Jake Cohen’s crusade for Israeli basketball

Aug 30, 2022 | Holyland Hoops

The Israel National Team has a bit of an American flavor for the upcoming Eurobasket tournament as forward Jake Cohen who has his roots in the United States will be featuring for the squad. Cohen has been part of the Israeli basketball scene for over a decade as the Pennsylvania native also plays for Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Cohen is looking to help lead the blue-and-white to European glory at the 2022 Eurobasket under head coach Guy Goodes as he looks forward to the challenge along with the experience in Prague and hopefully in Berlin as well.

“The preparation has gone well for the most part,” Cohen began. “There have been no injuries which is most important and we are going in relatively healthy. The team is excited as to what is to come and we have a lot of talent and we have a tremendous amount of chemistry.”

Jake Cohen – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

The power forward who can also be called upon to play center attended Davidson for college and started his national team career way back in 2010 when he was part of the Under-20 squad and was named to the all-tournament team. Since then he became a key component to the team that coach Oded Katash assembled after the 2017 Eurobasket competition and he has been an integral part ever since.

“It’s been a long road to get here after having started this process back in 2017,” Cohen commented. “I’m very excited to be approaching the Eurobasket but we have these two games and we want to take care of business there. When the Eurobasket comes it will be exciting.”

For Cohen, the Israel National Team has become an integral part of his playing career and something that he cherishes as an opportunity not to be missed.

Jake Cohen – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“Playing for the national team has been one of the most special things of my profession career. It’s basketball at its purest form with guys not playing for contracts or money or looking to score or anything like that. It’s guys who just want to win and represent themselves and their country in the best way possible. That really resonates with me and it’s something I want to do every time I step onto the court. But here we want to take it to a higher level as guys want to win so badly.”

“We have such great people around, coaching staff, management, the atmosphere is really special and it makes playing a really here a really cool thing. When my career is over the championships with Maccabi will be great but playing for the national team will be right up there at the top of my list of highlights.” 

Two years ago, Cohen was playing in Spain with Obradoiro and never worried about the extra games and commitment that was required to be a part of being a member of the national team, “I don’t think about it like that, when I was playing in Spain it didn’t factor in how many games I’m playing. If the national team wants me to play, I want to play, that’s it. The management comes after that with recovery and treatment. When you’re in the moment I’m just focussed on helping us win.”

John Dibartolomeo and Jake Cohen – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Since Cohen had played with one of the Israel youth national teams he is considered to be a full Israeli and not naturalized which is the designation that fellow American John Dibartolomeo had before being one of the last Israel cuts ahead of the competition. Only one player is allowed to be naturalized on each country’s squad according to FIBA regulations.

However, there have been rules implemented over the recent past that limit naturalized Israelis in the various Israeli basketball leagues which Cohen does not agree with and even believes that had those regulations existed back when he entered the league that perhaps it would have hurt his chances to succeed in the Holy Land.

“I think it’s wrong that the league has any barriers of entry for American-Israelis. I think it’s wrong. Imagine if a hospital put limits on how many American-Israeli doctors could work in the hospital, it’s ridiculous. If the person is talented to work in their field and the institution wants to hire them, the why is the overarching organization limiting that. I get that there needs to be some sort of promotion of Israeli that were born in Israel but the only problem I see comes when people want to advantage of the system. If an American-Israeli wants to come and work here I find it upsetting that they might not have that opportunity because there is a financial penalty for them playing here or roster spots not available to them.”

Jake Cohen – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“I wonder what would have happened earlier in my career if there would have been that limit because when I was playing with Maccabi they had Sylven Landesberg, Alex Tyus, etc.. would I not have had the opportunity to have played at Maccabi? Would John not have gotten the opportunity to play with Maccabi Haifa? Not to overextend myself but John and I have helped the national team in our careers, maybe that doesn’t happen if these rules are in place ten years ago. I’m incredibly grateful to have played here and the experience that I have had playing in Israel and with the national team is something that I want other people to have after me I want the next Israeli-American to experience the things that I have and I hope restrictions on American-Israelis doesn’t get in the way of that.”

On the topic of naturalized players, there has been spate of signings throughout Europe including recent moves that saw Jaleen Smith head to Croatia and most surprisingly Maccabi Tel Aviv guard Lorenzo Brown joining Spain. Cohen would be in favor if the basketball association would decide to naturalize a player that wouldn’t meet the rules of the Law of Return which is based on religion but also had a caveat as well.

“It doesn’t bother me if the Israeli federation decides that this is what we want to do and the player is committed to not only play for the national team but to be Israeli whatever that means. It’s not important to me what a person’s religion is to make them Israeli or not. If that person sees themself as Israeli then I would welcome it.”

Jake Cohen – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

All in all, the country needs more Cohen’s who has been a major contributor to the landscape of Israeli basketball over the years and now has an opportunity to leave a legacy at the upcoming European Championships. There’s no question that Cohen with his veteran know how and guile will be able to do just that.

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