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Omri Casspi runs with the Wolves

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The first and only Israeli in the NBA comes to Minnesota and ponders his basketball future

By MORDECAI SPECKTOR

Life in the National Basketball Association has its ups and downs.

Omri Casspi, the first Israeli ever to play in the NBA, was with the Sacramento Kings this season, then found himself part of a trade, along with DeMarcus Cousins, that sent him to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Omri Casspi, who recently joined the Timberwolves, looks to pass during the March 30 game against the Los Angeles Lakers. (Photo: Mordecai Specktor)

In his first game with the Pelicans, Casspi, 28, broke his right thumb, on his shooting hand, and was put on waivers. As it happened, the Timberwolves needed a forward after Nemanja Bjelica suffered an ankle injury in a March 16 game against the Boston Celtics. The Wolves signed Casspi to play for the remainder of the season.

Sitting in front of his locker in Target Center, before the Timberwolves game against the Lakers on March 30, Casspi shows a reporter his splinted and bandaged thumb.

Doctors said that he would be out of action for four to six weeks, which prompted the Pelicans to release him.

“It took me about three weeks to get back on the court,” comments the 6-foot, 9-inch athlete. “I got to wear this brace.”

In the off-season, Casspi lives with his wife, Shani, in Tel Aviv. They were married last year, and are expecting a baby girl in 2017.

He trains and plays with the Israeli national team during the summer.

The Timberwolves are off March 10. Will Casspi attend a Pesach seder?

“Yeah, of course,” he replies. “I don’t know where I’m going to be at. I think we’re going to be in LA.”

He thinks that a friend likely will invite him to a seder.

New to the Twin Cities, the personable Israeli says he hasn’t had time to explore the area.

“So far it’s been great,” says Casspi, who wears the No. 18 jersey. “I’m still trying to adjust to different things on the court, but other than that, it’s been good.”

Casspi, along with members of the Timberwolves staff, have no idea what the future holds.

“I don’t know… I’m trying to figure out this thing on the run,” he comments. “To play well, that’s my number one goal right now.”

He’s new to the Timberwolves and has never played with any of the mainly young team members. That’s life in the NBA.

There was another Israeli in the NBA: Gal Mekel played for Dallas and New Orleans, 2013-2015, then played in Russia and Serbia. The NBA has become a global brand, with players from many nations; Casspi is the sole Israeli in the world’s premier hoops league.

In the third quarter of the game against the Lakers, Ricky Rubio, the Spanish court magician, finds Casspi cutting down the lane and passes him the ball in stride. Casspi stuffs it in the hoop.

The Wolves beat the lowly Lakers, 119-104. Rubio was the game’s high scorer with 33 points, breaking his career-high scoring game by five points.

Casspi played about 13 minutes, and scored four points, with one assist and one steal.

The Twolves play the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday, April 11 at Target Center.

(American Jewish World, 4.7.17)

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