Arizona hoopsters wow local youth as Israel trip a hit in Jerusalem

Aug 13, 2023 | Holyland Hoops

College basketball has taken Israel by storm as both Arizona and Kansas State have been making an impact in Jerusalem and its surroundings since arriving a few days ago. Both Wildcats have seen some of the historic sites from the Old City of Jerusalem, the Western Wall, Yad Vashem – The Holocaust Museum as well as Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity. In addition, the pair of teams and staff along with Athletes for Israel chairman and founder Daniel Posner had a meaningful Shabbat Dinner in the capital city before beginning the new week on the court with some very special guests.

Following Coach Tommy Lloyd’s early Sunday morning practice for Arizona, the Wildcats welcomed a pair of basketball teams, ASA Jerusalem and Elitzur Yavne to the Malha Arena court for a joint training session where the young aspiring hoopsters had an opportunity to learn and practice with some of the best college basketball players.

The two teams came together in Israel thanks to Sylvan Adams as well as the Museum of Tolerance. Adams aims to show the world what he calls “normal Israel”, tackling its often-negative portrayal in the media by revealing the beautiful reality of the country to large audiences around the world. He has promoted this “normal Israel” by bringing world-class cultural and sporting events to the country.

Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Tamir Goodman, “The Jewish Jordan” acted as the facilitator for the joint practice had already taken part in programming with Arizona at a sumptuous Friday night dinner Lloyd explained, “Shabbat dinner was great, Tamir was able to come and tell his story and Daniel Posner of AFI explained the significance of Shabbat and what it means to the Jewish people. The guys were able to learn about something that they had previously not known anything about.”

The practice began with each college player introducing themselves as well as coach Lloyd to the wide eyed youngsters sitting in shock and awe. The two sides split up into mixed groups and ran various plays on the court as there were plenty of laughs and smiles around the arena.

Adams was thrilled at the opportunity share in this wonderful experience, “As I call myself the self-appointed ambassador for Israel, bringing first time visitors here from a variety of backgrounds is part of my mission. This group of elite athletes will be able to see for themselves how different the reality is from their preconceptions, which are influenced by constant negative media coverage. Members of this group will themselves potentially become ambassadors for our warm and welcoming nation, when they return home. We will continue to support events like these which both build bridges, while promoting the values of tolerance, understanding and excellence through sport.”

The head coach of the special team, Nadav Boker talked about the importance for such an opportunity for his youth team, “We have a group of 15 -18 year olds here with us today thanks to Sylvan Adams, the Museum of Tolerance and of course Athletes for Israel. We’re very fortunate to have the opportunity to have our guys train together with one of the premier college basketball programs in the United States in Arizona. All of our players were so excited to have this rare once in a lifetime chance to be on the same basketball court as such amazing athletes and we are all so thankful.”

Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Coach Lloyd also spoke about what such an event means to his team, “It’s great for our guys to interact and meet young kids from different cultures and understand that they were just one like them with big dreams, big hopes and big aspirations, I’m happy that we can make that connection.”

Arizona center Oumar Ballo from Mali was having the time of his life out on the court with the children, “When I was that young it was my dream to be able to play with guys in university and future NBA players, I am happy that I can give back to these kids.”

Oumar Ballo & The Sports Rabbi – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

As for the trip as a whole Ballo has had an excellent time and pointed out the most meaningful part thus far, “The trip has been so much fun. The city of Jerusalem is great and there is so much history here. Yad Vashem – The Holocaust Museum was the most moving part of our journey so far. It made me realize how much the Jewish people suffered, how much they had to go through as well as how much they are united and appreciate everything that they have.”

Lloyd reflected on what Ballo had mentioned about Yad Vashem, “Oumar is a special individual. I spoke to Oumar after visiting the Holocaust Museum and he is from Mali in West Africa and things like that have happened in Africa and have not been in the world news. One life lost is too many. For him to make that connection is really good and I think that continuing education for all of us is really important. I have been to Auschwitz and Dachau but to come here and tie everything together was really powerful.”

Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“There is a lot of aspects to look at here. The American guys have not really travelled internationally and for them to come to Israel is really eye opening. Not just from a historical and cultural perspective but this is really a great place and not everything that you hear is necessarily true,” Lloyd noted.

On Monday night August 14th, Arizona will play the Israel Select Team coached by Amit Tamir in Tel Aviv whose roster will include Ryan Turell, Tomer Levinson, Ido Shabbat, Ori Chai, Clarke Rosenberg, Alon Drucker, Ariel Isaak, Shmuel Malcov, Juul Karam, Noam Akrish, Ofir Goldstein and Roie Oselka (For more information click here) and then from there it will be on to the United Arab Emirates for even more hoops.

Tommy Lloyd & The Sports Rabbi – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“We’re in our off season preparation but I am looking for guys to gain experience together and able to come together and connect as a group,” Lloyd said.

Lea Miller from CSM, Complete Sports Management, the company that has put the entire trip together sees the importance of linking Israel and the UAE parts of the journey.

Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“From the historical and educational perspective to come to Israel and learn what it is and about and then to transition to the UAE and be a part of the Abraham Accords which is one of the first peace treaties in many years between Israel and the Arab World is incredible. This is an opportunity to understand through sports how historic this really is. Once in the UAE, both Arizona and Kansas State will be able to mingle with the USA World Cup Team and we will also be going to the US vs Germany game. They will also play a pair of exhibition games as well in Abu Dhabi and will be the first college basketball teams to ever play in the UAE.”

The question that remains is if Coach Lloyd along with Arizona and Kansas State will find their school logo t-shirts in Arabic as they did find in Israel at the local market in Hebrew, “That was cool. Before the trip my wife mentioned to me remember when we had been here in Israel and saw all those university logo shirts, so to see that now was pretty cool and some guys also bought them.”

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