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“Just a Jewish kid from Newton” – Playing against NBA 3-Point Champ:Geoff Gray’s Holy Land Hoopster Diary: Lockdown Week #4

Dov Halickman Photography

Last and hopefully final week of lockdown. While the re-opening process will be rather gradual, at least we have been able to return to practice. Getting up and down the floor again for the first time in a couple weeks was a good feeling. Our State Cup game against Be’er Sheva has been scheduled for early November and we should know when our first league game is soon, so things are moving in the right direction. Other than that and watching some EuroLeague hoops action, I don’t have much else to add, so I’ll share another story from Eilat last year.

For those not familiar with the Winner Cup, it’s the preseason tournament that First Division plays typically three weeks or so into training camp. While we had a couple scrimmages early on, this was our first real test on national television. Our opponent was Ness Ziona (shout out to my high school teammate and good friend from back home, Barak Swarttz, who just became their head strength & conditioning coach at the age of 25). Anyway, I check in late-first quarter, and I’m matched up with Daequan Cook – yes, 2009 NBA Three-Point Contest Champion, Daequan Cook.

Not only that, but their PG is Corey Fisher, one of the best guards to ever come out of Villanova, and their center is Jeff Withey, 5-year NBA veteran. Now, seven months prior to this I was playing Division Three basketball. Not to take anything away from D3 (shout out to Duncan Robinson for putting us on the map), but this was a different level.

However, I knew that was the past and that we’re all pros now. After checking in off the bench, I quickly hit back-to-back threes, and that was the moment I kind of knew that I belonged – in case you want a snippet of what it looked like: https://twitter.com/WinnerLeague/status/1176167408282689539?s=20.

Unfortunately for me, the spotlight quickly shifted as I got caught on the wrong end of a Corey Fisher and-1 on the very next possession. Most people have their “welcome to the pros” moment and that was certainly mine, both encouraging and humbling.

Moral of the story, no matter where you began your journey, you’d be surprised where this ball can take you if you use it correctly. When I was in college, hearing about John Dibartolomeo, Willy Workman, Travis Warech, and others giving “D3 to the pros” life in Israel, it gave me hope. They paved the way and showed that non-scholarship players can make it in the big leagues. But that’s not to take away from remembering where you came from. “Just Jewish kids from Newton,” Barak and I like to say…

Until next time,

Geoff

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