It’s been three and a half years since American-Israeli Dannielle Diamant's debut tournament of as a player on the Israeli national basketball team. At that time, the 23-year-old American Jewish player averaged 5.2 points with 2.5 rebounds per game. But since then, she’s had to follow the team from the sidelines.
According to regulations, Israeli teams are allowed only one player undergoing the naturalization process to adopt Israeli citizenship on the court at any time. So Diamant's spot was filled by Alysha Clark, an American-Israeli who was also in the process of acquiring citizenship. Clark now plays for WNBA's Seattle Storm. “When you have someone like Alysha Clark playing my position, one has to accept this with understanding,” she reflects with a smile.
What enabled Diamant to play on the national squad again, this time as a full-fledged Israeli, was a change in FIBA regulations allowing the registration of a player undergoing naturalization process on the national team after he or she plays in a local league for more than three years. “I’m not familiar with the entire process,” says Diamant, “I’m just glad it worked out.”
She made her comeback in Israel’s first game in the qualifying round for the EuroBasket 2019 games, played against Britain. The Israeli center, standing 6 feet 4 inches, had a fantastic breakout game on the blue and white team. She scored 17 points and had five assists, scoring six out of eight times from the field, including three 3-pointers. In the last two minutes of the game, which Israel lost in overtime, she scored a 3-pointer and another basket.
“I came to the game with no pressure – it’s a new team. I knew that they expected a lot from me but I also knew I could do it. I was comfortable on the court and I was fortunate that all my shots went in. I think we played well for a lot of the time. There were other players who took shots and that took the pressure off me,” she says.
Diamant was born in Las Vegas in April 1991 to a father who was born in Israel but left at the age of two with his family. “My father spent his childhood summers with his family in Haifa,” she says. Her grandfather on her mother’s side was Jerry Tarkanian, the legendary college coach, notably at University of Las Vegas, who died two years ago at the age of 84.
Jerry Tarkanian spent 31 years as a coach at nine different colleges, the best-known of which was the University of Las Vegas. He coached the team from 1973 to 1992 and led it to the national Final Four championship four times. Tarkanian ended his coaching career at age 72, with 706 wins to his credit and 198 losses. He is considered to be the 7th best coach of all time and entered the Hall of Fame two years before his death.
“My grandfather didn’t affect me as much on the court but he definitely had an impact on my loyalty and passion for the game," said Diamant. "I think that anyone who knows me would say that I’m definitely like that. When I was a girl he used to come to my games and I watched the games he coached. He also came and coached in my high school practices.”
Like her entire family, Diamant suffers from Fabry’s disease, a hereditary disease of the enzymes that damages tissue function. “My uncle had it first. He had surgery for other stuff and lo and behold they told him that he had this disease. Subsequently we were all tested for it, not necessarily because anything was wrong. I’m lucky that it isn’t really impacting my life. I only had symptoms of fatigue and these ended when I was 19 or 20, when I started getting infusions. When I was younger I was always tired. I’d study and practice and when I came home I’d have a nap for two hours before having dinner and starting my homework. If I didn’t take a nap I’d go to sleep early, around nine. But in recent years I feel really good.”
Diamant started her professional career with the Hungarian team Gyor, averaging 5.4 points and 3.6 rebounds per game in the EuroLeague. In 2014 she joined the national team in Israel. “A year before that I played on the American team at the Maccabiah Games and I saw what a wonderful place Israel was. The fact that I have an Israeli passport definitely helped me make that decision. I felt I needed a more relaxed place where I could have a better chance of bettering myself as a player.” Diamant played one season in Ashdod, winning the championship with that team. For the last three seasons she’s been playing with Maccabi Ramat Chen.
As someone who’s been playing in Israel for four years, now on its national team, she feels split. “I feel half-Israeli and half-American. I was born in the U.S. but the longer you’re here the deeper the relationships and the place becomes your home.”
As to how she's managing to live and play in Hebrew, she says she's learning. "It’s a hard language and it’s a slow process. I understand more than I speak. I don’t speak it really at all but I can pick out words in a conversation and get the gist of it. On the national team people speak 50-50 Hebrew and English. If they talk in Hebrew someone translates for me. Today I understand much more than I did the last time I was on the team.”
In the game against Britain, Israel missed an opportunity for an away win, losing 87-90 in overtime. “I was very disappointed after the game. First of all, I don’t like to lose,” says Diamant. “Secondly, we had a few chances to break away but we didn’t – we should have held on. It was a game in which both teams shot from the 3-point line a lot and very well. I think they scored 14 for 29 and we did 12 for 28. We have to reflect on that and make sure we don’t let another win slip away. I hope it doesn’t hurt our chances in the future. Ever since college I haven’t played in front of a large crowd. I take that back – Ashdod has wonderful fans. I hope there’ll be that kind of atmosphere when we play Portugal.”
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