Basketball / Big Mensches on Campus

After spending two weeks with his son, Nimrod (Rod) Tishman, on the campus of Florida University, his father returned to Israel, leaving behind the star of the national Israeli youth basketball team to deal with studies, a different style of play, and the discipline there.

"When I chose to go to college, I decided that under no circumstances would I despair, or start counting down the days [till I finish]," Tishman says. "On the other hand, I'm also not going to get excited over one good game and start fantasizing that I'm about to reach the NBA. I need to take everything sababa (lightly)."

Tishman's sababa may have kept him from collapsing psychologically, but it also spawned a mini-crisis. "I made a joke out of my studies," says the 6'5" guard, whose size gives him the versatility to play either the point or the shooting guard position. "I didn't attend class and I handed in empty exam booklets because at times I didn't have the energy to deal with the English."

"One day, everybody yelled at me and made it clear to me that if I don't study - I'm out of here," Tishman explains. "So I started to study. It's hard, but on the other hand I don't have to excel at it. It's enough if I just pass. It's not like with Carmel."

Carmel is Carmel Bouchman, a 6'8" power forward who also happens to be Tishman's best friend. Together they captured the youth league championship for Maccabi Tel Aviv, and the Ironi Tet high school. They also starred together on the national youth team, and made a joint decision to play college basketball when they were both 18 years old.

While Tishman enrolled at Florida, which captured the NCAA men's championship in 2006 and 2007 - although today it is seen as a mediocre team that cannot break into the top 25 rankings - Bouchman committed to Temple University in Philadelphia, whose team, the Owls, last appeared in the Final Four in 1958. Temple, however, is a prestigious academic institution where studies - and, by all accounts, basketball practice - are far more difficult than at Florida.

"The Temple coach, Fran Dunphy, came here from the army," Bouchner says. "He is a man of principles who really believes in and insists on implementing them. So not only are the studies here very difficult, but so are the practices. The different is mainly the physicality and the athleticism which you just don't find in Europe. Defense here is first and foremost a matter of desire. Every day here is like a war."

Tishman also has a coach in his own right: Billy Donovan, who for years has been courted by a number of NBA teams. In 2007, Donovan signed a lucrative contract to coach the Orlando Magic. A few days later, though, he recanted and returned to Florida.

"Practicing with him is amazing," Tishman explains. "I learn something from him all the time. What I like most [about the team] is the competitiveness. Each and every one of the 12 guys here is dying to prove himself. Someone can share a room with you and crack jokes at the end of practice, but once we're on the floor, the defense is tough, there are blows exchanged, scratches. This suits me very well."

Dunphy says his coaching staff had done its homework on Bouchner and came away impressed. If he keeps his turnovers down and plays intense defense, the Israeli forward can expect to see playing time at Temple.

Tishman, on the other hand, arrived at Florida almost by chance. Last June, after the best high-school players in the country had already committed to other colleges, Gators star Nick Calathes said good-bye to Tallahassee and signed a contract with Greek club Panathinaikos.

Assistant coach Larry Shyatt, who years ago tried to recruit Israelis Oded Katash and Uri Yitzhaki to Clemson University while he was head coach there, said the program has seen six of its star players leave for the NBA in recent years.

"Oded recommended Tishman," Shyatt says. "We were not concerned about the fact that he is 18 years old. We flew to watch him at the European championships and came away very impressed [after Tishman finished the tournament fourth in scoring among guards, with 18 points per game]."

Shyatt said his boss was pleasantly surprised by Tishman's ability to get up to speed despite missing the first two months of practice. He also thinks the Israeli will adapt himself well on campus because "there are a lot of Jewish students here."

Tishman is staying with an adoptive family, though he says he has acclimated just fine. He has connected with his fellow freshmen and says he doesn't miss a Sabbath meal at the local Chabad house.

"I came here for one year and after that, we'll see," Tishman says. "My expectations were to make progress, to try to make it as far as I can with the Gators, because I know that just getting into the tournament will be considered an achievement. NBA? Who's thinking about that at all?"

Bouchman, on the other hand, has already declared his desire to stay at Temple for a minimum of two years. He has the support of an Israeli adoptive family and says he recites Kiddush on the Sabbath at the campus Hillel House.

When asked if he thinks about the NBA, he replied with a proverb: "Once they asked a girl who shot arrows at the target how she managed to be so accurate. She replied: 'First, I throw the arrows, then I draw the target.'"