It’s not so easy to take a kid from Brooklyn and drop him off in Israel. But once Sylven Landesberg, the former Mr. Basketball in the state of New York and ACC Freshman of the Year, saw the city of Haifa, the beautiful landscape and the people, that transition became a little bit easier. Now the undisputed leader of Israel’s Maccabi Haifa Heat and a star of the Inside Israeli Basketball TV show, Sylven chatted with us about the team, their tryouts in Florida and NBA dreams.
Dime: What were your first impressions of Israel?
Sylven Landesberg: I was amazed, I didn’t know how beautiful the country was and all it had to offer. I had thought it was just a desert. Haifa’s a beautiful city… it’s right there on the water, on top of the mountains, and I just thought it was very nice.
Dime: What’s it been like playing for the team? What’s been your favorite part?
SL: Just the people I get to work with. The management, my teammates, they made it so easy for me to adjust because this year was my first year playing overseas. So really just all the people affiliated with the team made it a lot easier transition for me.
Dime: Talk a little bit about the charity work that you did during your trip to the New York and New Jersey last fall.
SL: We were in Jersey, and they split us into groups so that we could cover more places. So we were in groups of three or four, and the group I was with went to a community gym. It was in a tough neighborhood. You could tell it was in a tough neighborhood. We were just running drills with the kids who came, and you know, just teaching them the basics of the game. Inner-city kids, myself being an inner-city kid, I feel like everybody grows up playing in the park, and they might not know the in and outs of the game. They might know just like, “Hey, I got this crossover, or I gotta make moves.” They’re talented, they got moves, but we just worked on putting them in drills like three-man weaves, 3-on-2, 2-on-1s, that type of thing.
Dime: Did you do the same in Israel?
SL: We did a lot of charity work. I think I did around seven or eight events while I was out there. Other guys were doing just as much. It was great out there though; it definitely opened my eyes up to a lot doing the charity work out there. I mean poverty over there is a lot different over there than it is in America. When people over here are actually living right, they’ll say, “Oh, I don’t make enough money to do this or do that.” When you go over there, you really appreciate what you have. It was a great experience for me being able to help the kids, and most of them didn’t really speak any English. I was trying to communicate with them through my actions as much I can. I was trying to play with them as much as possible and little stuff like that. It was really fun.
Dime: What were the Maccabi Haifa tryouts like in Florida?
SL: Well I wasn’t actually down there so I’m not really sure what went on, but I spoke to some of the guys who were down there who said there were a bunch of talented guys down there. You know, we’re just trying to build the best team possible and get ready for next year. I do have to give a shout out to man Donnell Beverly. He works out with me in New York. We have a small group that we always work out with that’s me, Bev, Charles Jenkins who was in this year’s draft, Kemba Walker and Tobias Harris. It’s a real small group, we’re like a family. We workout in Long Island.
Dime: You ever think about coming back and trying to play in the NBA?
SL: That’s definitely my goal, for sure, definitely trying to get back. My agent (Jeff Schwartz) is always speaking to teams and seeing how they feel about me. A lot of teams still feel, you know, that I was very talented but that I needed to grow up this year. My game matured, but I just got to wait for the right time.
Dime: Lastly, what are your thoughts on the upcoming season? What do you think you can do this year that was better than last year?
SL: I know last year when Miki [Gorke] took over as coach, we won like six of our last nine games. So I feel like if we have that same camaraderie, and we’re all working together, all on the same page – the players and the coaches – I feel like we could really make a lot of noise this year in the Israeli league.
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