Villanova basketball star Liad Suez was named Big East co-player of the week on December 15.Liad Suez, a 22-year-old Israeli, is dazzling fans of the basketball powerhouse Villanova University.
Suez, a Villanova sophomore and a six-foot-two forward, has become the star player and the highest scorer on the Villanova Wildcats women’s basketball team, the defending Big East champions, which opened its season with a 10-game winning streak.
Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter Mel Greenberg described her play in a recent game:
“The Villanova women’s basketball team is executing coach Harry Perretta’s patient motion offense, waiting until the last possible moment on the shot clock to attempt to score.
Suddenly the ball zips out to sophomore newcomer Liad Suez, all alone way beyond the three-point arc.
The 6-foot-2 forward launches a shot that zips through the basket.“
For that outstanding performance in a game in which she scored 26 points, Suez was named Big East co-player of the week on December 15.
She followed up her Big East performance with another stellar showing as the Wildcat’s clawed their way to a 66-57 road win over Temple University, with Suez leading the way for Villanova with 19 points. On January 9, she tied her career high of 26 points as Villanova upset Miami, 58-55.
In addition to her skill as a player, sportswriter Greenberg notes that she has given the team “international flavor” and her experience brings maturity to the team.
Her coach, Harry Perretta decided to recruit her the first time he saw Suez play on videotape.
“What can I say? She was very, very talented,” Perretta said. “As this season has gone along, she has gotten more consistent each game and her defense is improving.”
This was the first year that the psychology major has been permitted to play for the team competitively. Last season, the NCAA ruled that she was ineligible due to her play in Israel while serving in the army. Although Suez maintained her amateur status in Israel but had played against teams that paid players, which, according to the NCAA regulations, meant that she had to remain sidelined in a championship year.
But Suez doesn’t dwell on the year she spent on the bench, choosing instead, to focus on how well the season is going so far. “Everybody is pulling for each other and contributing,” Suez told the Inquirer. “We knew if we kept working hard and together, we could do good things.”
Some in the Philadelphia community find it ironic that an Israeli basketball star is making such an impact at a Catholic university located the WASPy Main Line of Philadelphia.
To Suez, the ethnic paradox is a non-issue. “I still have my Jewish identity intact. I don’t mind being in a place that’s different after being in Israel all my life.”
Suez is not alone on campus – recently married, she lives with her new husband, Amir Karni.
Suez, who grew up in Even Yehuda, and attended Ostrovsky High School in Ra’anana, recounts that she was raised in a sports family – her father Sami was a basketball player and her mother Tami was a gym teacher. Her brother, Maoz, is also playing college basketball in the U.S., at Kutztown University. And a third Suez may be headed for America in the future – her younger sister also plays.
“We always had a basketball hoop and net in our driveway,” she recalls.
Although her college career was delayed by her army service, she doesn’t regret it. “It was a great experience,” Suez says. “It’s something every Israeli does, so you feel, in a way, deprived if you don’t do it.”
She said she didn’t see combat. “Basically I did the laundry, so I could go and practice with the team. But boot camp was fun. We learned to shoot a gun on shooting ranges. I learned how to dismantle an Uzi, which is pretty cool.
“We learned CPR,” Suez said. “We learned combat moves. The girls [her teammates] tease me, ‘Can you kill someone with one blow?’ Nooo. I don’t think so. But I can pretty much defend myself.”
Suez is not the first female Israeli basketball player to make an impact at American schools.
The most famous was Limor Mizrachi, who led Maryland to a No. 1 ranking and the NCAA regional finals in 1992.
Another was Orly Grossman, a key substitute on the 1990-91 Connecticut team that reached the Women’s Final Four. This season, freshman Shay Doron, a graduate of the prominent Christ the King High School program in New York, has been impressive at Maryland.
Israeli male players have also made an impact in the past, most notably Doron Sheffer at the University of Connecticut.