With Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day being celebrated around the country and across the globe this week, the festivities will be extra special as the nation marks 70 years since its founding. Instead of looking at Israel’s glorious past, The Sports Rabbi will look ahead to its enticing future and the future star of Israeli basketball and at a player and person who has the potential to be the next Sabra in the NBA.
Tomer Levinson is a unique talent coming out of Israel and his goal is to play basketball at the highest level; the NBA. The budding star has not only taken part in the Jordan Classic and the NBA’s “Basketball Without Borders” camp that took place in Israel last summer but also featured for Israel at the Under-18 European Championships Division B competition last year as well. To top all that off Levinson was named the “Most Talented Player” at the 2018 Albert Schweitzer Tournament that was held in Germany last month when he again represented the Blue & White.
There’s no question that the Beer Yakov native who stands at 6-10 and weighs in at 205 lbs has all of the intangibles and is on the right trajectory to potentially be a 1st round pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, the first year of his eligibility. The most interesting part of Levinson’s development is that he’s playing abroad as the 17-year old left his family and home in Israel to hone his skills in Osijek, a town in eastern Croatia a couple of hours away from Budapest and Belgrade.
Why would anyone go to Osijek? And is it really a hotbed for basketball. A small town of roughly 100,000 residents, the city has seen better days, but it has been undergoing a recent renaissance. “I realized that I wasn’t going to get enough playing time in the Israeli first division. I had previously received an offer from Partizan Belgrade but at the time it did not feel like it was the right opportunity, so I declined. Later on we had a national team tournament and we played Croatia where I played really well although we lost. That’s where Osijek showed even more interest. They were the first to make me an offer last summer, so I went for it.”
But who is Levinson and where did he come from? What are his aspirations and goals? Where did his love of basketball come from? “I really enjoyed watching the older children shooting the ball in the basket and I fell in love with the sport. When I was growing up, I was always much taller than everyone else my age, so it was a fun sport for me to play as well. As I got older I watched more and more basketball and I really liked it.”
Nes Ziona has always been home for the youngster and always experienced support from his family, “I went to a high school near my house. My parents and grandparents would always be at my games whether it was in the north of south of the country and never missed one. They are really supportive and hope that my dreams will come true.”
Scouts began to take notice in Levinson and his uncanny ability as a unique baller and was invited to one of the most exclusive tournaments in the world, “I took part in the 2015 Jordan brand Classic and I played really well; I ended up being the top scorer and that made a lot of people take notice of my basketball abilities.”
The youngster has also featured for his country, wearing the Blue & White of Israel where he’s been able to share many great moments with a tight knit group of guys, “I had experiences that will be with me for the rest of my life with the national team, it’s always a special experience.”
In 2016, Levinson played for the Under-16 side averaging 14.6 points while leading Israel to the Silver Medal and last summer he dropped 14.1 points in a 4th place finish for the Under-18 team.
“The national team to me is not only fun but one of the most important parts of the year. Each summer I have the opportunity to represent my country, represent Israel with the same guys who are my best friends whether it’s Ofek Malca, Yair Kravitz or Tomer Porat. I wear the Blue & White with the greatest pride.”
And wear it with pride he would do just this past March when he was awarded the “Most Talented Player” title at the Albert Schweitzer Tournament in Germany, helping Israel to 6th place which included a win over the United States and a 4-3 record as he commented about the competition, “I believe that we played well as a team and were able to record some nice results as we were able to jell together as a team and create chemistry as much a see can.”
Levinson would end the competition with a 12.7 ppg average while also pulling down 5.3 rebounds leading the team in scoring against Japan and Turkey in a game that he dropped 28 points as he summed up his performance, “On a personal note, I had a good tournament despite not coming in at 100% due to an injury and didn’t practice as much as I would have liked with the team. I also had the honor of receiving the “Most Talented Player” award and I have no doubt that this also has to go to all of my teammates.”
With the Israeli native now plying his trade in Osijek, Levinson spoke about his game play to date in the Croatian town, “The positive thing about Osijek is that the coach gives me a lot of advice and help. He told me that I don’t necessarily have to play the center or the power forward position. He told me I can play the small forward with my set of skills. The coach is also the assistant coach of the Croatian national team as well. He was a Euroleague player for Zagreb back in his playing days and he has been giving me the tools to succeed. I also have many private practice sessions to improve myself as well. I have had some pretty good games lately and my minutes continue to increase.”
Levinson not only continuously puts in hours and hours of work to continue to improve his game and he hopes that it will pay off ahead, “I hope to keep moving my career forward. I’m looking forward to the National Team tournament this summer and I need to keep working hard if I want to reach the top of the top.”
It may be lonely at times in Osijek without any family or childhood friends, but ultimately Levinson is driven to make sure he gets the best tools possible in order to succeed, “I personally saw that in order to improve I needed to be in Osijek opposed to Israel. The rules in Israeli basketball create a situation that not many young Israeli players can receive important minutes during the actual games. I believe that coming to Osijek was the correct decision at this point in time. I have many friends who are on the team and they are all helping in my quest to succeed.”