Yovel Zoosman put himself firmly on the NBA radar last summer by leading the Israeli National Team to the gold medal at the Under 20 European Championship. That win was a massive story in Israel, a country long on basketball passion but short on international success – outside of the exploits of legendary Maccabi Tel Aviv in club competitions.
What followed for Zoosman was a solid season on the yellow and blue team with significant playing time in the Euroleague. It was certainly solid enough for the 6-foot-7 swingman to consider putting his name in the draft.
Was the plan all along for you to enter the draft this year?
Yovel Zoosman: I don’t think that when the season started that’s what I thought, but as the season continued it seemed like there was a possibility that I can get drafted, so I said, ‘Why not declare myself to enter the draft?’ Try to get drafted and to see what happens next.
When did you make the decision?
YZ: I think me, my agents and my parents talked about it in March, a few weeks before I declared for the draft.
Is your intention to stay in the draft no matter what happens or are you making the decision based on the feedback that you are getting from NBA people?
YZ: For now yes, I’m staying.
I read some comments from your coach in Maccabi saying how proud they are that one of their players is entering the draft, but at the same time he said that he would prefer that you stay in Europe two or three more years. What do you think about that?
YZ: You know… Anyway if I get drafted I can still play in Europe. It’s his opinion, it’s a legit one. I don’t know if it will happen, but we will see. I’m glad that I’m playing at this level in one of the best leagues in the world. I’m enjoying the moment playing against the best players in Europe.
If it was up to you, would you go to the NBA right away after being drafted?
YZ: It depends. We will see after the draft. I’m trying not to think a lot about it, I’m trying to get focused on winning the league in Israel. A lot of things can change until the draft.
You won the Under 20 European Championship last summer. Israel often does well in basketball but not to the point of winning championships. Was it a big deal for basketball fans over there in Israel when you won that?
YZ: Yeah, it was a big deal. When we came back there was a lot of fans, meetings with the prime minister, the president… It was really nice. Israel is 70 years old and there was recently a trivia asking what was the best achievement of Israeli sports teams ever? And they chose our title!
So did you get to talk with primer minister Benjamin Netanyahu?
YZ: Yes, we went to his house in Jerusalem. It was really nice.
You were the MVP of the tournament. I was checking the winners of previous years and it’s a pretty strong list with guys already in the NBA like Nikola Mirotic, Cedi Osman… How much confidence did that give you?
YZ: A lot of confidence. I really started to realize what I’m doing with that award. That really speaks to how hard I’m working and makes me continue to work hard.
What position do you feel more comfortable playing?
YZ: I think I’m better playing the shooting guard spot.
Any chance we are going to see you playing point guard a little bit too?
YZ: It depends on the coach and system, but right now I don’t think my handle is that good to play point guard. I used to play point guard when I was under 18, but with the senior a whole other level and it’s really tough to play point guard now. You must have a great handle, great decision-making skills… Maybe one day, but right now it’s not my priority.
You wear number 50. Why?
YZ: My name is Yovel and Yovel in Hebrew means 50 years and I was born when Israel turned 50 (in 1998). It’s kind of a Zionist name. I used to wear number 8 and number 10 in youth teams, and then my mom told me to wear number 50. ‘Why don’t you wear 50? Nobody is known to wear number 50, children will want to wear number 50, it’ll be something special’. That’s why I did it.
So it’s going to be number 50 for you for the rest of your career, I guess.
YZ: I hope so!
Tell me a little bit about life in Tel Aviv as opposed to living in other smaller cities. You lived in Netanya, which is close to Tel Aviv but much smaller. Has it been different in terms of lifestyle to live there now?
YZ: Yeah. So Netanya is like half an hour without traffic to Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is a city that never sleeps, it’s 24/7 activity. Me, I don’t go to bars, parties. I’m living in a hotel right now, doing my life, seeing my friends whenever I can. I really like life in Tel Aviv.
I’ve spoken with American players who played in Tel Aviv and they like it…
YZ: Yeah, they really like the food over here.
What you hear is that it’s very Americanized. And they compare it to Miami a little bit too.
YZ: I’ve never been to Miami, but what the Americans tells me it’s that the food is really nice here. Oh, and they really like the girls here and talk about how great they look. Girls here come from every country in the world, there’s a mix of everything and there’s a lot of diversity.
Have you been to the U.S.?
YZ: I’ve been like twice or three times and every time was great. The land of opportunity, where you can do a lot with individual work. I really liked it. It’s not like here, but I liked it a lot.
Are you going to the States to work out for NBA teams before the draft? Is that the plan?
YZ: Still don’t know, but the possibility is high to do that. I don’t know because the season ends late in Israel, but the possibility of going there to work out with teams is pretty high.
Are you nervous about the whole process?
YZ: I wouldn’t say nervous. I want to enjoy it but at the same time I don’t want to think about it too much. I think it can distract my feelings and emotions. When the time comes, I’ll be much more into the process. I don’t think it’s nervous, I’d rather say happy about the chance of having my name alongside all the players that are going to get drafted. It’s really nice to see that.