Star-Bulletin Sports

Tuesday, April 13, 1999

H A W A I I _ S P O R T S

Star-Bulletin file photo
Former Hawaii star Nani Cockett discovered quickly that
there's a world of difference between pro ball in the Middle
East and college ball in the United States.

Cockett’s season
in Israel was a
world-wise tour

The former Wahine star
learned about the business of
international pro basketball
during a losing season

By Al Chase


NANI Cockett was quick to summarize her first season of professional basketball playing for the Nirosoft Carmiel in Israel's first division.

"The whole season was an eye-opener for me," said Cockett, who played for a losing team (11-15) for the first time in her life and experienced a range of emotions during eight months overseas.

The game was different from the college game on the court and off the court. She soon discovered it was all business.

"When things went bad, the president of the club threatened to fine us. I've never had that experience before. I've always played to win not to lose money. There was so much pressure," Cockett said.

When the team got off to a slow start, there were numerous meetings with the coaches and management in an attempt to find out what was wrong. The meetings became as mentally fatiguing as the games were physically tiring.

A coaching change was made and with it came a new philosophy.

"Our first coach played an uptempo game. The second one didn't want us to shoot until at least 20 seconds had run off the (30-second) clock. The second coach had attended a lot of camps and clinics in America and he did have a basketball presence," Cockett said.

"We ended up finding ourselves and beat the 1998 Israeli Cup champion and the No. 1 team in our league. It showed what kind of talent we had, but we couldn't do it all the time. We couldn't win away."

More height was brought in at midseason, yet Cockett felt only six or seven of the 12 players on the roster were ready for the level of competition. The roster included players ranging in age from 14 to 32.

"The younger players were Israelis, but they weren't ready," Cockett said. "They tried hard and were a great bunch of teammates, but it was frustrating in practice because it wasn't a challenge."

Fortunately, the other foreign player on the roster, roommate Cornelia Gayden, became like a big sister to the former Hawaii Wahine standout. Gayden had played several years professionally in this country and overseas. She knew the realities of the business and the two Americans experienced it first hand late in the season.

"Our old coach told us one of us was going to be let go. I thought it would be me and I was all ready packing when Cornelia came home," Cockett said. "She wanted to know what I was doing, then said she was being let go."

Latasha Byers, who played for Sacramento in the WNBA replaced Gayden.

"She is a great player, but it was strange they let Cornelia go because she was the third leading scorer in the league. My coach told me to forget it and move on.

"But, it was hard to realize that a teammate and a good friend was gone. That's just the way it is. Management not telling us and hearing it from someone else was hard. I'm a lot less naive now."

Cockett stayed because she could play point guard.

She enjoyed the experience of playing against some great players. Every team had at least one WNBA player, but the Russian players married to Israelis were the best according to Cockett.

The apartment provided by the club she shared with Gayden was new. They finally got the team bus driver to stop at a Dunkin' Donuts only to discover the taste wasn't the same as in the U.S.

Cockett wants to continue playing professional basketball as long as her body holds up. Her agent, Erica McKeon, is shopping game tapes to the WNBA and teams in other foreign countries.

"Would I go back to Israel? Now, I'd have to say I won't go back, but I could change my mind. My team dropped into the second division and will only be allowed one foreign player. I'll just wait and see," Cockett said.

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