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Evan Conti takes gold in Israel, represents Team USA in Maccabiah Games
By Giovanni Mio
The average summer for a college student usually consists of internships or working a job to save up some money. For men’s basketball guard Evan Conti, chasing gold in another country topped his summer to do list.
“There’s way too many things to briefly explain the trip,” Conti said with a smile.
Conti competed on the USA men’s basketball team for the World Maccabiah Games in July. The World Maccabiah Games feature more than 8,000 Jewish athletes from 60 or more countries around the world. It is considered the third largest tournament behind the Olympics and the Asian Games.
This was not the first time Conti played in the Maccabiah Games. In 2009, he played for a junior USA team that went 7-0 during its quest for a gold medal. Conti received MVP honors with his 36 points in the gold-medal game as he helped his squad defeat Israel, 103-61.
“The gold medal is nice, but it’s all the things we did that month to prepare ourselves for the gold-medal game,” Conti said.
The trip was a month long and included a week’s worth of training against professional Israeli athletes and another week spent visiting all historic parts of Israel.
But the hard work paid off. During the gold-medal game, the championship match was televised around the country and a sold-out crowd was there to watch.
While the atmosphere was different, Conti said that the crowd intensity between the TD Bank Sports Center and the Gold Medal game was relatively similar.
“The crowd wasn’t much different [in Israel], but at the TD Bank Sports Center, it gets just as loud,” Conti said.
Though the crowds bear a similarity, he noticed differences in officiating. According to Conti, the referees and crowds are more lenient in Israel. Unlike the USA, Israelites have special horns that are not allowed at games in America. As far as the referees go, they let the players be more physical.
“It made me tougher to play through fouls that I thought were fouls but weren’t,” Conti said. “A lot of the dudes I was playing with were professionals or grown men.”
The increased physical play early on was too much for Conti’s team, as it lost its first game to Argentina. It was a wake-up call for him and the team.
“We thought originally we were just going to go in there and beat everyone,” Conti said. “That wasn’t the case.”
Conti’s parents were not able to attend the Games this year due to his father having surgery. While Conti’s dad is not Jewish, his mom is. She insists on him playing the Maccabiah Games four years from now.
“She’s making me do it in four years just so she can go,” Conti said. “She wanted me to go through the whole experience. She was living out my trip for her.”
That might not be the last time Conti plays in Israel. Conti graduates in two years, leaving a chance to play overseas. It has been Conti’s dream since he was a kid, and he is confident it will become a reality.
“Between fans of the game and fans of the whole system, it helped me see other professional teams that see me play,” Conti said. “Now they can follow me on the radar. Hopefully everything works out.”
One of those professional coaches Conti referenced, Brad Greenberg, used to be a college basketball coach. Greenberg was an assistant head coach for a few NBA teams, like the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers, as well as a general manager for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Conti also has another advantage to him playing overseas in his foreign citizenship. Since an Israeli team can only have up to four foreigners, the junior will try to qualify for Israeli citizenship when he graduates Quinnipiac in a few years so he would not be considered a foreigner.
With the Quinnipiac Bobcats playing their first season in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Conti hopes to use what he learned in Israel for a conference championship run. While he thinks the idea of having a gold medal isn’t that special, Conti might use it as motivation for his team as a way of saying hard work equals success.
“The greatest part of winning isn’t the gold medal,” Conti said. “It’s the memories you have when you get to that point and accomplishing the goals you set for yourself before the season started.”