The Sacramento Kings used their 23rd pick to make history Thursday night by tapping Maccabi Tel Aviv shooting guard Omri Casspi, the first Israeli to be selected in the first round of the NBA draft. Some in the crowd waved Israeli flags after the announcement at Madison Square Garden in New York, others danced in the aisles.
Portland was expected to nab Casspi when it traded for the 22nd spot, but the Blazers went with Spanish forward Victor Claver instead.
If he can make it to the floor in Sacramento, Casspi will be the league’s second Jewish player, after the Lakers’ Jordan Farmar.
Casspi is the focus of a national obsession with the idea of an Israeli making it into the NBA, in which some 20 percent of the players are foreigners.
The quest should have ended 10 years ago when Oded Katash had a two-year contract with the New York Knicks, only to lose patience and hope during the extended player lockout of 1999 and to return to Maccabi Tel Aviv before the American season could begin.
Since then Doron Shefer, Lior Eliyahu and Yotam Halperin were drafted, all in the second round.
Eliyahu and Halperin, in the end, lacked the necessary talent to make it to the big-time, and Shefer lacked the necessary luck.
However, sources close to player said earlier this month that the player is likely to play for a European team next year even if he is picked in the first round of the NBA draft.
The Kings would have the luxury of bringing Casspi over this summer or stashing him overseas for further seasoning.
Casspi has a good reputation as a tough, hard-working player. He’s aggressive, athletic and can finish around the basket. He needs to work on his jumps-shot and ball-handling.
As is often the case with international players, it takes longer to adapt defensively than offensively.