Monday, October 1, 2012
Jazz impressed by Israel's Mekel
By Marc Stein
A new name has emerged in the race to become Israel's second-ever NBA player alongside Cleveland's Omri Casspi.
Point guard Gal Mekel impressed the Utah Jazz in a recent audition to such a degree that the Jazz, according to sources close to the situation, have extended an unexpected invitation to training camp to Mekel, who played two seasons at Wichita State from 2006-08.
But sources told ESPN.com that visa complications have made it unlikely that Mekel could be ready to join the Jazz before the end of the coming week at the earliest, by which point he'd have already missed several practices, thus setting him back and complicating any attempt to try to make Utah's roster.
So the most likely scenario now, sources say, is that Mekel, 24, will play in Europe for one more season before coming back to the States to play summer league ball next July.
During last week's visit to Utah's practice facility, sources say Mekel impressed Jazz officials in pickup games with his ballhandling, size, ability to read the game and, most of all, his effectiveness in pick and rolls.
The suggestion is that the 6-foot-4, 190-pounder might actually be more effective in the NBA game than he is internationally, particularly in pick-and-roll situations, because the lane tends to be so much more clogged overseas.
Since leaving the collegiate ranks, Mekel has won both Rookie of the Year (2009) and league MVP (2011) awards in his homeland during a three-season run in the Israeli Super League, bouncing between perennial European powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv and Gilboa Galil Elyon. Mekel spent the 2011-12 season with Benetton Treviso in Italy but was slowed by a bout with plantar fasciitis.
He's close with Casspi and recently joined the Cleveland swingman and another emerging NBA guard prospect -- Maccabi Tel Aviv's Yogev Ohayon -- on the Israeli national team that qualified for the 2013 Eurobasket tournament in Slovenia.
Besides Casspi, power forward Lior Eliyahu and combo guard Yotam Halperin are the only other Israelis whose rights are currently held by an NBA team. But both players, selected in the second round of the 2006 NBA Draft, have spent their entire pro careers with elite teams in Europe.
Minnesota acquired Eliyahu's rights from Houston in June as part of the trade that landed Chase Budinger with the Timberwolves, but Eliyahu, now 27, has only sampled NBA summer-league ball since being drafted 44th overall in 2006.
Halperin, drafted No. 53 overall by Seattle in '06, is now 28 and has opted for the security of more lucrative deals in Slovenia, Greece, Russia and Germany -- in addition to multiple stints with Maccabi Tel Aviv -- as opposed to taking on the risky challenge of making it to the NBA without the safety net of a guaranteed contract.
It appears Mekel, though, is poised to chase the NBA dream after the strong encouragement he got from the Jazz.