Basketball player Jake Cohen doesn’t know yet the exact date this summer he’ll be arriving in Israel, but he is excited to be coming. The recent 6’10” Davidson College graduate and standout forward has signed a multi-year deal with Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv.
He expects to be getting on a plane to Ben-Gurion International Airport not long after finishing up a stint on the Phoenix Suns’ Summer League squad — the reason he will not be playing in the 19th Maccabiah Games.
Cohen, 22, led the Davidson Wildcats to back-to-back Southern Conference Tournament titles and NCAA Tournament appearances. Earning consecutive conference player of the year honors, Cohen was Davidson’s all-time leader in blocks and starts and concluded his college career ranked among the school’s Top-10 in points, rebounds, field-goals made, field-goals attempted, free-throws made, free-throws attempted, free-throw percentage and games played.
Cohen recorded double figures 97 times and reached the 20-point plateau 21 times, including a career-high 32 points in Davidson’s 75-59 win at Southern Conference rival College of Charleston Feb. 14, 2013. Against third-seeded Marquette in the second round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament, Cohen led all scorers with a game-high 20 points.
Playing for an Israeli team is not foreign to Cohen, who had hoped to be drafted by the NBA after working out for 10 of them (he still holds out hopes of it happening one day). “I played for Israel’s Under-20 National team after my freshman year at Davidson. We trained at the Wingate Institute in Netanya for five weeks, and then played exhibition games in Romania and Bulgaria and a tournament in Austria,” he recalled in an interview with The Times of Israel.
Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv had been watching him every since. “We have had our eye on Jake throughout his college career and of course while he was playing for Israel’s U-20 National Team,” said Macabbi Electra head coach David Blatt. “Jake is a multi-layered big man who can play and contribute from both the 4 and 5. He has an excellent offensive game both in and out of the paint, along with excellent shooting skills. Keep in mind that he is a young player who needs time to develop, but there is no doubt that this player has tremendous potential.”
Cohen grew up in the Philadelphia suburb of Berwyn, Pennsylvania in an athletic family. His older brother, Josh, played football at Dartmouth College, and his father had been a basketball player at Haverford College. Cohen went to religious school at the local Reform Temple Or Shalom and had his bar mitzvah ceremony there, but he never really picked up Hebrew. That’s something he wants to do while living in Israel.
“When I played for the U-20 team, all my Israeli teammates were friendly during practice, and their families were very hospitable when they had me over for Shabbat, but I actually felt kind of ostracized because I couldn’t speak Hebrew,” he shared.
Cohen said he got some good offers from Spain’s ACB league, but that he prefers to play for an Israeli team — and not just so he’ll be able to eat superior hummus (“It’s so much better than the hummus you get elsewhere.”). The decision to come to Tel Aviv felt natural, especially since he is already an Israeli citizen, having been given an Israeli passport when he played for the U-20 national team.
His contract with Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv is for four years, with the first two guaranteed. “I’m hoping to get on the roster,” he said. “I’m just going to play my best.”