LEV HASHARON, Israel—Tamir Goodman recites his evening prayers, secures his yarmulke on his head with two hairclips and a ball of tape and jogs onto the court for pre-game drills. Tzitzit dangle from the corners of the spidery guard's blue and yellow No. 12 jersey as he grabs a ball and starts hitting three-point shots as easily as if he were pushing quarters into a vending machine.
You might remember Goodman. "The Jewish Jordan." The Orthodox Jewish teenager from Pikesville, whose 35-point games at Talmudical Academy filled high school gyms in 1999. So good as a 16-year-old junior, he received a full scholarship offer to the University of Maryland.
On this March evening, his team, Maccabi Shoham, is struggling to overcome a losing season to clinch a playoff spot. His team's lackluster performance is reflected in this night's turnout. The small community gym north of Tel Aviv, plastered with ads for construction companies and "Say no to drugs" messages, has seats for 300, 22 of which are filled at game time. There are no cheerleaders, no announcers and no television cameras. It is quiet except for the sound of basketballs bouncing off the hardwood.
When the buzzer sounds, the 10 starters step onto the court. Goodman is not one of them. His 6-foot-3 frame is folded up on the bench. It's the place he'll stay for all but 10 minutes of the game, caught between critics who say the former high school superstar is more hype than talent and his struggle to prove them wrong.
Since his brush with stardom in Baltimore, Goodman's career has been like a bad carnival ride, teasing fans with great thrills and excitement but delivering mediocrity and disappointment. Maryland backed out of its scholarship for Goodman - concerned about his ability to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference - so he ended up at Towson University. After a strong freshman year, his coach, Michael Hunt, allegedly kicked a chair at him and Goodman quit.
By 2002, Goodman was back on top when Israel's Maccabi Tel Aviv, one of the strongest teams in international basketball, signed him to a three-year contract. Arriving in Israel amid great fanfare, Goodman was farmed out to a lower-level Israeli team, Givat Shmuel, where he could sharpen his skills.
But he never got the playing time he expected. Credited with being a quick, energetic guard and good passer, he did not meet the high expectations fans had for him. As one popular Israeli basketball Web site put it, Goodman "threw enough bricks to build a new building."
In 2003, he was traded to a third team and then suffered a knee injury that required surgery. After nine months of physical therapy, he went back to Givat Shmuel, where he averaged just under seven minutes a game. Eager to display his skills, he dropped down to Israel's second division to play for Maccabi Shoham this season.
"We brought him in to lead us and to improve us because he is probably the best player we've got," says Matan Simantov, 28, Maccabi Shoham's power forward.
Slowed by injuryAt first, it seemed as if Goodman had found a place where he would thrive. In his first two games he played more than 20 minutes and scored close to 20 points a game.
"He was playing amazing," says Victor Skornik, 38, Maccabi Shoham's coach.
But the carnival ride was not over.
In December, Goodman's left knee gave out again and his doctors ordered him to undergo weeks of physical therapy. He didn't play again until March.
During this night's game, Goodman's third since recovering from his injury, it was clear Maccabi Shoham had adjusted to life without him. It was well into the first quarter before Skornik tapped Goodman. Goodman was on the court less than a minute before the player he was guarding made a three-pointer. His coach screamed, ordering Goodman back to the bench.
But Goodman returned to the court several more times, displaying flashes of brilliance and an ability to energize his team. He hit a dramatic layup just before halftime and made a three-pointer seconds before the final buzzer. But it was not enough. His team lost, 89-87. Goodman scored seven points. With more playing time, he knows he could have done far better, he says.
"It takes away all the talent God gave me," he says.
Skornik, his coach, said he understands Goodman's frustration but urged him to be patient.