Basketball Star Omri Casspi Becomes First Israeli in NBA

Player signs with Sacramento Kings; Casspi: I've realized the dream of every basketball player.

Yaniv Orgad
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It's official. Following bureaucratic delays between Europe's basketball governing body FIBA and the NBA, Omri Casspi has finally been given the green light to play in the world's top basketball league. On Thursday he signed with his new club, the Sacramento Kings. Casspi will be the first Israeli player to suit up in an NBA jersey.

Rumors were swirling in recent days that the Kings preferred to see the former Maccabi Tel Aviv and Israel national team forward play another season in Europe to hone his game. Thursday's announcement put that speculation to rest.

Sacramento picked Casspi with its 23rd draft pick two weeks ago, making him the first Israeli to be selected in the draft's first round.

"I'm very happy and excited," the player said after his selection. "I'm happy to be the first Israeli in the NBA - I've realized the dream of every basketball player."

It's Toronto for Turkoglu

In other NBA signing news Thursday, the Toronto Raptors confirmed their acquisition of forward Hedo Turkoglu, perhaps the most significant free agent addition in the team's history.

The 6-foot-10 forward from Turkey was one of the most coveted free agents available, coming off a season in which he helped the Orlando Magic reach the NBA finals.

The nine-year NBA veteran appeared poised to sign with the Portland Trail Blazers last Friday before Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo swooped in. Turkoglu's agent Lon Babby said the player and his wife Banu were intrigued by Toronto's ethnic diversity, including a large Turkish community.

Turkoglu opted out of his contract in Orlando when the team acquired former Raptor Vince Carter from New Jersey. Turkoglu was due $7.3 million next season, the final year of a $36-million, six-year deal with the Magic.

He averaged 16.8 points and 5.3 rebounds last season, and has averaged 12.3 points and 4.2 rebounds over his career, which included stints with Sacramento and San Antonio before he signed with Orlando as a free agent in 2004.

Turkoglu is a 38.5-percent shooter from three-point range.

He'll join a team that already has a distinctly international flavor, with Jose Calderon of Spain, Croatia native Roko Ukic and Italian center Andrea Bargnani, who agreed to a five-year contract extension Wednesday for $50 million. Bargnani, the first pick in the 2006 draft, averaged career highs of 15.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.24 blocks last season, rebounding from a poor sophomore campaign.

"It will be great," Bargnani said of Turkoglu signing on. "He's a very good player, he can do a little bit of everything. He can play the low post, he can shoot from outside, he can dribble in, he can play pick and roll."

"He'll be a great fit on our team," he said.