Gal Mekel: "The Mavs gave me the feeling that they really believed in me"

Gal Mekel: "The Mavs gave me the feeling that they really believed in me"


Gal Mekel: "The Mavs gave me the feeling that they really believed in me"

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USA TODAY Sports ImagesDid you think you would have a shot at playing in the NBA one day when you were playing college ball at Wichita State?

Gal Mekel: Back then, to be realistic, I knew that after four years in college I was not going to be in the NBA. Looking back at it, five years backwards, I wasn't ready for the NBA back then. After my sophomore year in college, when Maccabi Tel Aviv offered me a three-year deal it was very tempting and it was the right time to go for me.

So how do you go from being off the NBA radar to become an NBA prospect and now an NBA player in such a short period of time?

GM: The most important thing is to work every day and every year to get better. Since I left college I've gotten better and better. The big jump for me to get on the NBA radar was last summer when I came to the States and worked with coach (DavidThorpe and I had a very good workout with the Jazz last season, so that was the time that I saw that I could chase this dream. The big key was last season with Maccabi Haifa. I had a very, very good season, we won the championship and I knew that some NBA teams followed me. That was the big key… Last summer and last season.

Do you think your time in college basketball in the States was useful?

GM: Definitely. First of all, to be out of your country when you're 18, to grow up as a person… Besides the basketball side, it helped me a lot. But also on the court. It helped me defensively and also to work on my athleticism, to work on my body… The quickness, the speed and the defensive part of the game.

Most of the good Israeli players end up spending at least a few years with Maccabi Tel Aviv. Why didn't it work out for you?

GM: The first year they decided to loan me because I was only 20 years old and they are always building a team to go to the Euroleague Final Four. The coach back then told me he hadn't seen me a lot so I went to Hapoel Gilboa Galil. I had a great season, we lost to Maccabi at the semifinals of the Israeli League and I was Rookie of the Year. Then they brought me back and with coach Pini Gershon I saw that I wasn't going to play a lot of minutes so I asked to leave. I wanted to play for a team that gave me confidence and minutes and I went back to Galil and it was a great decision. Sometimes things in life don't work. Me and Maccabi was not meant to be.

And you ended up beating Maccabi twice with different teams, which almost never happens because Maccabi wins the league pretty much every year… How did that feel for you?

GM: It's an amazing feeling, it's something very special to win a championship in Israel when you're playing out of Maccabi. I feel very fortunate to do it twice. I think Maccabi in 40 years has lost maybe four championships, and out of those four I have two titles. It's something really crazy. It's great, it gives some hope to other players that Maccabi is not the only place to play and there are some other very good clubs in Israel.

Did you have any other firm offer from NBA teams aside from the one you got from the Mavericks?

GM: Yes. We had some big interest from other three teams when I came here.

So why did you choose Dallas?

GM: They were very serious from the beginning. They gave me the feeling that they really believed in me and saw me as part of the team for a long time. I like this place, it's a great organization, people are very warm, really great people, and for me it's very important to feel this from the beginning. I'm very happy with my decision. I hope I will get a footprint in this team for a long time.

Are you watching Israel at the Eurobasket?

GM: Yes, of course I'm watching.

So how do you feel about the fact you're not there and they are struggling a little bit?

GM: I cheer for them and I really want them to be successful. It was a tough decision for me to not go to the Eurobasket this year because in Israel we're very proud of the National Team and I love to play with the National Team. But I spoke with a lot of guys, players including [Omri] Casspi, who have been in this situation, and everybody was telling me that the rookie season is something very, very important. And even more important is the preparation for the rookie season. It will be the first time that I have to play an 82-game season, so I want to be 100 percent ready. I definitely know me being here in Dallas and spending time with coach [Rick] Carlisle, the coaching staff, preparing for the season a few months before the training camp will help me a lot. Eventually if I become a good NBA player and play a lot of years here, Israeli basketball and the National Team will benefit from this.

Have you spoken with the head coach of the National Team after your decision? He seemed very upset that you didn't join the team.

GM: Yes, of course. In one hand he was very upset because he wanted me with the team, but in the other he was very supportive. He knew it was a tough decision for me and he told me that he was upset, but wished me all the best. He was very nice.

Did the Mavericks play any role on this decision?

GM: No. Not at all. I said this in all Israeli interviews that in the end it was my decision. There are so many people around me: agents, parents, friends, players I spoke with… In the end it was my decision an I take full responsability for it.

What kind of expectations do you have for yourself in your rookie year?

GM: First of all, to take it day by day. To work on my game. If I stay happy and confident, I'm sure good things will come. I really want to become a solid NBA player, a guy that has a role with the team and ends up playing in this league for many years. I need to improve in the beginning to get the coach's confidence and for me to get into the rotation and having good minutes would be the goal.

What's the one thing about your game that you believe can make you a successful NBA player?

GM: When you're coming from Europe, for me the biggest skill in my game is the pick-and-roll game, to control the team, to get everybody involved, to basically be a true point guard. But you come to the NBA and everything is spread out, the spacing is different than in Europe and you have really a lot of space to operate, so this is something that can help me a lot. Of course in every team I played I tried to do everything for the team to win: scoring, playing defense… I believe I can do good in Dallas.

Do you look up to any point guard in particular in the NBA?

GM: I don't have a role model. I like the true point guards that control the team and get everybody involved. Jose Calderon is a great guy to play with and to learn from. I think he can help me a lot. And of course I like other true point guards like Chris Paul and Steve Nash.

Who's the best Israeli player right now?

GM: I would say Casspi.

So you wouldn't say yourself…

GM: I will never say myself, even if I thought so. But I'm not competing with Casspi. My goal is to be the best that I can be.

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