Toronto athletes play pro basketball in Israel
TORONTO — If you check Bnei Hasharon Herzliya’s active roster, you’ll see Toronto native Jared Mintz listed as an Israeli. Likewise, review the list of players on the Maccabi Haifa Heat website, and a little blue-and-white Israeli flag pops up next to Simon Farine’s name.
Yet both young men, aged 23 and 24 respectively, were high school basketball stars in Toronto. Mintz played for the Anne & Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto Tigers, taking them to the provincial quarter finals one year. Farine played for the Northern Secondary Red Knights, where he was named athlete of the year and was a Toronto Star basketball all-star.
So what gives?
It’s all about using the rules to your advantage. Teams playing in Israel’s Ligat Ha’Al (Super League) are limited to four imports from abroad, so they try to improve their rosters and comply with the rule by recruiting North American Jewish players with an interest in making aliyah. Sign the right documents, make the commitment and presto, instant Israeli.
So far, Mintz loves the experience of playing pro ball in Israel. Although he was a go-to guy in college, playing 30 minutes a game for the Lafayette Leopards in the NCAA’s Patriot League, he’s getting the freshman treatment with Bnei Hasharon.
“I’m not getting an incredible amount of time [playing],” he said. “But it’s OK for a first-year player. It’s been pretty incredible over all.”
Mintz, a six-foot-nine centre, now sees only about 10:34 of playing time per game. So far this season, he’s averaged 2.3 points per game and 2.3 rebounds. With Lafayette, he scored 15.8 points per game and snagged 5.8 rebounds.
“It’s different than in college,” he explained. The biggest adjustment is that “they’re paying you to play basketball, so it’s a little more pressure than in college. You have to prove yourself all the time.”
Mintz signed a one-year contract with an option for a second year.
“When I finished by senior year in basketball at college, I started looking for an agent,” he said.
Before he signed with Bnei Hasharon, Mintz’s agents talked to three or four teams.
“Bnei Hasharon was the best fit,” he said in a telephone interview from Israel. “They have a really good reputation… They were really keen on my coming here.”
He moved to Israel in July and immediately suited up for Israel at the University Games in China. The Israelis finished 13th out of 25 teams.
In its first seven games in the Super League season, Bnei Hasharon amassed a 2-5 record and changed coaches. “We lost three games by two points,” Mintz said.
Over at the Maccabi Haifa Heat, the six-foot-two Farine is seeing 9:36 in court time. A shooting guard, Farine is averaging 1.6 points per game to go along with 1.2 rebounds and .6 assists.
Prior to signing with Haifa, Farine was a star at Dalhousie University, leading the Tigers to two Atlantic University Sport (AUS) championships. He averaged more than 20 points per game in his last three seasons. A perennial AUS all-star, Farine finished his college career by being named to the All-CIS team for 2010-11.
Along with Mintz, he was a key member of the 2005 Maccabiah Games under-19 team. He led the tournament in scoring, netting 31 points in a losing effort against a very strong American squad.
According to the website Northpole Hoops, “Farine’s greatest asset is his versatility. He is a strong guard who plays hard on both sides of the ball and always looks to make plays for his teammates. Farine possesses superb vision, passing ability [and is] an absolute playmaker. And of course, the kid can flat out score.”
“We were very impressed with Simon Farine in the U.S. tryouts,” said Maccabi Haifa head coach Mickey Gorka. “Simon shined among excellent competition at the U.S. tryouts. “He’s a physical guard [and] strong rebounder, with a nice touch from mid-range and will add depth to our roster this season.”
Izzy Tchinio, general manager of Bnei Hasharon, said the team plans to bring Mintz along slowly, “Right now he’s the sixth man, a power forward and centre,” he said. “He still has to learn the league.”
The style of play is quite different than U.S. college hoops, he continued. Even good NBA players take time to adjust.
American basketball is generally more athletic and individualistic. European and Israeli basketball is more technical and relies more on teamwork, he said.
Mintz, he continued, “is a very good basketball player, and once he adjusts, he’ll be good for us.”
“I’m sure it’s a good experience to explore different places and cultures, especially for a Jew.”
Having learned Hebrew at a Jewish school, Mintz acknowledges he has a leg up on other imports. Although practices are conducted in English, he’s served as a translator for the team’s American players on other occasions, he said.
Knowing Hebrew makes it easier to get along in Israel, although he finds the pace of life in Israel quite different than he’s used to: “Everyone’s rushing a little bit more, but nothing too crazy,” he said.
So far, “the whole thing has been great. It’s a dream come true. Playing basketball professionally is the ultimate for people who love sports. It’s been great for me,” he said.