Abigail Klein Leichman
August 16, 2023

Playing to a crowd of nearly 1,000 fans, the University of Arizona men’s basketball squad trounced the Israel Select Team 124 to 77 on Monday night in Tel Aviv. Tuesday night, Kansas State beat the Israeli team 94-87.

Top college basketball teams bounce into Israel
Ryan Turell of the Israel Select Team facing Kylan Boswell of the University of Arizona in a friendly game in Tel Aviv, August 14, 2023. Photo by Onflickprod courtesy of Athletes for Israel

But there were no hard feelings. The friendly exhibition games were part of a tour arranged by Athletes for Israel, a US-based nonprofit that brings professional and collegiate athletes to the Holy Land to combat antisemitism and promote a positive narrative about Israel.

The men’s basketball teams from the top-25 University of Arizona and from Kansas State University, which reached the Final Four last year, enjoyed a week of sightseeing in Israel before flying to the United Arab Emirates for four days of touring and friendlies against the Lebanese and Mexican national teams.

Top college basketball teams bounce into Israel
Kansas State University players practicing at the Sylvan Adams Sports Center of the International YMCA, Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of Athletes for Israel

“Getting out there and showing them different parts of the world — especially a place as rich in history as Israel — is fascinating, and gives our guys an opportunity to change their perspective,” said Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd, who has been to Israel before and is close with Israeli-American pro basketball executive and former coach David Blatt.

Lloyd noted that his squad includes seven international players and six American players. “What we hear about Israel is never good news and I have been looking forward to getting our boots on the ground and showing the group that this is a really cool place, maybe one of the [most] trendsetting cultures in all of the world today.”

While in Israel, the teams toured the Old City and City of David in Jerusalem; Bethlehem; Tel Aviv and Jaffa; Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center; and the Dead Sea.

Lloyd said that associating his basketball program with Athletes for Israel is “a perfect fit.”

“Our players come over, have a great experience, and pass that on to 30 people and maybe people start to realize their perception of what’s going on in Israel isn’t necessarily reality. The experience they get will last a lifetime.”

Top college basketball teams bounce into Israel
Kansas State University Wildcats in Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of K-State Men’s Basketball

Kansas State head coach Jerome Tang said that visiting Israel, which he called “the birthplace of three religions,” was a bucket-list item for him.

“We were actually going to go to Greece,” Tang said, “and then when Lea Miller-Tooley [of Complete Sports Management] and Daniel Posner [of Athletes for Israel] reached out to us about this trip … it was just something that you couldn’t turn down. … We want to be able to build unity through sports.”

Tang noted that Kansas State and University of Arizona teams are the first US college teams to fly from Israel to an Arab country. “Anytime you get a chance to be a first in something and be part of building peace — I mean, that’s exciting.”

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