One of the great things about the FIBA Youth Tournaments is the opportunity is to see the stars of the future, today. That was once again the case in Tel Aviv as Israel hosted one of the Under-18 groups which included basketball powerhouses France, Estonia, Greece, Lithuania, along with Portugal.
Israel won the competition with a 4-1 record in what was a group stage tournament in place of the usual European Championship which was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each team is littered with potential players who may feature in their own domestic league, the Euroleague or perhaps even the NBA. A number of players had already caught the eye of scouts prior to the competition whether it’s Israel’s Yuval Levin from Maccabi Tel Aviv, France’s Daryl Doualla who is part of ASVEL’s youth department along with Los Altos high school stud Jazz Gardner, Athanasios Bazinas from Greece, Lithuania’s Emilis Butkus and top ranked Henri Veesaar from Estonia.
However, on player who came out of absolutely nowheres to steal the show and the tournament’s most valuable player award was Israeli Ron Zipper.
Zipper had never been a part of the National Team program and in fact, the 18-year old had been playing for a 3rd division club in Ashkelon as well as a second division youth league and barely raised an eyebrow.
However, as the competition went on, Zipper’s name began to grow as fans fell in love with the sharpshooter who averaged 25.2 points over the five games going an astonishing 27/54 from 3-point range for over a 50% clip from deep!
But it wasn’t just his shot that fell, it was his overall game going 5/5 from the line late against France while scoring 10 points in a row to give Israel a hard earned win over arguably the most talented team in the competition.
Zipper’s exploits traveled over the ocean too many experts of the game as his legend began to grow game after game.
In his first game, U18 captain Nevo Sommerfeld explained that while for most of the players in the tournament they had already been a part of the Israel National Team program for years, but that was not the case for Zipper after putting up 28 points against Lithuania in a 100-71 win.
“I don’t know if you know this, but it was his first game with the national team. He was gigantic and was a real man. I want to wish him the best of success going forward. He’s a great player.”
Following game two, where Zipper scored 19 points in what was yet another blue-and-white victory 102-67 over Portugal, the games’s MVP Adam Scherbakov who himself scored 24 points and will be attending college in the United Staes said, “He has surprised everyone, it’s a Cinderella story. I don’t know if you realize this but he came from a 2nd division youth team and I had a chance to play against him in school. He absolutely destroyed us. He has a bright future ahead.”
Ofek Gol who will be a part of Hapoel Tel Aviv’s squad next year also had high praise for Zipper after the Portugal win, “I’m excited for him. This is his first campaign. He’s a great player and I see a bright future ahead for him.”
Game three was the huge comeback 89-83 win against France in which Zipper once again was the star of the show checking in with 31 points helping will Israel to the late victory with his showing exploits as the clock wound down, scoring 10 straight points. The fourth game was another victory over Greece win which Zipper added 22 points and the finale, a loss to Estonia and another 26 points from the new darling of Israeli hoops.
Zipper credited the team’s mental coach Lior Lipshitz for much of his success over the competition, “It’s great to come out each game and give another great performance. Lior Lipshitz has helped us tremendously, including preparation each and every day. It’s incredible.”
Head coach Oren Aharoni who has worked with Israeli youth over the past decade had sound advice for Zipper in order for him to succeed going forward, “Zipper has to stay humble and keep himself grounded. Every team went after him throughout the tournament but he was able to overcome that challenge.”
As for Zipper’s new found fame, the guard made no secret that he this was the highlight of his basketball career to date, “I’m happy for the team as we worked hard for the past two months and it’s all coming together. I’m not used to the attention but it’s great. I don’t know where I will be next season and up until now this is the top of my career but I want more.”
“It’s what I have dreamed at night. I’ve worked hard for this and to be here now is just incredible. To any child who wants to succeed, you’ll get there by working hard.”
It’s never easy to get noticed when you are from the periphery of the country and Zipper acknowledged that this in itself is a massive success story, “Coming from Ashkelon is really tough. At my first practices it was tough for me to show my abilities but slowly but surely with the help of the professional staff everything came together.”
As for who Zipper models his game after, the guard compared himself to one of the best shooters the game of basketball has ever seen. “James Harden, with all of the step-backs and we are both lefties. That’s my role model, despite him never passing the ball,” Zipper said with a laugh.
Finally, Yuval Levin who entered the tournament as one of the odds on favorites to be the most valuable player and one who would end up dominating the competition, spoke about the U18’s new star, “He had a great tournament. He’s a quiet guy and modest, but on the court he’s a killer and takes whatever he can. He gets his teammates involved and does everything on the court. I’m sure he’s going to go far in his career.”
The Behind The Scenes Story as to how Zipper even made it onto the U18 roster
Israel’s Ron Zipper became the darling of the Under-18 FIBA Challenger Tournament with his superb play and overall game coming out of absolutely nowheres to star for the Blue & White. Many want to know how the guard showed up on the scene and The Sports Rabbi has the exclusive behind the scenes story as to how Zipper made it onto the winning squad.
Everyone can now see what type of phenomenal shooter and player Ron Zipper is after having captured the Most Valuable Player award but little know the behind the scenes story as to how a young boy from Ashkelon in the periphery even received a chance to star for the country.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic there were attempts to have Zipper considered for the Under-18 team but nothing came of it, but thanks to former Israeli league player Amir Katz who is also a member of Zipper’s close family the opportunity was set into motion.
Following futile attempts by Zipper’s father who was unable convince anyone from the National Team program to look at a player from Sport Club Ashkelon, Katz personally spoke to coach Oren Aharoni who had played together in the Israeli league years ago. Katz explained that he didn’t ask Aharoni to do him a favor but to just take a look at Zipper and if he was ok then to give him a chance, if he wasn’t then there would be no harm done.
Aharoni invited Zipper to come for a tryout and from there the eventual MVP earned his place all by himself and as they say, the rest is history. Katz appreciated Aharoni’s professionalism and the fact that it’s extremely rare to even consider and extend an invitation to a youth league player from the second division, to see if there is potential and to give them an opportunity. He also stated that Aharoni, who will be moving to the Israel Premier League this season from Maccabi Tel Aviv’s youth department, should be a coach that any young player would want to play for and work with down the road.