NBA teams choose two Israelis in draft

Yotam Halperin – A good chance to be the first Israeli to play in the NBA. Israeli basketball players Lior Eliyahu and Yotam Halperin were selected in the second round of the NBA Draft on Thursday morning. Following Doron Sheffer, …

Yotam Halperin – A good chance to be the first Israeli to play in the NBA.
Israeli basketball players Lior Eliyahu and Yotam Halperin were selected in the second round of the NBA Draft on Thursday morning.

Following Doron Sheffer, the first Israeli player picked in the NBA Draft (by the Los Angeles Clippers in the 1996 draft), Eliyahu was selected 44th overall by the Orlando Magic before being traded to the Houston Rockets. Combination guard Yotam Halperin became the third Israeli selected in the draft after he was taken by the Seattle Supersonics with the 53rd overall pick.

Halperin’s former coach at Maccabi Tel Aviv, David Blatt, said that the 22-year-old has a good chance to become the first Israeli to play in the NBA.

“Yotam Halperin is ready for the NBA.” he told The Jerusalem Post. “Yotam has come a long way in the last year.”

The 6-5 guard with exceptional shooting and passing skills but questionable quickness, played this past year for Slovenia’s Olimpija Ljubljana, which Blatt said “helped Halperin come into his own.”

“He is as ready as any other 22-year-old, and maybe even more prepared than the American 22-year-olds [for the NBA],” Blatt said. “Halperin is ready.”

Halperin played for Maccabi Tel Aviv, the elite team in Israel, from 2000 to 2005 before moving to Slovenia, where he would get more playing time as a young player. But according to his agent Jason Levien, Halperin first turned heads when he led all scorers in the Under-20 World Championships in Argentina two years ago.

Halperin got off to a late start trying to impress NBA personnel in the United States after a long playoff run in Europe, in which he led Olimpija Ljubljana to the Slovenian championship.

Since he arrived in the US for the workouts two weeks ago, Halperin has a lot of the country – with stops for NBA workouts in Indianapolis, Portland, Dallas, Detroit, Phoenix, New York and Washington.

According to Levien, despite the delay, Halperin has still impressed the teams he worked out with.

“[Halperin] has just been great in terms of coming [to America] quickly and showing what he could do,” said Levien.

“If I’m going to make it, I’ll be the first Israeli in the NBA, and that would be small history,” Halperin told The Miami Herald.. “Everybody would remember the first… But that is the third or fourth thing [on] my mind right now.”

The 20-year-old Eliyahu, a forward from Hapoel Galil Elyon-Golan, “is the perfect guy if an NBA team is looking for a prospect,” said his coach Oded Katash, himself a former NBA prospect in the late 90s.

Eliyahu “has improved a lot over the last two years,” Katash told the Post.

Many experts feel that Eliyahu is a skilled, solid performer with what it takes to make it in the NBA. Katash says he “just needs to work on his perimeter game and size.”

Eliyahu, from Ramat Gan, was named the Post’s BSL Young Player of the Year after averaging 15.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and being selected for the FIBA EuroCup All-Star game.

His agent Steve Heumann said that Eliyahu has played well at the recent major European pre-draft camp in Treviso, Italy, also attended by Halperin. “Lior is excited about his experience. It has been a new experience for him, but he has his the ground running and done great,” Heumann told The Post. He said he sought out Lior because “Lior will play in the NBA.”

NBA commissioner David Stern told the Herald he was looking forward to having an Israeli player in the NBA, despite the extra work it would cause him.

“That would mean so many requests for tickets for me… It would be even worse because I now get calls complaining that they are up at 4 in the morning watching the games and somehow it’s my fault. Israelis are crazy about basketball. So that would be very interesting for us,” Stern said.