April 9, 2006, Updated September 12, 2012

‘I know that women’s basketball is not very big in Israel, and just to know that I can be a promoter of the sport and of my country…is a great opportunity for me,’ says Israeli basketball player Shay Doron.Shay Doron hasn’t yet come down from the high of the University of Maryland’s women’s college basketball championship, and the Terrapins guard and team leader is reveling in the thrill of victory.

The Israeli junior scored a key basket and two clutch foul shots in overtime of the 78-75 championship-game win over Duke University last Tuesday night in Boston. She finished with 16 points, and her performance down the stretch had helped the Terrapins overcome a 13-point, second-half deficit against the Blue Devils. The game was not decided until Duke, down by one point, missed its final shot. Maryland’s title win climaxed a nail-biting, three-game run that included an overtime victory over the University of Utah that vaulted the Terrapins into the Final Four and a second-half turnaround in the penultimate game against the country’s top-ranked team, the University of North Carolina.

“Never did I imagine the mania. I’ve gotten about 500 phone calls a day, just from Israel, ever since we won,” Doron, 21, told ISRAEL21c. “It’s a bit overwhelming at times. I just want to eat a peaceful dinner, or I go to sleep and I’ll wake up with 17 voice mails. It’s tough, because you want to please a lot of people… but I’d rather be there than not be there!”

The win was the pinnacle of Doron’s young career and bolsters her ambitious designs to become the first Israeli to play for the Women’s National Basketball Association. Born in the Tel Aviv area, she attended grade school in the US and caught the basketball bug while her father was working for Texas Instruments in Dallas and New York. Returning to Tel Aviv, she continued to develop her basketball skills, but decided, along with her family, to return to New York in time for her junior year of high school to pursue a higher level of competition in basketball.

Doron is happy about the positive attention that Israel has garnered thanks to Maryland’s success.

“It means a lot to me as a player, and as an Israeli it means a lot more,” she says. “I know that women’s basketball is not very big in Israel, and just to know that I can be a promoter of the sport and of my country at the same time… is a great opportunity for me as a person, as a player. I’ve heard from so many people [in Israel] who’ve called me and said how many smiles not just I, but our team, has put on people’s faces.

“People are calling to say… how great it is to feel that an Israeli is succeeding. After seeing what we’ve become in Israel after 50 years of hard work, something like this is a tribute that all that hard work pays off, whether you are in sports or whether you’re building a country, or whatever it is you do.

“You can be discriminated against halfway across the world, but basketball is above everything. Sports eliminate so much of that hatred – and I get to do that every day. I get to represent myself and my country and my sport.”

Doron has been an ambassador for the country, telling her (mostly African-American) teammates “how beautiful Israel is” including dispelling misconceptions of the country as consisting of sand dunes and people riding camels.

“‘No, we have cars and computers, and half of the start-up companies in the world are started in Israel,'” Doron says she tells them. “I try to teach them a little bit of the language, although it’s hard. I take off for some holidays, like Yom Kippur, and they want to know what it’s about, so I explain to them – or, rituals and things like that, to educate people as much as possible.”

One teammate from Doron’s freshman year, Delvona Oliver, went to play professionally in Israel because “of all the things she heard from me: ‘You’ve got to go play in Israel. It’s amazing.'” Others with whom Doron spoke decided to visit Israel “and absolutely adored it,” she states.

When the semester ends, Doron will spend three weeks in June at her family’s home on the beach in Herzliya Pituah, where last year she led the national Israeli team to the 2005 European Under-20 B Division title. She also participated in the 2005 Maccabi Games in Israel, where she led the USA to a 5-0 record and a gold medal.

“It’ll be good just to get some R&R, to see my family and my friends – nothing with the national team this year,” she says. “From my national [team] experience, I know girls from Tiberias and from Jerusalem – just about everywhere.”

Doron was excited that her parents, Yehuda and Tamar, and her sister Netta (a University of Pennsylvania student), were in Boston to witness the championship win. Her maternal grandparents also flew in from their home on Kibbutz Yasur and attended all six of Maryland’s NCAA tournament games.

“They’ve sacrificed as much as I have,” Doron says of her parents. “They moved halfway across the world strictly for basketball, for me. It was an accomplishment for me, but for them, too, to see my dreams and my goals come true. My mom told me that they all cried when we won, and I broke down in tears. It was a very emotional time for my family and me.”

Doron plans to devote all the necessary “sweat, tears, hard work, sacrificing” this summer to help Maryland repeat its success next year, when she will be the Terrapins’ only senior. With so narrow a gap among the nation’s top teams, “work ethic is the first thing that comes to mind with me,” she says.

Doron plans to play professionally in the WNBA – preferably for the New York Liberty, close to her parents, who moved to the city when Doron was in high school.

“I would love to be the first Israeli to do it,” she says of her WNBA aspirations. Post-basketball, Doron hopes to work in law enforcement.

Her immediate plans, however, relate to the culinary. Doron will head to her parents’ home in New York for Passover. “My grandmother and my mom are the best cooks. I’ll get some grub and enjoy my family,” she says. “I love the chopped liver that my grandma makes – oh, my god! I could be happy with just that and some matza ball soup, eggplant, chicken and cauliflower dishes. Everything they make is wonderful.”

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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