Omri Casspi made history when he became the first Israeli player to be selected in the NBA’s first round. Casspi was chosen by the Sacramento Kings with the 23rd overall pick.
“I can’t speak,” Casspi said through tears of joy. “I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life … I’m as happy as can be. We made history. I feel like I am in a dream.”
Only first round draft picks are guaranteed NBA contracts so if things go as normal, Casspi has the chance of becoming the first player from Israel to actually play in an NBA game.
For the last five years, 20-year old Casspi has been playing in the Israeli league, between clubs Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel. Casspi just finished in fourth place for the 2008-09 FIBA Europe Young Men’s Player of the Year Award, behind Ricky Rubio, Danilo Gallinari, and Kosta Koufos.
Four Israelis have come close to sutiing up in the NBA before, three of which have been selected in the second round of the NBA draft, but none have made the cut.
Most recently, in the 2006 NBA Draft, two Israelis were chosen in the second round. Lior Eliyahu was taken #44 by the Orlando Magic, and Yotam Halperin was selected #53 by the then Seattle Supersonics. Neither player were able to stick and both returned to Europe.
Before that, Doron Sheffer, a star guard for the University of Connecticut, was chosen by the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round in the 1996 draft. That draft also featured Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, Allen Iverson, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Peja Stojaković, and Steve Nash.
However, Sheffer never even made it to camp. Because Doron wasn’t guaranteed a contract as a second-rounder, he decided to return home.
Back in 1999, the undrafted Oded Katash agreed to a two-year contract with the New York Knicks, but also never played due to the extended player lockout that year. Katash returned to play for Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Casspi was the fourth international player selected in the 2009 NBA Draft, after Hasheem Thabeet (Tanzania), Ricky Rubio (Spain), and Victor Claver (Spain), who at #22, was selected one spot before Casspi.
Barring injuries, Casspi should be wearing a Kings jersey when the NBA regular season begins, thus living out one of his childhood dreams, but Casspi won’t be satisfied simply with wearing the purple and black.
“Anytime you fulfill a dream a new one arises,” he said. “I’m in a great place now and the goal is to become a legitimate NBA player.”
Links and Resources: Casspi 1st Israeli taken in 1st round of NBA draft (AP), 2009 Draft: 14 international players chosen (Interbasket), Two Israelis taken in NBA Draft (YNet)