Jan. 19, 2000
BERKELEY, CA - Shahar Gordon is not your typical college basketball player. Gordon hails from Tel Aviv, Israel and first traveled across the globe in 1997 to attend high school and play basketball at St. Thomas More Academy in Oakdale, CT. He then moved across the United States in 1998 to attend the University of California and play basketball for head coach Ben Braun and the Golden Bears.
How did you end up coming to Cal from Israel?
"I left Israel for my senior year of high school and went to a prep school in Connecticut-St. Thomas More Academy. It is a great school for basketball. It has a real good reputation and it exposed me to a lot of big-time colleges. Coach (Scott) Beeten saw me play in one of the team practices. I was suppose to go back into the (Israeli) army after my first year of high school, but they (Israel) said they would give me an extension because they need big men to help the national team. They thought it would be the best thing for me to go and play college basketball before I went into the army. I am grateful for what coach Beeten did. He waited way after the signing period in April. I didn't commit until June because I wasn't sure if I could get a deferment from the army. They (the Cal coaches) really helped me out by keeping the scholarship available and allowing me to go to school here."
How did you first come about going to St. Thomas More Academy?
"I got a lot of exposure playing in Europe with my national team. There was also the European Nike Camp that had selected the best 80 European players for our age group. That really exposed me to a lot of American high school coaches who thought I should go there (United States) so I could really work on my skills and develop. Also, one of our assistant coaches on my Junior National Team was a former assistant coach at the University of Connecticut. The University of Connecticut helped introduce me to a few schools, and gave the names of schools for my parents to check out, and we decided that St. Thomas More Academy would be the best for me in terms of basketball."
How has your experience at Cal been? Has it been what you expected?
"It has been awesome. In my first year I had never been in a college atmosphere and it was unbelievable. We had a great team and great people surrounding me. The whole atmosphere was just amazing. I was learning a lot and meeting a lot of new people. That was a great experience. This year I have gone through a lot of hard times. I had surgery this summer on my knee. Coming into this year I wasn't in the best shape and I wasn't as mentally prepared as I wanted to be. I just kind of started off bad and then it (hurting his knee) happened again halfway through the preseason. I re-tore my meniscus and had to have another surgery about three and a half weeks ago. So, it has been hard, but I have always had a great family, the basketball team, that has supported me every step of the way, really took care of me and kept cheering me up. And, I think the time away from the game really made me think about what I want to accomplish this year. Now I'm coming in more relaxed. I think I'm mentally prepared to just have fun and do the best I can to make up for the lost time."
How has the school part of Cal been for you? Are you enjoying your classes?
"It is competitive, but I am doing pretty well and I'm keeping a good GPA. I'm an economics major, but I won't be able to finish. I'm leaving half way through this semester. By April 2 I have to join the army again in Israel. Actually, I have had no problems in terms of the language. There is a good support system over here, private tutors that have helped me get through some tough courses. This semester I won't be able to finish because I have to leave the minute basketball season is over.
How long will your military duties extend? Will you be able to come back next year?
"Definitely not. Army service is two to three years in Israel. And, in that course of time you can not leave the country unless it is national team related in terms of basketball."
Can you come back to Cal after your military service?
"We are trying to look into that. A lot of things can happen in two to three years. I don't know what I'm going to be doing in three years. It (coming back) would be something I would love to do. I'm hoping to be able to study while I'm in the army and hopefully get my degree in two to three years in Israel. So, I don't know what's going to happen. For now I'm taking it that this is my last year and I'm going to try to get the most out of it."
You played on the Israeli National Basketball Team this past summer. Is a goal of yours to play in the Olympics?
"Oh definitely. We have the European Championships for the 20-and-under national team, in which I'm their (Israel) captain, this coming July. The first five teams in Europe qualify for the World Championships, which would be a great feat because an Israeli team has never qualified for the World Championships. We came close two years ago with my 18-and-under national team. We lost in the quarterfinals, which was a heartbreaker. It is a great group of guys, very talented. I grew up with them ever since I was 12. I'd been with them almost every weekend working out. It is something I've been living for. Just being able to represent my country would be the greatest thing I could imagine. That is what I play for. That is what I dream about."
What has your basketball highlight been at Cal so far?
"Winning the NIT Championship. With all the hard times we went through at the beginning of the Pac-10 season last year, just coming back and winning in Madison Square Garden was just such a dramatic feat and something I will always remember. Obviously, we had some great wins last season, playing against North Carolina in front on a record crowd. That was also a highlight of mine. All of last season was just an incredible experience for me. The icing on the cake was the NIT Championship and being able to come back to the airport and seeing all the fans cheering for us really made me feel good about myself. Being able to bring back something to a community that had been so supportive to us. Hopefully we can do it again this year."