‘We made history. I feel like I am in a dream,” Israeli basketball player Omri Casspi said June 25, when he was picked by the Sacramento Kings in the first round of the 2009 NBA Draft, held at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden. Casspi became the first Israeli basketball player to be selected in the first round of the draft, guaranteeing him a multiyear NBA contract. Picked 23rd, he was the fourth international player drafted this year.
Only a handful of Israeli players have ever come close to playing in the NBA. Most recently, Lior Eliyahu and Yotam Halperin were tapped in the second round of the draft in 2006; however, neither player made his respective team, and both left the States to play for European teams.
The 21-year-old Casspi had originally submitted his name in last year’s draft, but he dropped out at the last minute. He instead returned to Israel to help lead his former squad, Maccabi Tel Aviv, to the 2008-09 league championship. He also has played on the all-league team and the Israeli national squad.