Israel: Rising Star Casspi Looks Ahead To U-18 European Championship

11.05.2006

Omri Casspi is one of Israel's brightest young talents.

The 17-year-old sees limited action with Maccabi Tel Aviv but rest assured, Casspi is well on his way to making a larger contribution to a big European club in the future.

Casspi recently starred for the Israeli national team at the Albert Schweitzer Tournament, averaging 20.9 points (second-best), 8.8 rebounds (fourth-best) and 1.7 steals as Israel finished 10th.

There were 16 teams at the prestigious under-18 tournament. Casspi made the tournament's All-Star team and certainly raised the eyebrows of many of the NBA and European scouts.

Casspi has yet to make a significant impact with Maccabi Tel Aviv's senior team, but it's only a matter of time.

The wing player from Rehovot, Israel, led the junior team to the National Junior Championship for the 17th time last season. As for the national side, he is hoping to represent the senior team  eventually.

Omri Casspi (Israel)
Omri Casspi averaged 14 points per game for Israel in last year's U18 European Championship
Last summer, he played for Israel at the U-18 European Championships in Serbia & Montenegro and averaged 14 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.0 assist and 1.8 steals per contest.

This summer, Casspi will be a driving force at the U-18 European Championships in Greece, where Israel have be drawn into Group C with Italy, Bulgaria and Germany.

He recently gave an exclusive interview to PA Sport's David Hein on behalf of FIBA Europe.

FIBA Europe: Omri, Israel struggled at the tournament in Mannheim playing as a team. What are the implications for the U-18 European Championships coming up in July?

Casspi: This tournament was just a warm-up before the real competition  for us in the summer in Greece. We came in (to Mannheim) at a very good level in a tournament with a lot of good players who will be in the Euroleague and NBA in the future. But we need to play better as a team. We are getting better. But we still have work to do.

FIBA Europe: Talk a bit about the U18 European Championships. You have Italy, Bulgaria and Germany in your group. What are Israel's chances?

Casspi: We have a very good group. We have to come in good shape and play as a team. It's important to play as a team. And I think we can go to the quarter-finals. We need to better though.

FIBA Europe: And who do you see as the main title contenders?

Casspi: I think Serbia & Montenegro and France - who were champions at the (2004) cadet levels - will be very strong. But everything is very open. It's one game. Everybody can surprise everybody.

FIBA Europe: What about Greece with all those fans screaming "Hellas! Hellas! Hellas!"?

Casspi: For sure it will hard. But there will also be a lot of pressure on them. Everybody will want them to succeed in Greece. It's going to hard for everybody.

FIBA Europe: Playing at the Albert Schweitzer Tournament means playing in front of dozens of NBA and European scouts. Did you feel any pressure knowing those eyes are on you?

Casspi: We read before the tournament about some problems between the main players on this team - that everybody wants to show their game to the scouts, that I have a good shot or I'm a good penetrator and everything. But I never really thought about it too much. We need to get better now. And it is getting better now. We need to play as a team. And as a team everybody can show his skills.

FIBA Europe: At the club level, you had a lot of success with Maccabi's junior team. And now you've advanced to the senior team this season and even have earned some minutes during the regular season. How do you see your development at Maccabi?

Casspi: At the beginning of the season, we talked about me going to the senior and not to the junior level. It's something different from juniors and senior level. I had to bulk up my body to add some weight and then lose some weight. Now I'm working on my shot. My shot is not that good yet. And I'm not in good shape inside. But I'm playing and practicing with the best players in Europe. And I'm getting better. And I hope it continues like that.

FIBA Europe: What are some things you need to work on in your game?

Casspi: For sure, I need to work on my shot a little bit. Also better penetration. The passing game is also something I need to work on if I'm going to be good.

FIBA Europe: What it's like playing for such an organisation like Maccabi?

Casspi: It's an amazing organisation. Everything over there is the most professional. Coach (Pini Gershon) is amazing. He's helping me. He's giving me advice. It's an amazing club. I came from the juniors so the fans also like me more than the regular players who come into play. But that's how it is.

FIBA Europe: How close do you see yourself making more of a contribution to the Maccabi senior team?

Casspi: It's a progression. I came to the team knowing it's a progression. At the beginning of the season, I didn't play much, but I got to play a lot more in the middle of the season in the Israeli league. It's good for me. I hope it will continue - the progression.

FIBA Europe: And where do you see Israeli basketball?

Casspi: There are a lot of talented payers in Isarel. Now we have more competiiton in the championship. It's not as easy as it was.


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