FanShot

The Zohan's Blog + FCP Article on Casspi

I felt like I needed a more interesting title since it's kind of a slow day for the Kings, and I'm sure we're all bored. ;) I bet you didn't know His Airness has a Jewish secretary. The things we learn... Here ya go: The last two games, against Portland and last night against Charlotte, I had to play in the presence of the greatest chairman, Michael Jordan, owner of the Bobcats. During the All-Star game last year, we sat and talked. It turned out he had a Jewish secretary, but we talked mainly about the NBA. We got to meet one more time when we were playing in Charlotte. He has great charisma. It was fun to meet him and talk to him, because he is a person I admire and love. Michael is a basketball player who changed basketball radically, a player that people all over the world, including myself, would get up early in the morning to see. A game that he watches feels far more exciting, it gives meaning to the floor we play on and helps us understand the enormous history of this league, the honor of being part of it and playing after a legend like Jordan. Back to Sacramento, now we have reached the halfway point of the season in the NBA. The statistics say that in 16 of 41 games we played, we led in the last quarter and lost, including three games where we lost in overtime. In many games, we come to end when the outcome is close, and fail to finish the game playing well. We're trying to find the reason why together. We sit to watch the videotapes over an over to correct the errors and find a way to win. However, despite the bad start to the season, in recent times we're playing basketball a lot better. We won a thrilling game against Portland and got to 10 wins, team play has improved and became much better, and we must continue the improvement. When we play as a team, we have lots of tools on offense and it is difficult for rivals to stop us, it's a fact. Even defensively, we're doing good things and stop our opponent at their point average. This is how we should play. Personally, I have now played half a season as a second-year player. I feel like I'm getting the coach's confidence and the time on the court that I expected, and now all the pressure is on me to hit the shots I take, grab more rebounds and keep getting better. In offense, as team play has improved, things look better for me. As I gain more experience in the NBA, I gain respect too. The attitudes of the referees, the audience and the opponent are different this year. They already know me and know who I am and what to expect from me. In general, I feel I am in great shape, much better than last year. At this time a year ago I weighed 205 pounds, a little less than 93 kg, while today I stand at 228 pounds, about 103 kg. I need to keep this muscle, because it helps me on both sides of the court. I feel stronger and faster. The offensive part of my game has improved, and I hope to get minutes in accordance with the improvement as much as possible when on the field. Each team we have played against has treated me with respect, just because this year I no longer have the pink bag that all rookies carry and I no longer have to pay for the whole team's breakfast. Now I get respect from our rookies and enjoy my new status, and in a year our rookies will see the that the new rookies don't forget their pink bags and pay for meals. Before the draft in 2009 in which I was selected, many people and basketball commentators laughed about the quality of the draft. Today, as the players chosen close in on a season and a half in the best league in the world, these people should eat their hats. Players like Tyreke Evans, James Harden, Stephen Curry, Taj Gibson and Blake Griffin are prime athletes. In his own way, Griffin takes over the league. He has a unique character and a sense of competition that distinguishes this player in his first year in the NBA (last season he was injured). It's nice to see a player like that. My team and I are now facing a series of very tough games against the best teams in the league - we will play against San Antonio, New Orleans, Oklahoma and Dallas in the near future. But even before that, we go out in a few days to Los Angeles to meet the Lakers. Of course it is very difficult and challenging for us to win there; it's never easy and we'll have to play very smart to beat Kobe and his friends. --- And an article on FCP about Omri was posted literally as I translated the blog, and to avoid cluttering the fanshots, I figured I'd just double up: When I met Omri Casspi last season, the Kings forward was being honored at Jewish Heritage Night in N.J., where the first Israeli-born player in the NBA received an overwhelming amount of support from the road crowd. Now in his second NBA season, the ever-humble Casspi has not let the fame and fortune of being an international star and world phenomenon change his easy-going demeanor or living arrangements, preferring to share a home with his older brother, Eitan, with whom he’s lived since moving to the U.S. As opposing arenas remain filled with Israeli flags and No. 18 jerseys, Casspi continues to serve as a role model to millions of people and takes tremendous pride in the passionate fans who’ve welcomed him with open arms. In fact, Casspi has gotten so much admiration on the road, that teammate Donté Greene says the home team’s fans sometimes get mad because so many people in the stands are cheering for the Kings. Yet, despite his ever-increasing popularity, Casspi still makes time to connect with his fans in every city through frequent pregame appearances and visits to synagogues and community centers. "I love (meeting the fans). Everywhere we go there is (so much) support from fans. I take a lot of pride in being Israeli and Jewish, representing the Jewish people and wearing number 18," said Casspi, whose jersey number symbolically represents "chai" – life in Hebrew. After wrapping up a terrific rookie campaign in which he averaged 10.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, Casspi has evolved into a more complete player in his sophomore season, igniting Sacramento on both ends of the floor both as an indispensible part of the team’s rotation. Coach Paul Westphal credits the Kings current starting small forward with helping Sacramento win several games with his clutch shooting, and has praised the forward’s growing knowledge of his team defensive responsibilities. "He has a better understanding of what this league is all about now," said Westphal. "He worked really hard (during the) summer, he’s improving defensively all the time and he has that passion." Serving as a leader on the Israeli national team over the summer not only helped Casspi attain more experience, but also gain increased confidence. His renewed assertiveness has not gone unnoticed by his teammates, who’ve praised his competitiveness and relentless desire to win. "He’s really turned it on by giving us a spark," said forward Carl Landry. "He’s been a leader on the team by setting an example and (being) a vocal leader, as well." In 29 games in which Casspi has played more than 20 minutes, the small forward has averaged 11.0 points and 5.2 rebounds per contest, while knocking down 57 three-pointers on 42 percent shooting from downtown. In a thrilling comeback victory against the Phoenix Suns on Jan. 2, Casspi hit the go-ahead triple with 25.6 seconds left in the game. Working diligently on both ends, he has recorded at least two steals four times in the last 14 games and posted back-to-back double-doubles for the first time in his career earlier this month. "I really think Omri is one of the most fiery people on our team," said center DeMarcus Cousins. "He brings so much emotion and energy, knocks down big shots when we need them, gets key rebounds –without him, some of (our wins) would’ve been lost." Francisco Garcia, who has served as Casspi’s mentor over the past two years, believes the second-year forward is now a tougher player who’s prepared to handle the rigors of an 82-game season. "He learned how to play the game better and he’s a better and more mature player," said Garcia. "He (worked) a lot (during the) summer, he’s fit and he’s physically stronger." While Casspi is an NBA veteran in his second season and has admirably handled the pressure on and off the basketball court, he doesn’t feel it’s his time to serve as a mentor to the team’s rookies just yet. "Not yet – I’m still a guy who’s being taken care of!" he laughs. "It’s my second year, but I’m just helping (the rookies) as much as I can." After being named to the Rookie-Sophomore Challenge and selected as a contestant in the HORSE competition at the 2010 NBA All-Star Weekend, Casspi hopes to make the trip to L.A. for this year’s midseason classic. Despite shooting 40 percent from three-point range so far this season, however, his goal is to be selected to only one Friday night event. "(I want to) make the Sophomore team," he revealed. "I don’t really want to make the Three-Point Contest, because I don’t (view) myself as a spot-up three-point shooter." The forward’s hot shooting and knack for hitting timely baskets remind some fans of two-time Three-Point Contest winner and one of Casspi’s idols, former Kings forward and current Dallas Mavericks player Peja Stojakovic. When I told Casspi he has nearly matched the three-time All-Star’s scoring, while shooting a higher percentage from the field and from downtown through two seasons, he was pleasantly surprised. "Really? That’s great to know, and he’s obviously someone I look up to and have a lot to learn from," said Casspi, who plans to study more Kings games from earlier in the century. "I feel like we have a lot of similarities, so it’s a good thing to know." Casspi certainly has his work cut out for him, since Stojakovic became Sacramento’s starting small forward in his third season and established new career-highs of 20.4 points (47 percent shooting) and 5.8 rebounds in 39 minutes of action. Casspi’s teammates will certainly not bet against the rapidly-improving young star, deeming the best is yet to come. "I’ve seen a lot of improvement," said guard Tyreke Evans. "He just has the will to win, the passion to be one of the best players. I always tell him his swag (is) on a thousand – he’s come a long way and is only going to get better."

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