Arizona and Kansas State basketball teams visit Israel for cultural and sports exchange


The men’s basketball teams of Arizona and Kansas State universities have embarked on a 10-day trip to Israel and the United Arab Emirates, as part of an initiative to promote peace and understanding in the Middle East. The trip, organized by the nonprofit Athletes for Israel, is an expansion of the “Birthright for College Basketball” program that brought Auburn University to Israel last year.

Wildcats in the Holy Land

Both Wildcat squads arrived in Israel on August 9, 2023, and have been exploring the country’s historic and cultural sites, as well as playing some friendly games with local teams. The teams have visited the Old City of Jerusalem, the Western Wall, Yad Vashem, Bethlehem, and the Church of the Nativity. They have also experienced a traditional Shabbat dinner with Tamir Goodman, the former Jewish basketball star known as the “Jewish Jordan”.

Arizona and Kansas State basketball teams visit Israel for cultural and sports exchange
Arizona and Kansas State basketball teams visit Israel for cultural and sports exchange

The Arizona team, led by coach Tommy Lloyd, had a joint practice session with two youth basketball teams from Jerusalem and Yavne on Sunday, where they shared their skills and passion for the game. The Kansas State team, coached by Bruce Weber, also interacted with young Israeli players and visited a basketball academy in Tel Aviv.

Both teams played against an Israeli Select Team, composed of some of the best players from the Israeli Basketball Premier League and the NBA G League. The Israeli team featured Ryan Turell, a Jewish basketball star who plays for the Westchester Knicks. The games were competitive and entertaining, with Arizona winning 87-82 and Kansas State losing 75-79.

Wildcats in the UAE

The Wildcats will continue their trip in the United Arab Emirates, where they will visit Abu Dhabi and Dubai. They will see some of the country’s landmarks, such as the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the Burj Khalifa, and the Abrahamic Family House, which houses a synagogue, a church, and a mosque. They will also play another exhibition game against a UAE Select Team.

The trip is inspired by the Abraham Accords, the series of normalization agreements between Israel and some of its Arab neighbors that were signed in 2020. The organizers hope that the trip will foster dialogue and cooperation among people of different faiths and cultures, as well as showcase the positive aspects of Israel and the UAE.

Daniel Posner, the founder of Athletes for Israel, said that he wants to “change the narrative about Israel” and support peace in the region. He said that he dreams of creating an “Abraham Accords Cup”, where an Israeli team would join the U.S. teams on a trip to an Arab country, and vice versa.

Bruce Pearl, the coach of Auburn University who accompanied his team to Israel last year and will join this year’s trip in Abu Dhabi, said that he feels “very much a part of the Abraham Accords”. He said that he is proud to be a Jewish coach who can bring his players to see “normal Israel” and “normal UAE”.


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