LAS VEGAS – Gal Mekel has plenty of support in his native Israel. After all, he’s got six brothers and sisters ranging in age from 19 to four months. All of them, well, except for the newbie, watched up close last season as the flashy 6-foot-3 point guard stormed to the Israeli Basketball Super League MVP.
That means it’s time for NBA League Pass in the Mekel household.
Signed by the Dallas Mavericks earlier this month to a three-year contract, Mekel became the second Isreali-born player to get to the NBA. The first, Omri Casspi, still the lone Israeli drafted, will play just a few hundred miles down the road with the Houston Rockets.
“Actually a lot of Israelis are playing hoops, just not a lot in the States,” Mekel, who played two seasons at Wichita State, said following Friday’s Summer League finale, the Mavs’ fourth game in as many nights. “Basketball is big in Israel and I started when I was 5 on the court right next to my house, and actually started with a serious team when I was 6 or 7. Basketball was my first love.”
Pretty much just like every American kid who dreams of the NBA on the neighborhood pavement.
“It’s a dream of every player,” Mekel, 25, said. “You grow up, you have the posters of Michael Jordan and everybody on your wall, and it’s a dream of everybody, but last summer I came here [to the U.S.] to train with coach [David] Thorpe and I had a good workout with the Utah Jazz, and I saw that I have this chance, going to have this shot. I went back home, I had a great season.”
The quick, savvy point guard, with wide-open court awareness and an ability to dish with unpredictability, has some comparing him to Ricky Rubio. Mekel averaged 13.3 ppg, 5.4 apg, 2.6 rpg and 1.4 steals last season for Maccabi Bazan Haifa in Israel.
“I love the point guards that involve everyone and getting all the other guys better, controlling the team with tempo,” Mekel said, “[like] Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Chris Paul, a long list, that’s the style of game I like to play.”
Mekel drew some of the more curious observers to six Summer League games to gain a bit of perspective as to how his game would transfer at a higher level. He didn’t quite create the stir of Jeremy Lin a few years ago when he barnstormed Vegas as part of the Mavs’ team.
But Mekel did perform well, averaging 9.7 ppg on 45.1 percent shooting and 5.0 apg. He vaulted into the starting lineup after first-round draft pick Shane Larkin fractured his ankle requiring surgery in the team’s final practice before departing for Las Vegas. Without Larkin, Mekel played nearly 28 mpg, which eventually caught up to him as the Mavs played their final four of six games on consecutive days.
“I was dead in the end,” Mekel said. “We really tried hard to bring energy and it’s not easy. But for me I think it was a great week, first time getting to know the NBA game. I think I played pretty good for the first time. That’s it. I’ll work on my game, stuff that I saw to work on this week and I’ll be ready for training camp.”
The big question is where will Mekel get most of his minutes next season, with the Mavs or perhaps their D-League affiliate just north of Dallas, the Texas Legends? Dallas completely reshaped its backcourt, signing veteran point guards Jose Calderon and Devin Harris, plus high-scoring combo guard Monta Ellis and shooting guard Wayne Ellington. Then there’s also Larkin, who is expected to return some time around the middle of training camp.
“He did a really good job early and maybe had some times where he sputtered because again, back-to-back-to-back-to-back, that’s a lot of work, and without Shane as a backup,” Mavs assistant and Summer League coach Monte Mathis said. “I think the wear and tear caught up to him a little bit, but he’s a tough kid. He fought through everything and he keeps coming and coming. He’ll get better and better.”