Ten years after he left Maccabi Tel Aviv for the NBA, Omri Casspi is coming back to his home team. The 31-year-old forward formally signed a three-season contract with Israel's champions on Tuesday for an expected $3.5 million.
When his contract is up, Casspi will take on a professional role in the basketball team. The FOX company, the team's principal sponsor, will subsidize a substantial share of his contract, and Casspi will become a central spokesmodel for the company.
"I never believed I would feel like this," said Casspi. "I'm coming home, I'm coming back to Maccabi Tel Aviv. I'm coming back to the house I grew up in, and I learned what the game of basketball is in this stadium."
The team's coach, Ioannis Sfairopoulos, said he was very glad that Casspi signed to the team. "Omri will help the team a lot to successfully achieve our goals," he said, calling Casspi "the best player in Israel."
Casspi got his start in Maccabi Tel Aviv's youth league at the age of 13, and moved on to their adult team four years later. In his final year of high school, he helped the team win a double and ascend to the EuroLeague finals under coach Pini Gershon.
The following season, he was loaned to Hapoel Galil Elyon, and with 11.2 points helped it get to the Final Four – its last appearance there to this day. In summer 2007, Casspi returned to Maccabi, sunk 4.5 points on average and took part in its loss of its first championship title in 15 years, to Hapoel Holon. The team also rose to the EuroLeague finals.
A year later and at just 20 years old, Casspi became the leading player on the team. He averaged 14.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in the league on the way to winning the championship under Gershon. In the EuroLeague, he scored 8.8 points in 51 percent of his three-pointers, until the team was ousted, having reached the Top 16.
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In the 2009 draft, Casspi declared himself eligible, and was the 23rd overall pick by the Scaramento Kings, making him the first-ever Israeli in the NBA.
After a second season in Sacramento, Casspi began wandering between teams: Cleveland Calibers, Houston Rockets, New Orleans Pelicans, Minnesota Timberwolves, Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies. In all, Caspi played in 588 games, getting 20 minutes and shot 7.9 points on average, all without a single playoff game. He was cut by Golden State just before the playoffs, but still got a championship ring at the end of the season.
Casspi suffered a number of injuries over the years, the most recent of them a torn meniscus in a game against Sacramento on January 25. He underwent surgery for the tear, and was released from Memphis just a week and a half ago. Casspi, who managed to recover, did not find a team afterwards, and understood that the time has come to return to the European league.
With his return to the country, the Israel Basketball Association will request that Casspi join the Israeli national team, which has missed out on the World Cup preliminaries in the past two years. Its first game for the EuroBasket qualifiers will take place on February 20 in Poland, a day before Maccabi will play in Valencia. It will be interesting to see which members of Maccabi will be released to the national team.