Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball star Omri Casspi will likely be the first Israeli to play in the NBA after being the number 23 pick in the first round of the draft by the Sacramento Kings on Friday.
Casspi, 20 years old and 2.06 meters (6 feet 9 inches) tall, led Maccabi Tel Aviv to the league championship last year and is considered one of the top small forwards picked in this year’s NBA draft.
When NBA commissioner David Stern announced Casspi’s selection with a smile on his face, fans of the Israeli player present burst out in celebration. Casspi, at home in Rehovot, was caught on camera with tears pouring down his face.
“I don’t know what to say,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this my whole life. I’m as happy as can be.”
The draft pick does not guarantee that Casspi will play for the Kings, but analysts say he will most likely be the first Israeli to play in the NBA. Several Israelis have been drafted to the league before, but never in the first round, and none successfully made the transition to U.S. basketball.
Speaking later at a formal press conference, Casspi was more composed. “I know I will create a good name for Israelis who come after me,” he said. “I hope that I will open the door for more young Israeli players."