Yotam Halperin: "The NBA is my biggest dream"
You are one of several Israeli player currently playing in European leagues. That was not very common a few years ago. Why do you think so many Israeli players have started playing abroad now?
Yotam Halperin: I think the mentality of Israeli players has changed a little bit. If you look at the National Team, the young guys, the young players have been working very, very hard in the past few years. And I believe in the next few years, we are going to see more and more Israeli players doing that, because Israeli players have the potential. They can do very well abroad.
Are you happy with the way things have gone for you so far in Slovenia?
YH: Yes, of course. I mean, I'm playing a lot of minutes and doing pretty well so far. But I'm always trying to get better and better. For me, it's never enough. I'm very happy about this season so far, but if I keep working I can still do better, I believe.
What was the main reason for you to leave Maccabi for Slovenia? Was it the lack of playing time?
YH: I think the main reason was that – to get more playing time, to get more experience, to lead a team. I wanted to go to a team where I had the chance to do things I didn't have the opportunity to do in Maccabi. Maccabi is a great place, a great club. For me, it's the best in Europe. But, you know, I thought I should go to a smaller team in Europe, play in the Euroleague, do my best there and then move forward.
What position are you playing there: shooting guard or point guard?
YH: I'm playing both, like a combo guard. Sometimes I bring the ball up playing the point and sometimes I'm playing the shooting guard position – depending on who's on the court with me.
Where do you feel more comfortable?
YH: I play more comfortable at the point guard position because all my life I've played the point. Again, like I said before, if a pure point guard is on the court with me, I'm going to play the shooting guard position, but I feel more comfortable playing the point.
I read you had to be released from the Army in order to sign with Olimpija. Is that true?
YH: Yes, you know, in Israel you have to be in the Army three years. I did two years and after that I wanted to go out and play in Europe. Of course, nobody is allowed to do it (leave the Army) but I got a special permission and they released me for this year. I already made two, I have one year left, but it's OK.
How would you describe playing for a team like Maccabi, which is a very special one?
YH: First of all, I have to say that Maccabi is a great place, a great club. It's a very professional club. And of course, when you are playing in Maccabi, you are playing with the best players in Europe. It was very special for me – especially as a young player. You can learn a lot from those players, like Sarunas Jasikevicius, Anthony Parker, Arriel McDonald... All those guys. I learned a lot from them. It was one of my dreams to go and play for Maccabi. I did it for four years. Now I'm looking to make other dreams come true.
Your goal in the short term would be to return to Maccabi?
YH: That's a dream, to play for Maccabi. I have been there since I was eight years old. This is my first year playing abroad and for me it's something different. Of course, if I stay in Europe, Maccabi would be my first option. It's great to have a chance to play with the best in Europe.
Some people think you could be the first Israeli player in the NBA. Do you think that is a realistic goal?
YH: This is my biggest dream, to play in the NBA. I'm having a great season so far in Olimpija, so maybe I'll be good enough and lucky enough to go there and play in the best league in the world. But I'm not thinking much about this right now. Of course, every day when you wake up, you think 'well, maybe I could play in the NBA one day', because that's my biggest dream in basketball. But now for me the focus is to do the best I can for Olimpija and then we'll see what happens.
Have you got any plans to attend workouts in the United States the weeks before the draft?
YH: Of course. My agent is now in the States and he's in touch with a few big agents there. We are going to find one that works well for me and shows me the best way to the NBA. The workouts of course are one of the first things I have to do. I hope that I have enough time to go there because we have a lot to play in the Slovenian League. But I hope I'll make it. It's very important for me.
If you had to choose between being a bench player in the NBA or a star in Maccabi, what would you take?
YH: (Laughs) It's a a very difficult question. Of course everybody wants to be the star, everybody wants to be the biggest star on the place you are playing. And Maccabi is no regular team. It's the biggest club in Europe. It's a difficult question. But I believe for me the biggest dream is to play in the NBA no matter what. I would probably choose the NBA because I've played in Maccabi already. If somebody asks me that again, I would have to say the NBA.
Do you have any preference for any team in special in the NBA?
YH: No. I mean, you know, I didn't talk to nobody from the NBA. I know the scouts are here. They are all over Europe. They are watching me play with my club, with the National Team... They are probably following me, but I never talk to nobody. I guess my agent will start working on that soon, I believe.
Jorge Sierra is the editor of HoopsHype.com
Tell us what you think about this interview. E-mail us at HoopsHype@HoopsHype.com