Five minutes before the end of the last game in the European Under-20 Women’s Division B Championship against Romania, Israel was behind 57-47.
But then the hope of women’s basketball in this country, forward Sapir Tirosh, hit a trio of 3-pointers, leading Israel on a 20-2 run and its third victory in the eight-game tournament, 67-59.
That was the good news. The less good news is that the 20-year-old Tirosh, who played last season for Maccabi Ra’anana in the National League, still hasn’t played in the Super League − and at the moment it isn’t clear if and when she’ll get there, because she’s chosen a military career.
“I studied engineering for a year and a half. I’m going to work on a plane,” she said, explaining: “A month and a half ago I finished basic training, and they only allowed me to join the team at the last minute. The army isn’t letting me play basketball at the moment. The moment I can, I will go straight to the court.”
For the time being, then, Israeli sports’ loss is the Israel Defense Forces’ gain.
About the tournament, in which Israel finished sixth, she said: “We weren’t on our A-game until now ... but then we got back in the game and took it.” She began the tournament with a slew of 3-pointers, five on average during the tourney’s first three games, but then the defenders caught up to her. In the following four games Tirosh scored just one 3-pointer per game.
Against Romania she sank only one 3-pointer during the first three quarters, but in the fourth quarter she was on fire with four triples, finishing the game with 15 points.
“I had to return to top form after the last games,” said Tirosh. “I’m glad I arrived just in time.”
Israel scored just 50.2 points per game in the tournament, the lowest among the competing teams. Tirosh finished as Israel’s lead scorer with a 10.7-point average. On the 3-pointer chart, she came in second among all players, ranked between Belgians Hanne Mestdagh, who plays for Colorado State University, and Julie Vanloo, who played last season for Lotto Young Cats Brussels in the EuroCup and has already made the adult team.
In a sport that doesn’t have an abundance of players, certainly not sharpshooters, losing a player like Tirosh − a phenom who has attracted a lot of attention − is an unaffordable luxury.
With all the efforts the Israel Basketball Association makes to locate and develop players from the limited selection available, quite a few are lost between the ages of 17 and 21 to injuries, college or the military.
“I agree it’s quite a missed opportunity, but it’s already too late,” said Tirosh. “I already made a decision. I cannot change it. I would be happy to play after the army if I can. Maybe the fans will still see me, in due time.”