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Israeli basketball star Omri Casspi took a huge step in his Israel-to-NBA saga Thursday when he became the first Israeli player ever selected in the first round of the NBA Draft - an important, but certainly not final, stage in an attempted journey to the world's preeminent professional basketball league.

The 6'9", 20-year-old Maccabi Tel Aviv forward was selected 23rd overall by the Sacramento Kings, beating projections by most draft experts, who predicted he would be chosen anywhere between the 25th and 35th selections.

Casspi is the focus of a national obsession with the idea of an Israeli making it into the NBA, in which some 20 percent of the players are foreigners.

The quest should have ended 10 years ago when Oded Katash had a two-year contract with the New York Knicks, only to lose patience and hope during the extended player lockout of 1999 and to return to Maccabi Tel Aviv before the American season could begin.

Since then Doron Shefer, Lior Eliyahu and Yotam Halperin were drafted, all in the second round.

Eliyahu and Halperin, in the end, lacked the necessary talent to make it to the big-time, and Shefer lacked the necessary luck.