probably finish off in Denmark, but I love Israel. I love the country, the people, the food, the league here, all in all it’s the perfect combination. With such a strong basketball league that gets so much attention, it’s something that I’ve gotten used to. It’s slowly growing in Denmark but it’s nothing compared to here.”

Without much family in Israel and the fact that Colman is playing down south in Eilat definitely creates its own unique challenges: “That’s the tough part of the job. I make sure my family gets out here on a consistent basis because I really need that. Last week, I was home for a couple of days alone and that’s for sure the tough side of it. This is my second home and that’s why after each year I say that this is my last year here. Denmark is my first home.”

Courtesy Basket.co.il


Any basketball player who heads to Eilat makes an imprint on the community because it’s a city that is far away from the hub of the country. The fans have been going in droves to cheer their team on and Colman talks a bit about why that is so: “I think since Eilat doesn’t have a lot of sports so people that are here and show up to the games and make a lot of noise, it’s pretty amazing. They support us both on and off of the court and in the community we go out to some schools and speak to the children. We have done fair play discussions in the classroom and we spoke about so many things. It’s far more reaching than just playing.”

The Head Coach of Eilat is one of Israel’s all-time great basketball players in Oded Katash and by having access to one of the best of the best always has its advantages: “You are never in doubt of who he is, his famous he is. Just walk down the street and you will see. His basketball knowledge and memory are amazing. He can sit down with us and remember the game plan from the first game of the season. He also has a huge advantage of going into detail, the small stuff he teaches you about a pick and roll for example. He knows the offensive part of the game so well that it makes it easier for the defensive side. Katash a good coach and because of the levels he has been at, it you can see where his calmness comes from.”

Colman also spends some of his time with a variety of hobbies and a number of projects where he works with the up and coming youth of today back is is homeland: “I cook and I Skype a lot with my family back home. We get a lot of food because we have a food sponsor. But at home I have a basketball camp in Copenhagen. Last summer we had 190 kids. It’s a week and we split it up to two camps. The first part is a four-day camp for ages 12-19 and we have a second group from ages 8-12 which is a three-day program and that’s just the day camp. The sleep away camp has 130 kids and we have another smaller one which we keep to 60 participants.”

For many youngsters in Denmark, Chanan Colman is their role model and when he was growing up he had a pair as well: “Christian Drejer was a great player for Denmark and should have eventually played in the NBA but he was injured and retired at a young age. I played with him on the National Team and he was special. I was able to watch Michael Jordan and back in the day there was a different level of passion and competitive hard-nosed basketball. Off of the court it has to be my mother, she raised me and is purely my role model.”

Before we wrap up, Colman spoke a bit more about Israel and the great things that makes this country so special: “I’m very proud of being Jewish but I’m also embarrassed about not knowing the language after being here so long. Haifa showed me a lot a good and its unfortunate that many people outside of Israel don’t see the Muslims and Arabs who live here being treated as equals and for example receiving help in hospitals; you don’t see how great of a country it is. It’s like an undiscovered pearl and whenever someone visits me they are in awe about the country. I’ve traveled a lot and Israel has to be up there with a lot of places. It’s more than just shopping and beaches and if you travel 45 minutes up the road you get to one of the most historic cities in the world in Jerusalem. You can see so many things at the same time. It’s a shame that the way events are portrayed in the media sometimes takes away from such an amazing country.”