July 21, 2013

From Israel to the NBA and Mavericks for Mekel

Israel native Mekel chased down his basketball dream.

As far back as Gal Mekel can remember, he was always a basketball junkie.

“Basketball was my first love,” said Mekel, who was born and raised in Israel. “I started [playing] when I was 5 on the court right next to my house, and I started with a serious team when I was 6 of 7.

“When you grow up you have posters of Michael Jordan and everybody on your wall. It’s a dream of everybody.”

And it’s a dream for Mekel, a 25-year-old free-agent point guard who signed a three-year, $2.3 million contract with the Dallas Mavericks earlier this month.

When the regular season starts, Mekel will join Houston’s Omri Casspi as the only players from Israel to play in the NBA.

In his six games for the Mavs in the Las Vegas Summer League last week, Mekel showed that he’s a proficient ball-handler who can run an offense and knows how to find an open player.

But with rookie Shane Larkin ( broken ankle) not available to split time at point guard, and with the Mavs ending summer-league play with four games in four days, the added burden of playing with less rest took its toll on Mekel.

Still, the early impressions from Mavs summer league coach Monte Mathis about Mekel were positive ones.

“I think it’s a jump from any league coming into the NBA,” Mathis said. “Any league in Europe, any league in the states — whether it’s college, small college — it’s a jump.”

The oldest of seven kids, Mekel as a child in Israel woke up many times in the middle of the night to watch NBA games live on television.

Mekel doesn’t have a role model, but he likes point guards.

“I love the point guards that’s involving everyone and getting all of the other guys better and controlling the tempo,” Mekel said. “You have a lot of them in the NBA — Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Chris Paul — a long list. That’s the style of game that I play.”

In the Mavs’ six summer-league games, Mekel averaged 9.7 points and five assists in 27.8 minutes per game. He shot 45.1 percent from the field and 37.1 percent from 3-point range.

“There’s skills on the court, there’s basketball skills and there’s the head, the skills above the neck,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said. “Gal’s got good basketball skills, but he’s got to improve his shot.”

“But in terms of understanding the game with the basketball, he sees it before it happens. That’s rare to find — you don’t see that a lot — so I’m excited to see how well he’ll do.’’

Mekel also knows a lot of folks in his native land are pulling for him to do well.

“A lot of players love the game in Israel,” Mekel said. “A lot of guys, young guys, are playing.

“We’re trying. Israel is a basketball nation and I hope we’ll see more players [in the NBA] in the future.’’

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