Monday, May 28, 2007


You may have heard that the popularity of basketball is growing worldwide, and today the Stingers saw that first-hand.

The Concordia team arrived in Beer Sheva this afternoon, and held a two hour basketball clinic for more than 150 kids aged 10-14.

The gym was packed.
Sure there were language barriers, and no, the teacher-student ratio wasn't ideal, but none of that seemed to matter. These kids, a number of them wearing NBA jerseys, were just happy to be playing basketball, something that more and more Israelis seem to be doing these days.

Stinger point guard Damin Buckley was particularly impressed with the discipline and attention-spans of the young athletes, saying that it made it easier to teach them.

"We've had clinics back home where parents just drop off their kids and nobody really cares. Here it seemed the kids really wanted to learn," Buckley said.

The Stingers were looked upon as basketball heroes, and the kids couldn't get enough of them.
Most of the clinic partipants stuck around after the session to collect autographs, something that even the Concordia players said was a little overwhelming.

"I remember when I was small, and whenever a group of tall guys would come to teach us basketball, you were always excited," said fifth-year Stinger Patrick Perrotte. "It's a chance for us to put a smile on their faces, and it's good for Concordia to be a part of that."

Stinger Coach John Dore, who has run clinics as far away as Japan, was also impressed with the large turnout. "To have this many kids show up on a Sunday afternoon (the start of the work week in Israel), says something about the interest level in the sport."


Among those in Israel who have witnessed the growth of basketball is Coach Israel (like the country) Baruch.

Baruch has worked in Beer Sheva for ten years, having coached the city's professional team since it was created four years ago.

"There used to be a menatility here that Sports wasn't in the Jewish culture," Baruch says. "It was more about business and mathematics, but some of us wanted to take more pride in athletics."

Baruch says that a number of factors combine for basketball's increased popularity in Beer Sheva, including the growth at the grass-roots level, and the success of Israel's professional teams.

"There was never a tradition or history of basketball here, so it was hard to get the engine going," says Safy Benny, the head of Beer Sheva's youth basketball program.

And making it more difficult says Baruch, was a lack of leadership.
"The coaches did this as a hobby. Some of them held mutiple jobs and coaching was never really a priority... kids notice these things."

Attitudes have changed since then, and Baruch points to the pride many coaches now take in their position. "They won't introduce themselves by their first names, or as Dr. so-and-so. Instead they say 'I'm Coach so-and-so.' It's something to be proud of."

Baruch says that with the proper coaching now in place, the next step is to introduce youth basketball (think teenagers) to trainers and athletic therapists.

And in trying to encourage young athletes to choose basketball in what remains a soccer-crazed country, it certainly helps when these kids have professionals they can look up to.

Israel's Lior Eliyahu and Yotam Halperin made the headlines last summer, when they became the first two Israelis selected in NBA Draft history.

Eliyahu and Halperin remained in Israel this past season, but both are expected to negotiate shortly with their NBA rights holders, the Houston Rockets and Seattle Sonics.

"When the kids can see a Lior Eliyahu and the success he's had, it gets them thinking that anything is possible," Baruch says. "It gives them somebody to identify with, and that has never been the case before."

"The whole culture has changed," Safy Benny says. "The professional players in Israel used to be looked at as just ordinary basketball guys. Now they're looked at as celebrities. It's a very big deal."

The Stingers see their first competition tomorrow with two games in the 39th annual ASA Tournament. Concordia is using this week's tournament in Beer Sheva as a warm-up for next week's Friendship Games from Tel Aviv.

We will be staying here until Friday.

Sixteen teams are competing in this tournament, including groups from Serbia and Estonia. In addition to Concordia, the remaining 13 teams are all from Israel.

Feelings are mixed about the competition heading in.
Some of the Stingers expect a significant drop from what they are used to, while others worry that they could be in for a surprise.

Coach John Dore has been told that the skill-level at next week's Friendship Games should be similar to a low Division-I or a high Division-II team in the NCAA.

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