Omri Casspi
Omri Casspi in during practice with the Israel national team, July 22, 2010. Photo by Sharon Bukov
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Omri Casspi is back in Israel, this time wearing the blue and white of the national team. Yesterday Israel's first-ever NBA representative participated in his first practice with the national squad, and today will join in the team's exhibition game against Belgium in Hadar Yosef. Israel's European Championship qualifying campaign begins August 2 away against Italy.

"I'm excited to start, and I hope to be able to take off some of the pressure on me," Casspi said after the practice. "As an athlete I've always tried to be the best, and now I want to be the best with the national team. Still, we're not a one-player team."

"European basketball is different from the NBA - the court is different and the ball is different. But I came up in Europe and I know how it works, so I hope settling in here will be easy for me," the Sacramento Kings small forward said.

"I don't think I have that much to relearn, because I've played on the Israeli national team before, and I'll be here many more years down the line. What's important is for us to win as a team. We have a talented squad, a great mix of young guys and veterans. I think we'll be able to do a lot of great things," he said.

"I'm very happy Omri is here," coach Arik Shivek added. "I've been in contact with him since January, during both good times and bad times for him. Omri is coming in shape, and he's an intelligent guy who picks things up very quickly. I believe his acclimation period will be very short. He's a great guy who's liked by everyone, so I think his social settling-in period will also be very fast."

"Omri's talents don't need to be mentioned here, but he filled very specific roles on his NBA team, and here he'll have to do different things," Shivek said.

He singled out Casspi, Lior Eliyahu, David Bluthenthal, Guy Pnini and Elishay Kadir as "the team's most talented players, and we've built a game plan that allows the maximum number of these guys to be on the court at one time."

Casspi, Shivek said, will play for Israel at the 3, 4 or 5 position (small or power forward, or center ) - "whatever we need."