GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA - On a team filled with international stars such as Germany’s Dirk Nowitzki and Spain's Jose Calderon, one player stands out for those back in his home country. The Dallas Mavericks' Gal Mekel, the second Israeli ever to play in the NBA, has slowly but surely gained his footing in the world’s top league. On Saturday night, Mekel played 21 minutes, backing up Calderon against the Charlotte Bobcats in a preseason game. He finished with seven points and led the team with six assists as the Mavericks cruised to an 89-83 victory in one of the final tune-ups before the regular season begins and the games start to count.
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Mekel was confident and played well against the Bobcats. “It was my first time coming off the bench, and that will be my role moving forward. I tried to bring energy and provide whatever the team needed, points, assists and defense,” he said.
His poise is growing as well, and he believes he will have a successful season. “Each game I gain confidence and adapt to playing in a new league,” he added.
Coach Rick Carlisle said that Mekel has been improving each day, and the opportunity for him to start four games while Calderon returned from injury was invaluable to his progress.
Gal will start the season as the backup point guard, allowing him to face the opposing team’s second unit after feeling the game out. He should have plenty of opportunities to impress his new team, as the Mavericks are coping with some injured veteran players. In addition, the front office loves Mekel’s ability with the pick-and-roll, something they seek to emphasize this season.
Calderon, a nine-year NBA veteran and Olympic silver medalist, praised Mekel at his first preseason game. “He’s been doing a great job, he had to learn a lot in his first games by himself as everyone was getting healthy, but it was good for him to get all those minutes,” he said. Calderon believes that Mekel's learning ability is one of the strengths that will contribute to his improvement. “He listens well, asks great questions. He is a hard worker and a great teammate. There is no secret to playing in this league, it just takes hard work and getting better step by step. I’m very happy for him,” he said.
The Mavs' season begins on October 30th against the Atlanta Hawks before the highly anticipated showdown with the rival Houston Rockets and their own Israeli, Omri Casspi. In addition to being a matchup of Western Conference front-runners, it will be the first time that two Israelis have squared off in the NBA, a seminal moment for Israeli sport. “I want to get through preseason and opening night before focusing on the Rockets, but I’m looking forward to a great matchup,” Mekel said.