Marisa Gobuty: I just fell in love with Israel. It is the best place to grow up. It was fun, I loved it, and the basketball was great.At age 9, Marisa Gobuty became a hero on her youth basketball team in Encino, California, after scoring the winning shot that won them the championship.

After completing the fourth grade and moving to Israel with her family, she had no way of knowing that in just a few years she would be back in California – this time as an Israeli hero – to play on an all star basketball team.

Now 16, the celebrated point guard is helping to lead an all-star style basketball team part of the FBC (Finest Basketball Club) league to success in a series of high profile tournaments. The FBC, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting student athletes under the age of 19, recruits young players from across the country to play on teams that compete in high profile tournaments during the summer NCAA viewing period.

Beginning in the first weekend in April and continuing throughout the summer, Gobuty will be competing with the FBC team, which has been deemed “one of the nation’s most scouted high school age girl’s basketball teams” in a series of off-season college viewing tournaments.

After winning the first tournament, Gobuty and her FBC team headed to North Carolina for the Deep South Classic, a tournament that serves as yet another opportunity to be viewed by a number of college coaches, as well as one of the nation’s best scouting services, the All Star Girl’s Report.

Gobuty, who divides her time between the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, a school that has produced over 30 NBA players, and her high school team in Israel – Bnei Herzliya – as well as the Israeli under-18 women’s national team, never stops working, according to her father, Marshall Gobuty. Unlike some other players, who may not even pick up a basketball during the off-season, Marisa is always practicing.

“She has an unbelievable amount of discipline,” her proud father told ISRAEL21c. “She is working four hours a day. She eats right, works right, and sleeps right. She doesn’t go out and party the night before practice.”

Gobuty’s discipline and dedication to basketball began early, when in fourth grade she made her championship-winning shot for her team, the Encino Balboa Stars, in the last 2.3 seconds of a game. “After that I knew what it was that I wanted to do,” she said. “Basketball became my first priority and everything that I did after that was to get better.”

Her father also cites this as a turning point in her basketball career.

“That clinched it,” he says. “Up until that point she was also a track star, but then basketball became priority.” He jokes, “She has always been very determined; if she had won a tennis match instead she would probably be a tennis star now.”

Indeed, Marisa conveys a degree of commitment and focus that isn’t typical for most 16 year old girls. Maintaining a 4.22 grade point average at IMG, where she combines school with practice, she speaks about her future thoughtfully, and with a level of awareness that belies her age. When asked what college she hopes to attend, she replies, “I don’t have a preference right now. I want to see what I can get. I need a Jewish community at whatever school I go to.”

Though she may be taking the wait-and-see approach before setting her sights on one particular school, Marisa clearly has a plan.

“I want to play Division I Basketball in college, and then go back to Israel and play on the national team there.” Marisa also intends to serve in the Israeli army, though she hasn’t decided whether she will defer the army for a couple of years, or play basketball while serving.

Born in Toronto, Canada, before moving to Encino, and finally on to Israel in 1997 at the age of 9, Gobuty holds citizenship from three countries. When asked what country she calls home, she doesn’t hesitate: “Israel, for sure, there is no question.”

Though her family has partially relocated to Bradenton, Florida to help her basketball career, and travels with her when she plays, Gobuty cites moving to Israel as the best thing that her parents ever did for her. “I just fell in love with Israel,” she says. “It is the best place to grow up. It was fun, I loved it, and the basketball was great.”

Marshall Gobuty says the family made the decision to try Israel out for a year, “sort of like a vacation.” After a year they had a family meeting and decided to extend their visit for one more year. “My oldest daughter was already in love with Israel, though Marisa was still a little hesitant,” he recalls.

After another year, it was clear that everyone was hooked, and soon enough they found themselves building a home in Israel in the Tel Aviv area. Marshall Gobuty says he knew for a long time that he wanted to raise his family in Israel.

“I went to Israel as a kid and wanted my kids to have the freedom and exposure to Jewish life that Israel affords. I wanted my kids to be less materialistic and to see the country,” he said. “There are problems in Israel, but it is still a safer place to have kids grow up. It gives them freedom to grow.”

Marisa believes that growing up in Israel has also made her a better basketball player. “It definitely helped,” she says. “I got to develop as a player. In Israel it’s not about being tall and being able to touch the rim, it’s about developing skills and about learning to be a pure point guard.”

“The game is really different in the US and in Israel,” she adds. “It is more about size and athleticism in the US, in Israel it’s more about skill. It’s a guard’s game in Israel. I like the aggressiveness of the US game, but I’m a point guard, so of course I love the Israeli style.”

The Israeli school of basketball must be doing something right, as Marisa is certainly not the first Israeli female to grace the US with her basketball skills. Recently, Shay Doron led her team, the Maryland Terrapins, to a national championship – a first both for Maryland and for an Israeli female.

Doron, a role model for many Israeli girls, hits especially close to home for girls like Marisa. “Shay Doron is great,” says Marisa, “She’s an amazing player and everyone respects her for what she has done.”

Like Doron, Gobuty displays her love of Israel wherever she goes, wearing her national team jersey when she practices. “It’s funny,” she laughs, “I wore my national team jersey for the first time when I practiced with the FBC team, and they asked if they could just call me Israel. So now my nickname is Israel.”

Beyond representing Israel on the court, Gobuty acts as an ambassador in the classroom as well.

“I go to schools and tell them that they can’t believe what they see on TV – Israel isn’t a scary place. I tell them my story about living in Israel and my connection to basketball. I was an American kid just like them, but I got to live there, and I tell them what it’s done for me.”

Marshall Gobuty notes that Marisa has had a very positive influence on a lot of kids. “Kids have actually talked their parents into going to Israel for vacation instead of Italy. The kids love her, you wouldn’t believe how calm and cool she is when she speaks.”

As for her own connection to Israel, Marisa hopes to return and play on the national team someday. For now she keeps in touch with her friends everyday online and on the phone. “I’m happy to be where I am,” she says, “but I also love to go home to my friends and do ‘normal’ things.”

Marshall Gobuty echoes that sentiment. “I love that we can do half at IMG and half in Israel, there’s a better social life for her in Israel, and there is no dating life for her here. It is better for her to have a balance.”

Nonetheless, the Gobuty family manages to maintain their sense of unity, and their dedication to Judaism, even while outside of Israel. “This has been great fun for us,” says Marshall Gobuty.

He said that the whole family was going to join them in North Carolina for the Deep South Classic, and for a Passover Seder with Chabad-Lubavitch.

“We make it work, we’re lucky.”

Marisa agrees that life has managed to go on in a relatively uninterrupted fashion. “Judaism hasn’t been a challenge for me because my parents keep tradition alive for me; it’s really not that different from when we were in Israel. I went to a tournament during Hanukkah and I just took my travel menorah with me.”