Before Omri Casspi fulfilled Israeli’s dreams of having one of their own in the NBA, before Tamir Goodman was coronated—if prematurely—the Jewish Jordan, there was, as longtime University of Connecticut fans well know, Doron Sheffer. Two decades ago, the 6 foot 5 guard from Tel Aviv—who was the first to be dubbed the Jewish Jordan—was named Big East Rookie of the Year, playing for legendary coach John Calhoun alongside Ray Allen and Kevin Ollie. Their configuration led them to capture the Big East title three years running, with Sheffer scoring 1,300 points.
But while Allen is still on the court—most recently playing for the Miami Heat, with his mom still zealously cheering him on in the stands—and Ollie is now the Huskies’ coach, Sheffer, 42, now Orthodox, is a life coach who recently wrote a memoir, Annani (“Answer Me”) and lives on a hilltop near the Sea of Galilee with his family. That’s where Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim caught up with him to find out why he’s no longer in the game.
The short answer: “I felt my soul was wanting to spread wings and fly,” he says. “I couldn’t do it with basketball.” So, after a couple of stints playing in Israel, where he went after dropping out of the training camp for the Los Angeles Clippers, who had picked him in the second round of the 1996 draft, he took off on a journey that took him from India to the Amazon seeking greater understanding of himself and the world.
“There’s a lot of wisdom in all religions, with things I still can use in my life,” he told Wertheim. “But as soon as I got to the Torah in Israel, in my language, I came back home.”