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WFNY Sports: Casspi and Goodman Team Up

Omri Casspi, Tamir Goodman Team Up for Beachwood Youth
Basketball Camp

June 12, 2012 By

To the average eye, it might not appear that Tamir
Goodman and Omri Casspi have much in common. But the two men share two very
special bonds: basketball and Judaism.

Because of these bonds, Goodman, 30, teamed up with the 24-year-old Casspi to
create a three-Sunday basketball camp in Beachwood. About 80 kids, grades 1-8,
attended the first part of the camp this past Sunday, June 10, at Beachwood
Middle School.

The camp will train kids in basketball while adding related life lessons from
their diverse experiences. The two leaders said it’s been a ball working
together thus far, something they never imagined would happen when they first
met several years ago.

“God has mysterious ways, so you never know,” Cleveland Cavalier
guard/forward Casspi said to WFNY. “I’m just happy and fortunate enough to do it
and see the kids having fun.”

For both Jewish basketball stars, the camp provides an opportunity to pass
along their knowledge to Cleveland area kids.

“I like it a lot, I think we share the same value in that we know that
there’s so much more in the sport of basketball than just basketball,” Goodman
said. “We share that value and we want to help and inspire as many kids as
possible through basketball.”

“You can learn a lot from sports,” Casspi said, “not just in being in the NBA
and being a professional basketball player, but you can learn a lot about
yourself, have self-confidence and learn about yourself more when you are
playing sports. Each and every individual can learn a lot.”

‘House of Omri’

Goodman acted as the lead director of Sunday’s camp and his enthusiasm was
obvious from the get-go. Despite his unassuming demeanor – aided by the fact his
red hair was covered by a traditional yarmulke – the 6-foot-3 Goodman was
capable of yelling and screaming to the crowd with blistering passion. His
signature “Two claps!” closing line to every single powerful sentence was met
with thunderous back-to-back applauds from the crowd.

But if Goodman was the super-organized conductor, then Casspi was the rock
star. When the 6-foot-9 dark-haired Israeli first entered the building, whispers
of “He’s here!” spread rapidly throughout the gym until the towering figure
appearing. On the court, dozens of kids wore his jersey, either with the
Cavaliers or one of his former Israeli club teams.

Also assisting Goodman and Casspi were about a dozen other camp leaders,
mostly coaches from Notre Dame College, local high school players and a couple
of former European professionals now living in Cleveland. These individuals wore
white T-shirts with “House of Omri” written on the front in both English and
Hebrew, along with “Casspi 36” on the back in wine and gold. The kids, along
with Goodman and Casspi, mostly wore red camp T-shirts with the camp logo and a
list of sponsors.

The first lesson of the three-part camp was ball-handling, which Goodman
equated to becoming a better person in life. He emphasized staying low (humble),
not taking any extra dribbles (shortcuts) and keeping your head up. To reiterate
this final point, Casspi shared a story of a time when he overcame
struggles.

“Keeping your head up reflects a lot more in real life,” said the Israeli in
bringing up a time where he thought his ground-breaking pro career might be in
jeopardy. “I always had to keep my composure, keep my head up and keep on
getting better every day.”

And so the hoops, sprinkled in with some life lessons, continued on for the
rest of the day in a unique camp environment. Following the ball-handling
introductions, the campers rotated between the different coaches – with Goodman
and Casspi roving to provide additional support – ate lunch and played a few
pick-up games divided by age groups.

The first part of the three-Sunday camp, however, was only as spectacular as
the story behind that duo that made it possible.

‘Jewish Jordan’

To anyone else that just went through Tamir Goodman’s past
12 years, which took him from Sports Illustrated to a short professional career
marred by injuries and then to Cleveland, it would be difficult to muster up the
kind of happiness that was on display Sunday.

But that’s just Tamir, an Orthodox Jewish kid once dubbed by SI as the “Jewish Jordan” while he was a star
high school junior in Maryland in 1999. The only problem with his future stardom
that he wouldn’t play or practice on the Jewish Shabbat – which lasts from
sundown Friday night to sundown Saturday night.

Thus, he turned down a much-hyped scholarship offer to the University of
Maryland, and instead attended tiny Towson University in Baltimore. Goodman had
a solid freshman season, averaging 6 points and 4 rebounds, but then left the
school amid controversy in December 2001. Seven months later though, his
basketball dream came true when he signed a contract to play professionally in
Israel.

In Israel, he had a few average seasons, but struggled to recapture his
former glory because of continuous injuries. While he played on a number of good
teams, he mostly viewed games from the bench, which led to his first encounter
with Casspi.

“I remember the first time we played against him and it was his first
professional year,” Goodman said. “He was young, but the team I was playing on,
we had a lot of veterans on our team. And I remember the first time we played
against him, he got in the game and within his first couple of minutes he had a
baseline reverse dunk. And we got back to the locker room, and even though we
were on the opposing team, I remember the veterans saying, ‘Wow that kid is
something special.’”

Chronic injuries kept hindering Goodman’s career and, despite a brief
one-year return to an American league and then back to Israel, he retired in
2009. He now lives happily in Cleveland, the hometown of his wife Judy Horowitz,
whom he married after meeting originally in Israel. He now operates a brand-new
non-profit organization, gives motivational speeches and organizes camps like
this one.

Together Again

Meanwhile, Casspi moved up in the food chain to play on the same Maccabi Tel
Aviv team that Goodman began his career with and current Cavalier Anthony Parker
starred for last decade.

The young prodigy continued his trail to stardom, becoming
the first-ever Israeli to play in the NBA. The Sacramento Kings picked him No.
23 overall in the 2009 NBA Draft, and after a back-and-forth first two seasons,
he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers along with a conditional first-round
pick for J.J. Hickson in 2011.

Goodman said the two stayed in touch after their first meeting, and then he
was ecstatic about Casspi’s trade to Cleveland. He said the new proximity
promoted a new collaboration between the star American and the star Israeli
hoopsters in a vibrant Jewish community.

“It’s just a blessing from God, I guess,” Casspi said about the teamwork
leading up to the camp. “I got to Cleveland and he’s here, we reached out to
each other, started talking and decided this was a good way for us to give back
some of our knowledge of basketball.”

Both said they have enjoyed their brief stays in Cleveland so far. Goodman
boasted that unique camp will be an unforgettable experience for the kids who
get to participate in the activities and meet Casspi, a hero and a rock star to
many Jews worldwide.

“We’re just so grateful that everyone is a part of this program and we’re
going to continue doing this,” Goodman said. “We’re going to have camps
throughout the fall, we’re actually going to have an elite camp here, in
bringing kids from all over America to play here in Cleveland as well. So we’re
doing a lot of fun things and we’re looking forward to it.”

Casspi added: “And it’s just fun, it’s all I can describe it. It’s just fun
to be around and see so many Jewish basketball players trying and working
hard.”

And if Sunday was any indication, where the two leaders seemed to be having
as much fun wondering around as the 80 wide-eyed kids, then there’s no telling
what could happen in the future.

The Omri Casspi/Tamir Goodman basketball camp continues Sunday, June 17,
and then Sunday, June 24, at the Fuchs Mizrachi School and Agnon School
in Beachwood, respectively. The next camp also will feature a special
collaboration with Friendship Circle, which will bring along special needs
children to train with the basketball stars. Also to be in attendance will be
Cavs mascot Moondog and an additional Cavalier teammate. Registration is still
available at www.tamirgoodman.com. Top photo above via Judy Horowitz.