Coach Lloyd looks to change the world as the Arizona Wildcats are on their way to Israel

Aug 6, 2023 | Holyland Hoops

“As one person I cannot change the world, but I can change the world of one person.”

There’s no question that Athletes for Israel are trying to make a difference with their unique and inspiring way as they are impacting and changing the perception of the Holy Land among sportspeople and beyond by changing the world of one person, one at a time.

This summer, the non-profit organization whose mission is to combat antisemitism and promote a poise narrative about Israel by partnering with athletes, is bringing the University of Arizona and Kansas State University’s Men’s Basketball teams and staff to Israel in what will be the second straight year top level college basketball programs will be visiting the country. Last year, head coach Bruce Pearl and his Auburn squad participated in the “Birthright for College Basketball” trip which allowed the players and staff to immerse themselves in the Holy Land’s rich history, culture, innovation and spirituality.

Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd who took over the reins of the Wildcats in 2021 is no stranger to traveling the world when he was recruiting players as an assistant coach under Mark Few at Gonzaga for twenty years prior to his appointment in Tucson. In fact, his many journeys across the globe also meant a number of stops in Israel where he now wanted to give his players and staff a taste of that experience.

With a packed itinerary that will include a trip to the Old City, a visit to Bethlehem, Yad Vashem and many other sites in the land, plus a massively anticipated must see game that Arizona will play against the Israel Select Team on Monday August 14th at Hadar Yosef in Tel Aviv, Lloyd without question will provide his squad with an unforgettable and educational journey into the deep annals of history.

“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime for my group,” the 48-year old Lloyd began. “I’ve been to Israel a few times and have been all over the world. This trip is a way to show our domestic players the world.”

The “Shidduch” or match that was made for Lloyd’s Arizona to take part in the program was made by Lea Miller and Complete Sports Management who was able to pair Athletes For Israel whose Founder and Chairman Daniel Posner made the perfect impression to get the top ranked college on board.

“After last season we fiddled with a couple of foreign tours but nothing was coming to fruition,” Lloyd said. “Lea Miller who was part of the program last year gave me a call and said that she needed a team that appreciates traveling and enjoys international basketball and I love to travel and be a part of other cultures. She introduced me to Daniel Posner and he explained the backstory about Athletes for Israel which was created to combat antisemitism. I am someone who personally feels that everyone should be be loved and we thought this would be a perfect fit. Daniel’s vigor and the opportunity to gain life experiences is great by using athletics to promote a cause and the experience they will get will be one that will last a lifetime. The players and staff will be able to pass that experience along and see that perception is not necessarily reality. This is better than any type of classroom education.”

The Wildcats roster is a true melting pot of society with roughly half of the squad being made up of international players while the other half from the United States. Whether they are from France, Estonia, Lithuania or Serbia, Lloyd has made his team without a doubt the United Nations of the college basketball world as he spoke about some of the players who will play against the Israel Select Team on Sunday August 14th at Hadar Yosef in Tel Aviv.

“We have a very diverse group. Oumar Ballo was a high level prospect and hung with it and has developed a nice career. He won a silver medal and was a top five player for Mali at the 2019 Under-19 World Cup which was the first time an African country medaled. Pelle Larsson from Sweden is a really good wing player and is very versatile. Kylan Boswell is an up and coming player and was a starting guard on Team USA at the FIBA U19 World Cup. Caleb Love comes over from North Carolina, Keshad Johnson is from San Diego State and played in the most recent NCAA Championship game, Jaden Bradley started most of last year at Alabama, KJ Lewis is impressive too while we have a Serbian player by the name of Filip Borovićanin. We also have a player from the Real Madrid youth system in Estonian Henri Veesaar.”

As for the trip itself, Lloyd is certain that it will be a trip through time for his squad, “The international players will be more comfortable on such a trip having been exposed to more cultures already. But to go to Israel with its history and be in the places where historic battles have been fought over Jerusalem is cool. Israel is also one of the most innovative and technological places in the world. I’m looking forward to getting boots on the ground and seeing reality for ourselves it’s maybe the most historic and fascinating cultures in the world today.”

Of course, when visiting Israel there is always the backdrop of terrorism but Lloyd is extremely comfortable and confident about making the trip which is also part of a credited course that the players have been taking at the University.

“We’ve addressed that with them, those things make news in the US and friends and families ask about it but similar things happen here in the United States as well. Maybe it’s not as a religious battle, but we know that we will be taken well care of and there will be great security with the team and the guys are excited. Our staff has been educated in what they are going to do and what it will look like in Israel and the players are jumping in and taking and taking a special credited class ahead of the trip as well.”

One of the players Lloyd coached back in his days with Gonzaga was Jeremy Pargo who became a standout guard with Maccabi Tel Aviv. So close was the relationship between player and coach that the bench boss made a special stop in the Holy Land to see his former floor general in Euroleague action.

“Jeremy is one of my favorites and will always have a special place in my heart. He was a fan favorite and we loved him so much. When Jeremy was at Maccabi, we took our whole family to Israel to see him while we were in Europe. I got very close to coach David Blatt as well and he is a mentor of mine. I actually asked him if he would be around while we will be in Israel but he’s with the Canadian National Team ahead of the FIBA World Cup.”

“I remember watching a bunch of Maccabi games and I was a huge fan of their center Sofo (Sofoklis Schortsanitis) and loved watching him play. Fill disclosure, I recruited David’s son, Tamir Blatt and wanted him to come to Gonzaga and he would have been a great fit. But he carved out a great career and is now in the Euroleague with Maccabi. His passing ability and IQ is second to none. I actually spoke to Tamir and I wanted to go at him a bit and have him play with the Israel Select Team on this trip but he said that it won’t happen,” Lloyd said with a chuckle.

Along with visiting the many sites that the country offers, both Arizona and Kansas State will be playing an exhibition game against the Israel Select Team on Monday August 14th and on the next day Tuesday August 15th. (Click Here to register for FREE ADMISSION)

The rules will be a bit different than what the teams are used to but Lloyd is sure that it won’t be too much of an issue, “I have a tremendous respect for FIBA and I was talking to Amit Tamir who is coaching the Israel Select Team. Amit was a player at Cal and we exchanged some information to prepare for this friendly game. As for finding some local talent, I’m always exploring and I’d love for that to be as Amit said there may be a few players that we should take a look at.”

“FIBA rules will no doubt be a new challenge and we are expecting a battle. Our base style of play is rooted in FIBA and many things I’ve come across have been from Europe. I’ve also had numerous conversations with coach Blatt and I was recently a fly on the wall at the USA Camp. Steve Kerr who went to Arizona and Mark Few who I worked with at Gonzaga are a part of the United States staff and it was great to understand how they are thinking about FIBA rules as they prepare for the World Cup.”

Lloyd knows how passionate Israelis are about basketball and this will be a fantastic opportunity to come out and see some amazing talent right before their eyes, ‘We want to have a great turnout of fans and we all know that Israeli fans love basketball especially the fact that they will be able to see two NCAA teams play at a high level.”

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