Meet Zach Gordon of Maccabi Ashdod.
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Gordon was a superstar at Yeshiva University before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania, which is both Ivy League and Division I. He is one of many American Jewish basketball players who have decided to play professionally in Israel. This year, Maccabi Ashdod got off to a dismal start, but has gone on to win four of their last five games including a 95-78 thrashing over powerhouse Hapoel Jerusalem.
During his time at Penn, Zach was teammates with fellow Israeli Super League player Zack Rosen. I recently had a chance to speak with Zach and discuss his time in college, his life in Israel, his experience living in the South during Operation Pillar of Defense and much more.
Q: When you transferred to Penn you vowed that you would play in all games (despite Shabbat). Why did you make that decision?
When I transferred to Penn, I did so because I thought it was the best decision for me. I felt that I would gain so much, on and off the court, even if that meant not observing Shabbat for that period of my life.
Q: What do you think of the story of Tamir Gordon [a retired Orthodox basketball player]?
Inspirational. I believe they called him the Jewish Jordan. Turning down an offer from Maryland because he refused to play on Shabbat – I mean, that says a lot about his faith.
Q: What was it like playing with Zack Rosen (now a player on Hapoel Holon) at Penn?
Great. He's a great guy and a great leader that I probably learned more off the court from than anything else.
Q: Why did you decide Israel was the best place for you to begin your career?
Playing professionally in Israel was an easy decision to make. Israel's known to be one of the better leagues overseas, and I was able to get my citizenship here because I was Jewish. Getting my citizenship opened up all kinds of possibilities in Israel because I was able to meet certain roster requirements which, in turn, is beneficial to teams.
Q: Your father, Larry Gordon was a basketball star in Israel. Do you ever feel pressure because you are his son?
I don't necessarily feel pressure because of it. If anything, it is more of an honor when someone asks me if I am Larry Gordon's son. It is funny, however, to hear from a local how great of a player my dad was when I know how little chance he'd have of beating me if we went up against each other in our primes.
Q: You have really taken advantage of all your playing time. What has made your game so effective?
I'm very confident in my abilities and I'm always looking to have an impact on the court, for however long that may be, to put my team in a position to win the game.
Q: What was it like living in Ashdod during Operation Pillar of Defense?
It was definitely an eye-opening experience. Growing up in America, I had never been in a situation like this. It was a little frightening hearing sirens and running to a safe room multiple times in a day, but it is definitely an experience I’ll never forget.
Q: What is your favorite thing to do in Ashdod? In Tel Aviv?
Go out with my teammates to our favorite restaurants and social settings. I can't tell you where those places are because the press has ambushed us before and I can't take that chance again.
Q: Who has been the toughest player to defend in Israel so far?
My teammate Diamon Simpson. I hate getting switched on to him. He's such a bully in the post.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
One year at a time, just living the moment right now.