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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved. 


February 23, 2018  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

Israeli adds to Eckerd team’s global spirit

By BRUCE LOWITT Jewish Press

Yarden Danan hopes to play basketball professionally one day.Yarden Danan hopes to play basketball professionally one day.
Yarden Danan’s major at Eckerd College is International Business.

Truth be told, her international business is basketball and has been for much of her life. After her final two seasons as a shooting guard with St. Petersburg’s Tritons of the Division 2 Sunshine State Conference, the 5-foot-10 junior probably will leave to play who-knows-where professionally in Europe, or head back home to rejoin the Israeli national team.

“I’ve played in the European championships and for Israel since I was 12 years old,” Danan said, seated in the Starbucks at the Eckerd College James Center.

“I’ve been in a lot of countries. It was really great, a lot of fun to play for the national team. We were always like in the middle of the pack, but it’s a great experience and hopefully we’re going to get better and better.”

Yarden Danan is currently a starting guard for the Eckerd College Tritons women’s basketball team, but is shown here when she played for Israel in European championships. Her coach at the St. Petersburg schools says her “basketball IQ is very good.” Yarden Danan is currently a starting guard for the Eckerd College Tritons women’s basketball team, but is shown here when she played for Israel in European championships. Her coach at the St. Petersburg schools says her “basketball IQ is very good.” The 20-year-old from the Tel Aviv suburb of Rehovot was born to the game. “Since I can remember, there was a basketball in my hands,” she said.

Her father, Miko Danan, was the first Yeshiva University basketball player recruited directly from Israel, in 1990. His college career was interrupted – and his legend at Yeshiva grew – the next year when he decided to rejoin his Israeli Defense Forces unit at the start of the first Gulf War.

He returned to get his degree in 1994, finishing with 1,256 career points, among Yeshiva’s all-time leaders, “but in his senior year he tore his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and things went sort of downhill,” said Danan, the oldest of Miko and Liat’s four children.

“He played two years in the men’s league in Israel but couldn’t do what he’d done in college and that was it.” Miko is a director of basketball programs and camps in Rehovot. Danan has two brothers, ages 17 and 14, and a sister, 11, “and they all play basketball,” she said.

When she was five, her father, Miko, said in an e-mail from Israel, she already was into soccer, tennis and judo, “and when she was 8 she started to come to work with me when I would coach, and she started practicing basketball with boys teams older than she was. She was very talented and when she was 10 years old I asked her to choose to continue with tennis or basketball. She was practicing each of them. She chose basketball.”

Danan spent several teen years in Israel’s multi-level pro league; athletes can go from there to U.S. colleges if they haven’t played for pay. Several colleges scouted her. Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, offered her a full scholarship. She spent two years playing for the Division 1 Wildcats.

“It was tough leaving home but I knew it was a good step for me,” she said. “My father did it when there were no cellphones, no Internet, so I knew I could do it. They come every year for two or three weeks and we FaceTime a lot. And I was back home for Christmas break, too.”

She averaged 5.3 points a game coming off the bench as a freshman at Weber State in 2015-16 and 8.9 points mostly as a starter the following season. But she didn’t like the Utah weather. “It was snowing pretty bad and it was cold,” Danan said, “and I didn’t really fit right with the chemistry of the team. I wasn’t enjoying the game the way I wanted to.”

Enter Miriam Hannoun. “She was an Israeli player on our team last year and she and Yarden were good friends. Both played on the national team,” said Eckerd coach Paul Honsinger. “That’s kind of how we were introduced to Yarden, ‘cause they were always talking through social media.

“Miriam (who graduated and plays professionally in Israel) had a great year and we did, too,” Honsinger said. “On the flip side, Weber State wasn’t having a great deal of success and I think Yarden was looking for greener pastures.”

She asked for and was granted her release from Weber State, transferred to Eckerd, and is on full scholarship again. And because she moved from Division 1 to Division 2 she didn’t have to sit out a year as players often are required do when switching among D1 schools.

“She’s been great for us,” Honsinger said. “Her basketball IQ is very good and she’s a perfect fit in terms of understanding the game and what we’re teaching. I think her adjustment has been very good.” She has started every game and is averaging 10.5 points.

“She’s very talkative, very friendly, very outgoing,” her coach said. “She has a big personality. Sometimes it’s tough for transfers to fit in. I think Yarden’s done a great job coming in, sitting back at first to find what her role is. Now she’s just fun to be around.”

Danan still misses home, but not the way she did when she first left Israel. “That year was hard. I wanted to go back, but now it’s okay. The weather is nice and the people here are really nice.”

The tournament-bound Tritons are pretty good, too, among the leaders in the Sunshine State Conference.

At Weber State, Danan found it necessary to occasionally defend Israel. “There were some incidents, confrontations with Saudi students in my class,” she said. “But not here. There are a lot of Jewish people on campus - 60, maybe 80. So I don’t need to protect Israel. So many people say, ‘Omigod, I want to be there.’ ‘I want to go visit there.’ ”

She has prepared Shabbat and Hanukkah dinners with friends in the Jewish community and will be hosting a seder when her family visits from Israel.

And being on what amounts to an “international” team at Eckerd makes life interesting. She has teammates from Finland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Turkey as well as Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky, New York and Orlando.

“We love it. We have such great chemistry between all of us,” Danan said. “It’s so fun being around each other. It’s like, ‘Oh, you have an accent.’ Each one of us has an accent. In the locker room we laugh with each other. ‘Oh, you don’t know how to say that word.’ ”

Her roommate is one of her best friends, senior guard Ada Yalcin from Turkey, who transferred to Eckerd after two years at Casper (Wyo.) College. “Ada visited me at home last summer,” Danan said. “She loves Israel. She always protects Israel.”

Israel hasn’t sent a men’s basketball team to the Olympics since its only appearance, in 1952, and hasn’t sent a women’s team since they debuted in 1976.

“The Israeli national team is trying to reach the Olympic Games,” her father wrote in his email, “but it is very difficult because only six national teams from Europe can participate in every Olympics and the odds are small” Israel can make it.

“That’s something I hope will change” for 2020 in Tokyo or 2024 in Paris, Danan said. “After that (2028 in Los Angeles) I don’t know if I’ll still be able to play basketball.”

Israel generally doesn’t send many basketball players, men or women, to American colleges – or elsewhere – after graduation from high school. Just as a bat or bar mitzvah is a rite of passage at age 13, so is entering the military at 18. It’s mandatory, men serving for three years, women for just under two.

There are exemptions for, among others, married women, religious men studying Jewish law, religious women who choose national service, or people with certain physical conditions. “I did not do Army; I got a release,” Danan said. “I have Crohn’s Disease,” a chronic inflammation of the digestive or gastrointestinal tract. It has no impact on her ability to play basketball.

The women’s game, both college and pro, is popular in Israel but, as it is here, it is mostly overshadowed by the men’s game.

“When I finish (at Eckerd) I want to turn professional,” Danan said. “I’ll probably play a few years in Europe and then finish my career in Israel. I don’t see myself playing in the WNBA. I love traveling the world, seeing different countries. Hopefully Europe will be a great experience for me.”

She said she didn’t expect to study international business at Eckerd. “I majored in physical therapy back at Weber State but they don’t have that here and that’s something I look forward to getting back to, maybe with a master’s degree. But whenever I stop playing basketball I want to be a coach,” she said.

“I’m taking international business because I kind of can do something with that in the future, maybe help me be the manager of a team, like my father. I love basketball. I don’t know what I’d do without basketball.”

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