What's It Like for a Hoosier Playing Basketball in the Holy Land?

Haaretz talks to the pro basketball player Marco Killingsworth about what he would change in Israeli basketball and life during wartime.

Raphael Geller
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Raphael Geller

Barak Netanya’s Marco Killingsworth, one of Israeli basketball's more entertaining players, keeps his team amused with his collegiate antics. In practice, he likes to talk trash to teammate Ramel Bradley, a former University of Kentucky star.

"Ramel and I will get in battles during practice and our coach will laugh about it," says Killingsworth, who started at Auburn and transfered to Indiana for the 2005-06 season. "I always say to Ramel, it’s Kentucky vs. Indiana, what are you going to do? Then Raymar [Morgan] will get involved and talk about his alma mater [Michigan State]. Who can stop who? We try to have a lot of fun with it."

Killingsworth, a native of Alabama, blossomed into a star his senior season: He led the team in scoring and rebounding. The media named him Second Team All-Big Ten and the Associated Press named him an Honorable Mention All-America.

Killingsworth has played professionally in Italy and Puerto Rico, among other places, but Israel is his second home. He has played for Maccabi Haifa, Hapoel Gilboa/Galil, Ironi Ashkelon and Barak Netanya. This year Barak Netanya is off to a 9-8 record with Killingsworth scoring 17.8 points per game and enjoying another very successful season.

Last week after practice, Haaretz spoke with him and discussed his love for Israel and the game, his take on the country's basketball rules and his journey as a Christian in Israel.

Q: You have played on several clubs all over Israel and have suggested in the past you never want to leave; do you still love Israel?

I still love Israel; it feels like a second home to me. I know the people really well. I feel like Ray Lewis [chuckles]. I have been here so long – the people accept and respect me here.

Q: You were offered a contract with Bnai HaSharon right out of college. Why did you decline?

They offered me a great contract right after there was a war here [the Second Lebanon War]. I was happy with the contract but I said, 'Hey I'm not going to be able to enjoy the money, because I didn’t know if I would be alive! Obviously my opinion has changed now but it’s funny to look back.

Q: Last year, when you played for Ashkelon, you got to experience life with incoming rockets from Gaza. What was that experience like?

First of all, Ashkelon treated us great and said if we were uncomfortable with the situation we could go to Tel Aviv. They took good care of us. I remember coming back one night to get clothes from our hotel and we saw a rocket in the sky over our car. It was so crazy. That really helped my toughness and made me realize it’s going to take a lot more to scare me now.

Q: Your Indiana Hoosiers are ranked No. 1 in the U.S. this year. Do you still follow them?

Yeah, of course I follow my Hoosiers. I spoke with the head trainer last week. I have to rep my school. Ramel will come up to me with all of his Kentucky gear on and then I put my Indiana shirt on and we will trash talk each other!

Q: What is one thing you would change about basketball in Israel?

This league can be an amazing league if there weren't rules about how many years you could play. You have great players here. I wish I could continue to play here. I believe I could play in Israel until I was 40. You have limitations on how many guys want to play here for that long with the rules. If they cut the 5-year rule, we could have a completely different league. I mean, the weather is great, the basketball is great, everything about Israel makes me feel like I am at home. I hope the rule changes.

[Editor's Note: Once a foreign player is in Israel for five years he begins to get taxed as if he were an Israeli citizen. In countries across Europe, foreign players never get taxed.]

Q: As an American Christian what is like playing here?

It is amazing seeing the ancient map on the back of the Bible; you see Jerusalem and all of the historical cities. I never thought in my wildest dreams I would ever be a part of that. I talk to my friends who are preachers and tell them, 'You guys don’t know anything. I have been to all these places, and you haven’t! Don’t preach on something you haven’t seen.' I am just teasing them, of course, but it is amazing to be able to say I live here.

Marco Killingsworth, en route to a slam dunk.Credit: Seffi Magrizo