Israel celebrates Casspi's draft
The Maccabi Tel Aviv played is selected by the Sacramento Kings.
Last Modified: 26 Jun 2009 12:22 GMT

Fans in New York celebrate the player's selection [EPA]
The news of Israeli basketball player Omri Casspi's selection in the NBA draft set off a major celebration in his home country.

Casspi, a 2.06-metre, 20-year-old forward with Maccabi Tel Aviv, was taken by the Sacramento Kings with the 23rd pick of the NBA Draft.

It's the first time an Israeli has been selected in the first round of the draft and guarantees Casspi a two-year contract that will likely pave the way for him to become the first Israeli to ever play in the NBA.

Three Israeli have been selected before in the second round, but none have made the cut.

The Sport 5 television channel broadcast the draft live from 2:30 a.m. Friday local time, posting a camera in the living room of Casspi's parents in the city of Yavne and capturing his emotional reaction to the pick.


"I can't speak,'' Casspi said, tears pouring down his face. "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.''

Casspi led Maccabi Tel Aviv to a league championship this past year, averaging 12.6 points per game, and was named to the all-league team.

He also starts for the Israel national basketball team.

The idea of getting a homebred player in the NBA has become something of a national obsession in Israel.

University of Connecticut standout Doron Sheffer was chosen in the second round of the 1996 draft by the Los Angeles Clippers, but opted to return home when he wasn't guaranteed a contract.

In 1999, Oded Katash agreed to a two-year contract with the New York Knicks, but never go to play because of the extended player lockout that year and returned to play for Maccabi Tel Aviv,

In the 2006 draft, Israelis Lior Eliyahu and Yotam Halperin were chosen by the Houston Rockets and the Seattle SuperSonics respectively.

Neither has ever played a game in the NBA.

New goals

However, Casspi's first-round selection all but guarantees that he will suit up for the Kings in the near future.

Casspi said he will soon travel to Sacramento to finalise his contract.

He told Sport 5 that the Kings asked him what number he would like to wear. He
said he chose to stay with his Maccabi number, 13.

"Anytime you fulfill a dream a new one arises,'' he said, as friends poured champagne on his head.

"I'm in a great place now and the goal is to become a legitimate NBA player.''

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