Israel will be good experience for Gaffney, Lasme

By Adam Miller

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Tony Gaffney might not be a Los Angeles Laker, but that doesn’t mean his career is over. Same goes for several other Massachusetts men’s basketball players.

In fact, many of them play overseas and make a pretty good career for themselves. In the past few years, Italy and France have been some of the more popular places for former Minutemen. Recently, that pipeline from Amherst is leading to Israel.

It started last year with Dante Milligan and continues this year with Gaffney and Stephane Lasme.

Milligan played for the Israeli league (known as the Basketball Super League) with Kiryat Ata before getting waived due to the team’s financial problems. Lasme will play for BSL champion Maccabi Tel Aviv and Gaffney will bring his game to Hapoel Galil/Gilboa.

I was fortunate enough to cover that league when I went there last semester to study abroad and intern for an Israeli newspaper so I have an idea of what they’re getting into.

First of all, Israel is one of the safest places in the world to play basketball even though the news sometimes makes it seem otherwise. Several European countries have riots breakout in the middle of the game while the American players worry about being mugged.

Israel has security at every major public venue and crime is very low compared to most foreign countries, so the chance of anything happening that would compromise an athlete’s safety is minimal at best.

It is also a warm environment (both in weather and getting along with teammates) for American players, especially with the work ethic that Gaffney and Lasme have. Besides Maccabi, nearly every non-Israeli on the rosters are American and everyone speaks English so there’s not a lot of culture shock to get used to.

Unlike many of the European leagues, there aren’t a lot of Israelis competing for roster spots to begin with. Only three active players are actually good enough to play in Euroleague or the NBA (Omri Casspi, Lior Eliyahu and Yotam Halperin) and none of them are playing in their home country this year.

Most of the Americans were decent college basketball players and just missed making the NBA so the competition is at a pretty high level. Gaffney is joined by the BSL’s top player, Jeremy Pargo (Gonzaga) and Brian Randle (Illinois), who has a similar gritty style of play the former Minuteman has.

Lasme has more than enough company to help him grow into a better player despite coming in at a time when Maccabi is rebuilding its roster. He is surrounded by players who know what it takes to be successful in Israel such as David Blumenthal, who played for Tel Aviv when it won the Euroleague Championship in 2004, and Doron Perkins, who arguably was one of the best point guards in Israel last season.

Even if not all the names are recognizable, they share a similar motivation to these former UMass players who help make the Israeli league as competitive as it is now.

 That makes it very easy for players like Gaffney and Lasme to get playing time compared to Europe because native players receive preferential treatment over anyone from the U.S. This is why a solid NBA player like Josh Childress didn’t put up great numbers for his first year in Greece.

Israel has also helped players succeed as NBA players, which is the ultimate goal for both Gaffney and Lasme. One of the recent success stories from Israel is Will Bynum.

The Georgia Tech point guard went undrafted out of Georgia Tech in 2005 and played a brief stint with the Golden State Warriors and signed with Maccabi the very next season. His performance in Israel got him a job with the Detroit Pistons and he currently averages 11 points per game coming off the bench.

 Israel isn’t the best place for everyone. The top would-be high school senior Jeremy Tyler chose to go to Israel for two years with the goal of going No. 1 in the 2011 NBA Draft instead of finishing high school and playing in college for a year.

He scored two points in his first three games playing for a team called Maccabi Haifa, but instead of taking the opportunity to mature overseas, he has been isolated by his coach and teammates for being too arrogant and lazy.

However, neither UMass player has any sort of resemblance to Tyler. Both played four years of college basketball, weren’t highly recruited out of high school, but worked hard enough to receive NBA consideration.

There’s not one Israeli who would complain about sitting on the bench behind a player like that.

Adam Miller is a collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]