The NBA draft took place Thursday morning in NYC's Madison Square Garden and made history. The Toronto Raptor's drafted the Italian Andrea Bargnani, who will be remembered forever as the first European player to be chosen first in the NBA draft. Mentored by David Blatt of Benetton Trevizo, Bargnani will meet up fellow European Jose Manuel Calderon, in the European-Canadian project of Mauricio Gerardini, the team's new vice present and Blatt's boss until last week.
A few more history-making moments, albeit only from an Israeli perspective, occurred later on, in round two: Yotam Halperin and Lior Eliyanu were both chosen.
Unfortunately, only a round-one pick is guaranteed a two year contract (plus a one year option) in the NBA, so the boys will need to fight for their standing on their respective teams. Eliyahu was picked first between them, in the 44th place, by Orlando Magic, before being forwarded to the Houston Rockets in exchange for cash on hand. Halperin was also chosen near the end of the draft, in 53rd place, by the Seattle Supersonics.
Challenges for Halperin
Halperin, Israel's prominent representative in the current draft, suffered from the NBA's hesitation to choose guards early in the draft. In this way, for example, Marcus Williams from Connecticut, considered the best in this position, was drafted only as 22nd pick. Guard Rajon Rondo from Kentucky, was drafted next, by the Boston Celtics. An additional guard, the Jewish Jordan Farmer from UCLA stayed close to home and will play with Kobi Bryant for the Lakers, after being picked 26th.
The Sonics, who checked out Olympia Ljubljana's star last year, decided to gamble on him as an option for either guard position. Now it's up to Halperin to decide: Go to training camp with his new team or stay in Israel next year in the uniform of Maccabee Tel-Aviv, where he has a guaranteed contract for one season.
Lior Eliyahu: Houston's project
Lior Eliyahu, who is also anticipated to join Maccabi Tel Aviv shortly, is considered a long-term project by the Rockets, who intend to follow his progress closely. Despite his invitation to the pre-season training camps, they're counting on his continued presence in Europe.
Eliyahu, who watched the broadcast of the draft from his home in Israel said, "This is the most exciting moment of my life. I'm here with the whole family. I have never been happier. I'm still a bit in shock and don't know what's going on with me. This is the start of my lifelong goal and I reached it and now I need to work hard to make it come true. I still don't know if I will go to the training camps. My agent was also surprised and our plans are still unclear."
In other basketball news, Pini Gershon, who led Maccabi Tel Aviv to three European titles, signed a contract to coach Greek team Olympiakos.