Casspi Still Hungry - and not just for Hummus  

With 24 starts to date in the 2010-2011 season, Omri Casspi has established himself as a respectable second year player in the NBA. Averaging 9.4 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, Casspi, the first Israeli ever to play in the league, remains focused despite the Kings’ disappointing 13-41 record to date.

Having enjoyed some down time during the recent All Star break, Casspi says he remains as hungry as he was one year ago, when he earned a spot on the All Star Rookie team, and not just for the much-loved hummus he can’t find in Sacramento. “If there is one thing I have gotten from my first one and a half seasons in the NBA it is becoming a tougher player – tougher physically but mentally, too.” Casspi said he feels that this toughness, and his growing confidence after 1 ˝ season playing against the world’s best player, has helped him on particularly on defense. “An 82 game season can be tough on a player, but it offers you the opportunity to be always learning and always improving.”

As Israel’s first and so far only representative in the NBA, Casspi is also the sparkplug in a very young Israeli National Team which will play in the 2011 Eurobasket Championship this summer. Israel is in a group with Serbia, France, Italy, Germany, and Latvia. With four of the six advancing out of preliminary rounds into the quarterfinals, Casspi is hopeful for Israel’s chances. (Dirk Nowitzki’s possible absence from the German squad would, of course, be to Israel’s advantage, with Serbia and France as the strongest teams in the group and sure to advance. Israel outplayed Italy in last summer’s qualifying rounds, so that, too, is a good sign. Casspi led the Israeli effort during a six-game summer 2010 play-offs.)
 

 

A former member of Maccabi Tel Aviv, Casspi keeps in touch with his old team – and its several members who are his teammates on Israel’s national team (including 2008 NBA draftee Lior Eliyahu and USC grad David Bluthenthal). Maccabi recently beat the Slovenian club Union Olimpia in quarter-final play of the Euroleague, an international league that plays in parallel to the national leagues of each of the European countries, with its own Final Four each April). This win gives Casspi bragging rights over teammate Beno Udrih, a Slovenian who grew up in the Olimpija club before going to play – of all places – for Maccabi Tel Aviv, just before he was drafted in the NBA 8 years ago.
 

As is the case of the NBA’s other international players, Casspi has a built in fan base from both the Jewish and Israeli communities in every city where he plays. In particular, games played against the Lakers and Clippers in Los Angeles’ Staples Center and games at Madison Square Garden bring out many Casspi fans. “He gets cheered while we are on the road,” noted teammate Jason Thompson.

‘I’m grateful to see everyone supporting me. Sometimes when I’m on the free throw line and I see the Israeli flags, it’s amazing - it really warms my heart. My teammates keep saying it’s like I’ve got family everywhere. When we played in Philadelphia last season, which is where (teammate and 2010 NBA Rookie of the Year) Tyreke (Evans) is from, and it was his first trip home to play, he said to me, ‘You might have more friends here than me!’”

 

Photo by Sportige.com