Barak Netanya began the season as an unknown newcomer to the Super League. Two-thirds into the current season, coach Arik Alfasi's team is no longer the surprise upstart, especially after its shocking double overtime upset of Maccabi Tel Aviv last month. Netanya is currently 9-5, in a tie for fourth place in the standings, and a serious Final Four contender.
As the season progresses, Israel's basketball public has also discovered Danilo Pinnock, Netanya's 1.96m, 26-year-old shooting guard, who has been central to his team's success. According to Netanya assistant coach Willie Sims, "Danilo is certainly one of our key players. He's a total player. He can score from anywhere, passes well and has been playing very well in the last few weeks."
Pinnock, who is third among the league's scorers at 19.4 points a game, behind league-leading teammate Marco Killingsworth, has been exceptionally hot of late. Starting with the upset over Maccabi Tel Aviv, he has been averaging over 28 points a game and led Netanya in scoring in their last three games, including one 37-point outburst in 37 minutes of play, which is the league's highest individual point tally for one game this season.
Pinnock attributes the recent improvement in his game to two factors. "I feel that I'm jelling with my teammates," he told Haaretz after Sunday night's win over Afula. "They've learned where I'll be on the court and I've learned where they will be."
Coach Sims added, "Danilo's shot selection has improved since the start of the season. His teammates and the coaches now have confidence in him, and he's been given the green light to shoot."
The second factor Pinnock mentioned is that his body has recovered from playing summer ball for Panama's national team. A native-born American, Pinnock has been a member of Panama's national team for several years.
He is son of an immigrant father from Panama, and like many in his position grew up torn between his native land and his parents' heritage. During the early part of his basketball career, Pinnock used the name "J.R." instead of his given name Danilo, which he shares with both his father and his son.
Between his sophomore and junior years in college, Pinnock decided to start using his given name and also represent Panama in basketball in order to honor his father. Pinnock played three seasons of college ball at George Washington University in Washington , D.C., a team that has traditionally labored under the shadow of local powerhouse, Georgetown University. Under the tutelage of coach Karl Hobbs, Pinnock grew as a player and a person. He led George Washington to NCAA tournament appearances in his two final seasons while attracting the eye of NBA scouts.
Leaving George Washington early to apply for the NBA draft, Pinnock was selected by the Dallas Mavericks toward the end of the 2006 Draft and later traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. He appeared in eight preseason games for L.A. before being released.
Since then, Pinnock has played in the NBA's Developmental League and in Europe, including a season in Italy before coming to Netanya.
At the moment, he seems content where he is and not consumed with dreams about the NBA. "I love it here in Israel," he says. "The weather is great, everyone speaks English, and it's terrific to play basketball and get paid to do it."