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.