Casspi finds home with Kings


It took being thousands of miles away from home for Omri Casspi to experience something he never encountered growing up in Israel.

Anti-Semitism.

Just more than a month ago, the Sacramento Kings small forward learned that a mural of himself in downtown Sacramento, Calif., was defaced with a swastika. It was cleaned up, only to have it done again a week later.

Casspi, who is Jewish, didn't need to watch the History Channel to know what that meant. His native land was born out of the Holocaust in 1948 after the Nazis killed six million Jews during Adolf Hitler's reign of terror from 1933 to 1945.

"That these types of things happen, 60, 70 years after the Holocaust, it's really sad," Casspi said before scoring five points in 17 minutes Wednesday night at the Thomas & Mack Center in the Kings' 98-95 preseason loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. "But it's not just here (in America), it's all over the world."

Sacramento police have yet to capture the culprits, who, if they had met Casspi, an easygoing, friendly guy who also happens to be a pretty good shot with an automatic weapon (he served in the Israeli army), might have thought twice about messing with him.

"I think if they met me, they'd find I'm a pretty good person," he said. "But it's still troubling to see that there are people out there doing these kinds of things."

Casspi said he doesn't dwell on the incidents because he has more important matters to attend to, like developing as a second-year player in the NBA. He was the first Israeli-born player to be drafted when the Kings selected him in the first round of the 2009 draft (No. 23 overall). After averaging 10.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game as a rookie last season, Casspi said he is eager to get ready for the 2010-11 season.

"I hit the wall late last season," he said. "I wore down physically, and it was totally different from anything I had ever experienced. The amount of games, the travel, the way we practice -- these things were all new to me, and it was hard for me to adjust my body."

Casspi ended last season weighing 209 pounds and coming off the bench for coach Paul Westphal. When training camp opened last month, the 6-foot-9-inch Casspi had bulked up to 222 pounds after having spent the summer in Las Vegas working on his game at Impact Basketball with trainer Joe Abunassar.

"I could see the difference," Casspi said. "My footwork was better. I was stronger. My conditioning had improved. Overall, I felt like I was coming to camp a better basketball player."

Westphal noticed the difference, too.

"Everything was new to him last year," Westphal said. "He's got a year under his belt, and he knows what to expect. He worked hard over the summer, and I think he'll continue to move forward and help the team."

Casspi started 61 of the 77 games he played in last season. His goal this year is to be the starting small forward each night and help the Kings move closer to competing for a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference.

"I really wanted to get better defensively," he said. "Each night, I find myself having to guard a great player, whether it's Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron (James) or Kevin Durant. I had to improve my defense if I'm going to help the team win."

The other reason he doesn't dwell on the hate crime from last month is because he knows how supportive the people of Sacramento have been of him since he arrived from Israel, and he won't indict an entire community because of a couple of warped individuals.

"The people of Sacramento have been great," Casspi said. "They feel terrible about what happened, and so do I. All last year, wherever we played, I never experienced any anti-Semitism. In fact, it was just the opposite. I was cheered at a lot of places.

"Hopefully, this was just one isolated incident."

■ NOTES -- Bryant played Wednesday, but it was more or less a cameo. The superstar Lakers guard, who still is recovering from knee surgery this summer, started but played just 18 minutes -- nine minutes each in the first and third quarters -- and scored seven points, shooting 2-for-10 from the field. He added four rebounds and two assists. ... The win was the Lakers' first in three preseason games. ... Carl Landry scored a game-high 23 points for the Kings (2-3). ... Los Angeles took a 15-point lead after three quarters and nearly squandered a 17-point fourth-quarter lead. Sacramento rallied to within three points with 5.8 seconds left. ... The announced attendance was 15,134.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.

 

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