All in the Family: Israeli sisters Lior and Yarden Garzon turning heads and making marks at US colleges

Continuing to impress in each of their standout 2022-23 seasons, sisters Lior and Yarden Garzon have already made their mark on the women’s college basketball scene. Headlining highlight reels while gaining national attention, both sisters have been turning heads as scoring machines. Lior, a junior forward at Oklahoma State University, and Yarden, a freshman guard at Indiana University, both left their home country of Israel to pursue basketball dreams abroad. Luckily, they didn’t have to do it alone. Thanks to their strong familial bond, as well as the Jewish communities they’ve been able to surround themselves with at their respective schools, Lior and Yarden have had tremendous support from their teams, communities, and each other, all of which has been a key to their basketball success.

Lior and Yarden were raised in an athletic family and given opportunities to try multiple sports growing up. Their father played basketball when he was younger, as did their other siblings, while their mother played volleyball. Yarden noted that she originally wanted to pursue a volleyball career because of her mother, but after her first day of basketball practice, she loved it and decided to keep coming back. The Garzon sisters quickly joined club basketball teams at a young age and continued progressing through the ranks.

Yarden Garzon – Photo Credit: FIBA

Both Lior and Yarden have been playing on the Israeli National Team for many years, which is where they first felt a strong sense of fulfillment and belonging with a basketball team. “I feel like it’s my place. I feel really comfortable with them. I came up through the youth team and played all the way through the senior team. Playing with the national team gives me a lot of pride to represent my country,” said Lior. Yarden feels the same honor that her sister does in playing for the national team and appreciates how fortunate she is for the strong connections it built for her. “What I took from the national team is the friendship I have with the girls and coaches today,” Lior reflects. They have both won multiple medals and championships with the national team, and continue to play with them when not competing for their college teams.

Being the older sister, Lior made her decision to come pursue a basketball career in the US first, joining a successful Villanova team in 2020. During her freshman year, she averaged 8.8 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 20.9 minutes per game. She continued to be a hardworking, consistent force in the paint, and proved herself to become an everyday starter during her sophomore season. During 2021-22, Lior started all 32 games that she played, became the team’s leading scorer with an average of 13.1 points per game, and also picked up multiple accolades including a second-team all-league selection and Big East Conference Co-Most Improved Player. Lior was an important part in helping lead the Wildcats to the Big East championship game, which she recalls is one of her biggest accomplishments to date.

Lior Garzon – Photo Credit: FIBA

Lior transferred to Oklahoma State University at the beginning of the 2022-23 season to join the Cowgirls for her junior year, where she has continued to put up impressive performances. “I ended up at OSU because I love the people here and the campus itself. When I visited here, it felt like home and the right place for me to be, on and off the court,” said Lior. Before the season started, she was one of 20 players named to the watch list for the 2023 Cheryl Miller Award, given annually to the best women’s basketball small forward in the NCAA competition. In one of her most recent games, Lior hit a season high of 21 points off the bench as OSU cruised to an 8-2 record.

Yarden, a current freshman at Indiana University, followed in her sister’s footsteps and decided that playing basketball in the US would be the most logical next step for her career. “I met Vernard Hollins, an American basketball trainer, through other Israeli basketball players and In July 2019, I came over to Ft. Wayne, Indiana to train with him in [his] hometown. He was going to speak to colleges on my behalf and he reached out to IU assistant coach Glenn Box. Two months later, I began speaking to Indiana,” recalled Yarden. In her collegiate debut, she knocked down 19 points (including five three-pointers), with four rebounds, four assists, two steals, and one block. Within her first few weeks with the team, she was averaging 19 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists on the road, earning her the honor of B1G Freshman of the Week. Currently holding an average of 11.5 points per game, 4.4 rebounds, and 4 assists, Yarden has helped the number four ranked Indiana Hoosiers to a 10-0 start to their season.

The Garzon sisters have been able to quickly feel at home in the US, partially due to their support from each other. “I think me being here makes her transition easier,” Lior said of Yarden. “She knows there is someone that is always right around the corner if she needs or someone that is always awake at the same time as her.” Yarden said that she had already made up her mind to come and play in the US even before Lior arrived, but getting to hear about her sister’s journey made it easier for her to understand her decision and the complexities of the recruiting process. “Lior helped me with some of the culture barriers in the recruiting process as well. Yes, being in the US has made it smoother. We are able to talk a lot because we are only one time zone away and she understands me better than anyone because she’s been through it,” Yarden expanded. Coming to a completely new country and trying to fit in with its culture can be quite challenging, but having each other to lean on has made everything a lot easier for Lior and Yarden.

Another major way that they were able to adapt to the US so smoothly was their involvement with the Jewish communities in their respective cities. “There are many Jewish communities around the U.S. And getting the opportunity to be part of it and meet amazing Jewish Americans that love Israel so much made me feel like home and find my safe place,” Lior expressed. “I also had a Jewish family that adopted me in Villanova and we are still in touch, as well as an amazing Israeli group in Oklahoma that contacts me and helps me with everything I need.” She also mentioned the various Jewish groups at OSU where she is able to celebrate holidays together and hang out on the weekend.

For Yarden, she also felt that surrounding herself with Indiana’s Jewish communities was one of the best ways to connect herself to the cultural aspects she was missing. “There are two Jewish communities in Indiana- Hillel and Chabad. I was really missing my Jewish culture when I first arrived and they have really helped me adjust to my life in America. I really like to be there and eat Shabbat [dinner] with them on Friday,” Yarden said. She also found that a few members of the media who she consistently interacts with as a women’s basketball player are Jewish, “…including my Rabbi’s son Ari who spoke a little bit of Hebrew to me in my first media interview.”

As they continue their exciting seasons at OSU and IU, Lior and Yarden are players you won’t wan’t to miss. They play with strong intensity, focus, and skill, yet add so much joy to the game. They receive massive support and energy from their fans, and have so much passion for playing the sport they love. “I enjoy the atmosphere we have here. Every game we have a lot of fans that bring special energy. I do not experience a lot of fans back home, so I enjoy and love it a lot,” Lior said of the OSU fanbase. She credits her teammates for playing every game with as much energy as the one before, and enjoys being surrounded by like-minded individuals. “Our team is very competitive and we play to win every game. It is really fun to play like that and we have a high standard for ourselves.”

Yarden Garzon – Photo Credit: FIBA

Yarden agreed strongly with Lior in that her favorite part about playing on the IU women’s basketball team is the fans and the kindness of her teammates and staff. “There are so many fans and I like the energy they bring. They are also very knowledgeable about basketball, more than anywhere else I’ve ever experienced. I like my teammates and coaches, and everyone here is trying to make everything feel like home and make me feel comfortable and important,” Yarden acknowledged.

Catch Lior and Yarden’s next games this week as they continue to tear up the court and help their teams to important victories in two exciting seasons.

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