Obtaining Israeli citizenship has served as a rite of passage for several American basketball players over the years, allowing them to play in the local leagues without using up the team's allotment of athletes from abroad.
Shawn James, 29, the 2.08-meter center playing his fifth season in Israel, does not see that scenario on the cards. He says he is here to play and enjoy himself. He notes that trying to gain citizenship is not what he is about, even though he feels more Israeli than some players who became official Israelis.
According to James, he felt an immediate connection with Israel. He says he fell in love with the country the moment he landed in 2008, the year he left Duquesne University, went undrafted by the NBA and signed with Bnei Hasharon. He says the people are crazy but the country is wonderful. He loves most of all the weather, the food and the fact that everyone knows at least a little English. Those factors are important when one plays abroad, he says.
James says his children have spent more time in Israel than in Brooklyn, so they consider this country to be their home. He is pleased to have given them the opportunity to grow up in Israel.
Professionally, James has seen better times. A highly-touted shot-blocker in college, he was a central spoke at Bnei Hasharon for three seasons. However, like with so many other players who joined Maccabi Tel Aviv, his role diminished the moment he entered Yad Eliahu.
James is more of a role player in his second season with Maccabi. He does not let on that playing less bothers him. He stresses that he will always appreciate the experience of playing with one of the best teams in Europe.
Maccabi is an entirely different level of play than Bnei Hasharon, he says, and at this stage in his life it's not important to play 40 minutes, score 25 points and grab 10 rebounds a game. Rather, all that's important to him is to win. He admits his role at Maccabi is smaller, but he is here because of the level at which the team plays. He says he is not crying about not playing every game or not being the central player on the team.
He was anything but that last season, at least in the Euroleague, where he contributed 2.6 points and 2.4 rebounds in eight minutes per game. He made more of a mark in the Super League, averaging 9.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per contest.
He considers last year a success, save for suffering a back injury, in that Maccabi won all the local silverware and the Adriatic League while pushing Panathinaikos to a fifth game in their Euroleague playoff series.
James received several offers over the summer, but he waited for Maccabi and was happy to stay on for a second season. He describes himself as one of the happiest minority players to wear the yellow jersey. None of the offers he received made it worth leaving Maccabi, he says: With a wife and children it's not easy to just pick up and move somewhere cold where no one speaks English.
Although Maccabi attempted to trade James to Hapoel Jerusalem for Craig Smith after preseason practice started, James says he does not feel unappreciated. He stresses he wouldn't be here if they didn't appreciate him. As long as he works hard and improves his game, his teammates and the coaching staff will keep appreciating him, asserts James.
He is filling the same role more or less this season. He started during the Winner Cup competition but returned to the bench for regular season play. He did start last night against Chalon, finishing with 15 points and three blocks.
He could contribute more on offense, he admits. He says he just needs to demonstrate more confidence in his abilities. "I'll stay here as long as they want me."
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