By Zach Schonbrun
As a young girl growing up in Israel, there were always certain things that tested Marisa Gobuty's resiliency - like when security guards were posted on the hotel floor where her youth basketball team slept. Or when she'd have to turn her "Israel" jersey inside out before going outdoors. Or when the team bus would be checked and rechecked before the girls could board.
"In Israel, there's an atmosphere that you have to just live your life," she says.
Which is why there was not so much shock on Dec. 28, when her parents called her to say Israel had attacked Gaza, only some feelings of helplessness and a quick shuffle to her computer, where she sent out countless emails to friends and acquaintances from home. Many were preparing for military deployment; some had Facebook statuses which already read "in Gaza."
There was also the realization that if Gobuty was not a sophomore guard for the Syracuse women's basketball team, she'd be over there fighting, too.
If basketball can get kids out of ghettos and slums, it can also get them out of the line of fire. So today Gobuty's trigger finger is only aimed at a rim; her focus is on hoops, not Hamas.
It was a scholarship to Syracuse that permitted her deferment - or, rather, postponement, for she will still likely have to serve in the Israeli military once she graduates. (In Israel, every citizen is required by law to serve for two years.) The thing is, though, that Gobuty said even now she would gladly trade uniforms: Her love for her country and her support for Israel hasn't been tempered by 5,000 miles, or the current crisis.
"It's something that means a lot to me and I'm very passionate about," Gobuty said. "It's home, and if everybody else has to pay their dues, so do I."
Instead, she's here as a vocal supporter, an armchair witness and a college sophomore with a Blackberry never far from reach. She drifts to CNN.com or the Jerusalem Post Web site constantly, longing for updates, waiting for emailed responses from friends who haven't answered. Since the day fighting broke out, the conflict hasn't strayed far from her thoughts.
It's a battle with split emotions, of course, because one hour she's in the Carrier Dome shooting basketballs in practice, the next she's in Schine Student Center sitting at a support table for Hillel. She was at last night's game vs. Seton Hall and played 11 minutes, but perhaps her mind drifted off to the other side of the world, or the other side of town, where the Jewish Community Center was holding a rally at the same time.
She insists it hasn't been a distraction - a heavy heart hasn't weighed down her follow-through - and that basketball has in fact been somewhat therapeutic.
"It puts everything into perspective more," Gobuty said. "It really makes me understand I have a great opportunity, and at the end of the day, I get to be on this court and play basketball every night and my friends are dealing with things that are a lot more serious - life or death situations."
Israel is her home, Gobuty says, a statement that should not be taken lightly, considering she was born in Canada, lived in California, attended high school in Florida, and now goes to SU. But her family moved to Herzliya, Israel, when she was nine. She didn't know Hebrew. She didn't know anybody. She did know she wanted to go into the army. And play for the national basketball team.
In a few years she was the starting point guard for the Under-16 Israeli national team, Bnei Herzliya, with security guards detailing every trip and precautions taken before every step.
A week ago, an Israeli men's basketball team, Bnei Hasharon, was forced to cancel a game in Turkey as a mass of protesters swarmed the court, prompting riot police to intervene.
"That team plays five minutes from my house," Gobuty said.
So now she knows Hebrew, she knows countless Israelis, and she knows a little something about adversity, and a packed XL Center - where Syracuse will be playing when it travels to Connecticut on Saturday - won't do much to make her sweat. Does crowd noise make the anxiousness go away?
Not when gunfire is the persistent ringing in her head. Not when the e-mail inbox still waits for responses from dear friends. Gobuty knows if she can't help Israel physically, she can support it emotionally. She's not afraid to wear her Star of David on her sleeve.
"I'm out there, I'm pro-Israel, I'm Jewish, and I'm not shy about it," Gobuty said. "Sometimes it concerns me a little bit. But I think, after living in Israel, that's not something that I really think about. ...After everything they've been through, you don't stop living your life. I think that's the attitude I've developed."
She has "Syracuse" across her chest now, but there's never been a doubt what team her heart belongs to. This summer she plans to play for the Israeli national team again: She'll wear a uniform on a court, not a battlefield, with "Israel" facing right side out.
Sophomore Marisa Gobuty (Herzalyia, Israel) is the Syracuse University Female Scholar-Athlete of the Week for the week of December 1, 2008. Gobuty contributed to Syracuse's fifth win in seven games in the early going of the women's hoops season.
The women's basketball team stayed hot this weekend with a dominating 32-point victory against Longwood on Sunday afternoon. The Orange hosted the Lancers on its old floor at Manley Field House.
Gobuty tallied two points, collected four rebounds, dished out three assists and posted one steal in the 72-40 victory. The second-year guard has played in all seven games this season, averaging 2.3 points per game and 1.7 boards per contests.
She has totaled 37 games in her career, knocking down 10 total 3-pointers and has hauled in 32 rebounds in two seasons. Gobuty was named to the Athletic Director's Honor Roll during the fall and spring semesters her freshman campaign and was also selected to the BIG EAST All-Academic Team.
Gobuty, a pre-med major, and the rest of the Orange women's basketball squad look to improve upon its 5-2 record on Tuesday night at the Carrier Dome. The Orange hosts Lehigh University for a 7 p.m. tip on December 2. Tickets are available at 1-800-DOMETIX .
SYRACUSE, N.Y. – The Orange men’s and women’s basketball teams entertained a capacity crowd on Friday, Oct. 24 at Manley Field House as part of “Midnight Madness” presented by Syracuse Athletics, AmeriCU Credit Union and TK99.
Following the scrimmage, the men's and women's teams engaged in a skills competition to close the event. Marisa Gobuty and Eric Devendorf teamed up to defeat Morrow and Andy Rautins in a 3-point shooting contest, 9-8. Gobuty connected on three attempts and Devendorf hit four of his first five shots, including a two-point “money ball”, then sank one more to secure the victory. Morrow canned three triples and Rautins hit five in a losing effort.
Updated schedule coming soon. Please check back with us.
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Israeli Teen Keeps Making Hoop Dreams Happen
It’s not easy living in a foreign country. A different culture, unusual food and new geography are just a few of the anomalies that present themselves. Not to mention the language barrier.
Toronto born Marisa Gobuty is no stranger to all this, having moved with her family from Encino, CA to Israel when she was 9. But unlike other kids who pick up with their families and immerse themselves in a foreign locale, Marisa was not only meeting the demands of school, but trying to play in the rigorous basketball league in Herzliya. The city team, Bnei Herzliya, starts girls at age 8.
This was no small undertaking, explains Marshall Gobuty, her father. “It was a big adjustment, as basketball was much more serious in Israel and Marisa had to learn the plays in a foreign language.”
When the family moved to Israel, Gobuty knew he couldn’t let his daughter’s gift for basketball fall to the sidelines. Not after he witnessed her score the winning point, with only 2.3 seconds left in the game that placed Encino’s Balboa Stars on the championship map. Marisa went on to become a member of the Valley All-Star team that spring.
But her stint on the All-Stars was cut short when the family moved to the Holy Land. In the days leading up to their move, however, her father tracked down Izy Tchino, the manager of Bnei Herzliya.
“About six years ago, I got a phone call from Mr. Gobuty, telling me that he is moving to Israel with his wife and two daughters from the U.S., and that his younger daughter, Marisa, is a basketball player,” recalls Tchino. He didn’t hesitate to boast about Marisa‚s game-winning point for the Balboa Stars.
Amir Doron, the Bnei Herzliya coach, remembers Marisa’s limitations. “She was the smallest player on her team, she didn’t know a word in Hebrew and was very afraid. However, in a short time, she improved her game, became taller and much more athletic. During her second year in Israel she became the most important player on my team.”
It didn’t stop there. When she was almost 12 and in the sixth-grade, Marisa was asked to play with 13- and 14-year-olds. She accepted, which meant that, unlike any other girl her age, Marisa Gobuty was playing on two teams in the league, one age-appropriate, the other older.
Today at age 16, Marisa is at the top of her game. In the summer of 2004 she attended camp at IMG’s Basketball Academy, a premier multisport training facility located in Bradenton, Fla. Many of the world‚s top athletes have trained at the IMG academies, such as Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and Derek Jeter. Additionally, the girls’ high school basketball team is one of the top-ranked in the country.
At the camp, there were two girls and 35 boys. Shortly after Marisa arrived, Chris Ward, the IMG summer coach, began calling her “Diana” after Diana Tarasi, the number-one rookie in the Women’s National Basketball Association that year.
In August, Dan Barto, the business director at the basketball academy, invited Marisa to attend the academy as a full-time student and player, an invitation extended to a very small fraction of those who go to the camp.
That’s where Marisa is now, living in Sarasota for the fall semester and playing on the IMG Pendleton Panthers with other players considered to be in the top 20 high school female basketball players in the United States. Just like last year in keeping with her goals, she plans to return to Israel at the end of the season to play on the 18 and under women’s Israeli national team as the starting point guard for the team.
"Marisa is a leader on the floor, in the locker room and in the classroom here at IMG Academy. We only wish we had her for the entire season," said IMG Coach Dan Barto.
That’s the logical move for the motivated teen. This past summer Marisa showed her stuff holding the FIBA tournament scoring leader, Elina Babkina, in the final game against Latvia to only four points when her average was 18 per game. In the same game Marisa scored nine points, to average 10 points for the tournament, even after being injured from game four onward. At the time she was leading the European Championships in free throws and even though playing hurt she still played 20 minutes per game, ending up 10th overall in free throws in the FIBA (European) championships. But even playing while injured Marisa scored the winning hoop in Slovenia with just six seconds left in a win against Ireland.
"Marisa played against some of the worlds’ best this past summer, including some sure bet Olympians,” commented Dahlia Bushinsky, coach of the U-16 National Team from Israel. “She matched many of them shot for shot, pass for pass and was able to stand out."
Again this fall Marisa will be back at the IMG academy at the start of her junior year, when college coaches start scouting for prospects. But it doesn’t look like Marisa, only in the 11th-grade will have to fret; she has already captured the attention of a few college scouts and has one letter of invitation for her to call the school.
Last year, when Marisa’s father was watching one of her games, he was stopped by a reporter from the New York Times Magazine, who was writing a feature on IMG, and asked: “How is a 15-year-old so focused?”
Marshall Gobuty couldn’t give him a simple answer.