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Ben Strong adjusts to life and basketball in Israel

The 2006-07 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III Player of the Year, Ben Strong, began his professional career for the Maccabi Haifa Heat in Israel. The former Quaker was signed by the Heat this past summer. Strong’s first career professional game was on Oct. 26, where the Heat routed the Ironi Ramat-Gan 89-72. “It was an away game against Ironi Ramat-Gan,” Strong said in his online blog. “It was a relatively easy win for our team. We were down by about 8 or 9 in the first half before taking the lead and not looking back the rest of the game.”

Currently the Heat are in first place in the “Premier League,” standing at 3-1. Ben and the Heat started 3-0 before dropping their first game on Nov. 15, to the Galil Elyon 88-83.

“Last night, we had our first loss in the league,” said Strong. “We had an away game at Galil which is about an hour away from Haifa. They brought out a full house and for the first time this season, we were missing our large section of “green apes” to cheer us on and wave our flags. This may have had something to do with the outcome but either way we didn’t play our best.”

Even though Strong is overseas he still stays in contact with his former Quaker teammates. Tyler Sanborn, a junior center, played with Strong for two years. Sanborn, who peaks at 6’9″, and Strong, 6’11”, were nicknamed the “Twin Towers.” Day in and day out Sanborn and Strong battled on the court.

“Ben was definitely a frustrating opponent in practice,” said Sanborn. “He always played me hard, but at the same time he tried to mentor me. It was my goal everyday to come into practice and try to give him the best fight I had.”

Only four games into the 2008-09 season, Strong has played in two games; averaging nine minutes and 1.3 points. Strong knows that working hard will result in more playing time.

“This season is the first time that I have not played in every game in a very long time,” said Strong in his blog. “After every game, the coach (Avi Ashkenazi) tells me to keep my head up, work hard, and wait for an opportunity.”

One opportunity that Strong won’t have to wait for is the opportunity to live in another country. Even though it has been a big adjustment, Strong feels Israel is the perfect place for him.

“So much is different over here,” said Strong. “Most of the signs are written in Hebrew, which is basically impossible to understand to someone who has never known another language other than English and a little Spanish. The good thing about Israel is that about 80 percent of the people here speak English. So after all, it turned out to be one of the easiest countries to go to and feel at home. ”

Strong will be back home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina for a “Christmas” break from Dec. 15 to Dec. 22.

“They were talking about giving us a break but having to be back before Christmas,” said Strong in his blog. “What kind of Christmas break is that? I guess not a Christmas break at all, just a break.”

To follow Strong through his inaugural season with the Haifa Heat, check out his blog at www.bensprofessionalcareer.blogspot.com.

In the week ahead, the Heat will battle the eighth place Hapoel Jerusalem on Nov. 23. Despite their low ranking, Hopoel is second in the league in points per game (88.33).

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