US College Basketball Team Set to Tour Israel

basketball with hands of the players up

 

The men’s basketball team at Auburn University arrived in Israel for the first-ever tour of its kind. During the tour, they’ll face off against Israel’s national teams as the local fans cheer on. In addition to playing some heated matches, the team will visit religious sites, build an understanding of the country’s history and culture, and come together as a team. And even though its betting lines are nowhere near as prominent as the NBA betting lines, they have seen incredible success.

This tour marks a major event as it’s the first time to take place in the last twenty years. On Tuesday, Auburn University’s Tigers managed to win the match against Israel’s national team of under-20 players. To kick off the tour, they won an impressive 117 to 56. 

Fans Calling it the Birthright of College Basketball

Next week, the team will be up against Israel’s national and All-star teams in numerous back-to-back matches. For fans here at home that are hyped up for the matches, the games will be broadcast onto the SEC network, with Roxy Bernstein and Jay Bilas on the commentary. 

Fans are dubbing the tour as the birthright of US college basketball, considering how it has taken years for the journey to finally begin. Bruce Pearl, the Auburn Tigers’ head coach, said that bringing the team to Israel for an international tour has long been his dream. Considering that the NCAA only allows college teams to take tours once in every four years, it’s quite an accomplishment. If these teams were pro, they could easily influence NBA odds.

Bringing People Together Through Sport

Bruce Pearl hopes that the tour will provide an opportunity to bring communities together through the love for a sport. As he’s Jewish, he’s made trips to Israel a few times before and even coached the national team at the 2009 Maccabiah Games. As his team won a glorious victory that year, he describes it as one of his best coaching experiences. 

As Israel holds a special place in his heart, he’s excited to show the country to his team. He emphasized on touring the cities because of Israel’s historical significance. He hoped that the tour will normalize US teams visiting Israel and help other teams make a decision to visit as well. For him, the best part of the trip will be to look around Jerusalem. 

Overcoming Differences on the Court

Bruce Pearl mentioned that an important aspect of the tour was how it allowed players to set aside their differences and play a good game. As someone who experienced racism and anti-Semitism in Boston as a youth, he cherishes that children would forget about their differences and conflicts when they would meet on the basketball court. 

Commenting on the cohesion between the different groups, he said that it was a true learning moment, and that the world would be much better if people learned from sports. 

Meeting With The Palestinian National Basketball Court

To add to its lists of firsts, the team will also be having dinner with the Palestinian National Basketball Coach, Paul Caughter. Despite the Muslim-American CAIR group opposing the visit, Bruce Pearl explained how the visit was on apolitical nature. This clarification ensured that people betting on the NBA spreads aren’t picking a political side. 

He said it would just be a Jewish coach from Auburn taking his team to for a tour to Israel and having a meal with the Palestinian National Basketball Coach.  

Auburn Students Attend Games in Israel

The first game, which took place on Tuesday, was attended by over a thousand spectators at the Malha Arena in Jerusalem. Fans were excited to see the teams in action, and surprisingly, many local fans were enthusiastic about Auburn’s performance. After a fantastic game, the players took selfies with fans and gave them high-fives. 

In addition, many Auburn fans from back home followed the team to support them on the Israeli court. One such fan was Alexa Cottle, who is a senior at Auburn University. Being a member of the college’s small Jewish community, she explained that Bruce Pearl was an important figure within the school’s Jewish community. 

Visiting Prominent Holy Sites

Some of the team’s major stops included visits to different religious sites in Israel. They saw a Baptism in the Jordan River, the Sea of Galilee, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Many of the team members described the visits as a unique spiritual experience, and said that this was the closest they felt to God.