Dan Grunfeld, the son of Washington Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld, is the latest in a string of American professional athletes to immigrate to Israel. Grunfeld, who signed a one-year contract with Bnei Hasharon, arrives here this Monday after making aliyah through the Jewish Agency.
"I played in the Maccabiah Games last summer, it was my first time in Israel and I really loved it - the country was so nice, the people were so great and I really enjoyed playing there," the 26-year-old swingman told Anglo File this week in a telephone interview from New Jersey. "I still had a contract in Spain, but then that finished last year and I had a good opportunity to play with Bnei Hasharon, so it just made sense."
Pole-vaulter Jillian Schwartz, a recent immigrant from the United States, won a silver medal at the Diamond League Grand Prix in London earlier this week after clearing 4.46 meters. David Bluthenthal, who immigrated in 2002 and spent two years with Maccabi Tel Aviv, made his first appearance with Israel's national team last month. Shawn Weinstein, a California native like Bluthenthal who was named a second-team prep All-American in high school by the Jewish Sports Review, played this past season for Barak Netanya.
Grunfeld, who two years ago was signed by the New York Knicks but was waived before the end of the preseason, played three years in Spain's Oro League, first for Aguas de Valencia Gandia and then for Valladolid, where he averaged 5.8 points and 2.5 rebounds per game last year. He led the United States to a Maccabiah gold medal with 25 points in the team's 95-86 overtime victory over Israel last summer.
"The Israeli league is very well respected around the world," Grunfeld said. "I don't consider this a step down or anything like that. I have a lot of respect for those who play in Israel. It's going to be tough, I'm going to have to work hard and play hard."
It's not the position but how you blend in
Bnei Hasharon coach Dan Shamir told Anglo File Sports yesterday that Grunfeld is an important addition to the roster, not least because he will play here as a local and not a foreigner. The Super League's so-called Russian rule requires at least two Israelis to be on the parquet at any time.
"Dan is an excellent player and we're very happy about having him on the team," said Shamir, adding that he has been in constant contact since the New Jersey native graduated from Stanford University in 2006.
"Dan is a small forward, but what position you play today is not critical," Shamir said. "The most important thing is how you blend into the team. We don't know yet exactly how the team is going to take shape, but we're planning a significant role for him." A player who "has a high IQ, moves very well without the ball and can play almost three positions," Grunfeld will be a key player in Bnei Hasharon's roster, the coach added. "We expect him to be a leading player for us," he said.
While reaching the State Cup final last season, Bnei Hasharon finished eighth in the league. "It's been a very competitive team for many years and it's a really well-respected organization," Grunfeld said about his new employer.
"I think last year might have been a little disappointing but I think the structure is in place to have a much better year. Obviously the reason you play is to make the playoffs and win the championship, so that's what I'm sure everyone hopes. Hopefully we can all come together and play as a team and make that happen."
Grunfeld's father Ernie, who played nine years in the NBA - four for the New York Knicks - and won gold with Team USA at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, told Anglo File he was "very excited" about his son's upcoming aliyah. "We have a lot of family in Israel and we visited there many times. Israel is a great place - he'll have an opportunity to play basketball and connect with his heritage," he said from his home in Washington, DC.
"The great thing about the beginning of every season is that it's new. "There's hope, there's opportunity," said Grunfeld senior, who in 1993 was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. "They [Bnei Hasharon] have some new players on the team and it depends on how they come together and on how hard they play and how well they complement one another. He's looking forward to doing the best job he can."
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