|11 June 2010|
By Paul Nilsen
Mention Womens basketball in Israel and the name Cohen in the same breath and you inevitably find the person opposite assumes you are referring to a certain star whose first name is Liron.
While altogether understandable, that assumption may soon be thrown out of the window if a certain Avigiel Cohen gets her way.
|Avigiel Cohen running the show at the 2009 U18 European Championship Women Division B|
The young guard is emerging as a seriously major prospect and after a super display at youth level last summer, her growing reputation has now extended beyond the borders of Europe and across the Pond.
This is where it all began for the 18 year old and you can be assured that when it comes to basketball, she certainly knows her stuff. Not that she had much choice mind you. With her dad and brothers already dedicated to the sport, growing up in the Cohen household meant a diet of basketball night and day - not that she would have had it any other way.
"Ever since I can remember, basketball was a huge part of my life." Cohen re-calls fondly.
"My father was a player as well as my older twin brothers so it was natural for me to start play at the age of 6."
"The story begins in Los Angeles where I was born. Therefore, we are big fans of the Lakers and were always watching all the games as a family and enjoying it very much. You can definitely label us as a sports family!"
When the family then headed to Israel with Avigiel still a mere toddler, it seemed fitting they were to exchange one basketball hotbed for another - and it was to be the start of Cohen developing her impressively hard nosed aggressive approach on the court.
"In 1995 we moved to Israel to a city named Ramat Hasharon which is known as the city with the most successful and famous basketball women's club in the country."
"I played in this club from age 6 to 18. During those years I always had the challenge to play with older players than me."
It has been a grounding that has served her well so far. She has excelled at youth level for Israel and can speak proudly of being first drafted to play for her country at 14 years old - meaning she was able to play for three years at U16 level.
"It was a big honour for me to play on the Israeli national team at such a young age along with older players considered the best in country." explains Cohen.
"Playing with those players gave me a lot of experience and confidence."
Last summer she had a stellar U18 Championships on home soil and was named in the All Tournament team - something she cherishes dearly.
"Following a few years flying all over Europe to play, being the host country for the U18 championship was an outstanding event."
|"being the host country for the U18 championship was an outstanding event.|
"Having my family and friends in the crowd motivated me to be the leader of the team and finally to be chosen for the All Tournament team."
Now things have been cranked up another level once again and as a reward Cohen might also get to see the Lakers first hand. She is returning to the Sunshine State to take up a spot with University of California for the 2010-11 NCAA campaign.
Joining the Golden Bears has naturally got her excited and when you look at her background, it seems (or at least on paper) to be a form of synergy that could yield impressive results both short and long term.
She is thrilled with the move and is bursting to get started.
"I am very excited to join the Cal family!"
"From the beginning of my connection with head coach Joan Boyle, guards coach Charmin Smith and the rest of the staff I felt the chemistry and the positive energy that I was looking for."
Question her as to why she didn't pursue a route straight into the pro-game in Europe and the emphatic answer underlines that Cohen is one shrewd cookie who knows what she wants from life.
"In our family education is very important. Therefore, I was looking for a program that combines both basketball and degree. Getting a full scholarship from Berkeley is a once in a lifetime opportunity. A professional basketball career does not last forever and the degree from Berkeley will help me pursue other goals in the future."
"The University of California fits all of my requirements such as highly academics, a good basketball program and the environment. On top of that, I have a lot of close family and friends in the area. Moreover, Berkeley is been known for its Hillel (Jewish organization) which is very important for my religion and tradition."
"My ultimate goal is still to maximize my potential and become a professional player at the best level possible."
To reach the level required, Cohen still has work to do. A confident shooter and never afraid to pull the strings in the backcourt, it could be her flexibility of playing anywhere in the backcourt that is her real strength - even if she admits she needs to improve in various facets of her game.
"Nowadays, in modern basketball you need to be a versatile guard in order to succeed. I am 1.80, which gives me a huge advantage on the court. I would rather play in 1-2 position where I have the most impact on the team."
"There are few things that I need to improve, play without the ball, my shooting skills and defence."
"One of the fields that the programs in the states emphasise is building a healthy athletic body. In my opinion, this is extremely important in order to become a professional player."
While Cohen has the kind of dynamism on and off the court that never fails to impress - she is not immune to bad luck. Her tale does have a rather annoying sting in the tail. If you intended (as I did) to track the progress of Cohen this summer you will be sorely disappointed - but not as disappointed as the player herself.
Having already enjoyed a call-up to the senior National Team last year, another name-check and involvement in the Eurobasket Women qualifying campaign seemed odds-on. However as Cohen explains, she will be left to kick her heels in frustration and won't be able to play for the U20 team or the senior side.
"I was called to the National Team last year but the coaches decided that the U18 in Eilat was more important."
"Last December I injured my knee and this kind of injury requires surgery which I went through in February."
"Unfortunately, I will probably not be able to participate in any youth or senior championship this summer because I am still undergoing treatment as a part of my rehabilitation."
While she may well be M.I.A. this summer, Avigiel Cohen is still a name at youth level to remember and keep in your mind. After all, she has been given a ringing endorsement by the big star of Israeli basketball, Liron Cohen who recently pointed to her namesake as being key in the future development and progress of the senior team.
Not only that, but comparisons are already being made between both players and for Cohen the younger, it is the ultimate form of flattery.
"I am very proud and honoured to be compared to Liron Cohen."
"She is considered one of the best Israeli point guards ever. I hope to be successful at the same level as she is right now and to be famous like her."
She added, "We both were invited by a professional photographer to take women art basketball pictures together so I have already got to know her personally."
Hopefully for fans of Israeli basketball and for Avigiel Cohen herself, it won't be long before photographers are able to capture the pair working in tandem and weaving works of art on the floor.