Rom Ben-Avi trekked from Israel to Delray Beach, Fla. in effort to seize opportunities which were virtually non-existent in his homeland.A gritty and defensive-minded guard for Maccabi Hod Hasharon, Ben-Avi was just starting to scratch the surface of his ability. A late bloomer with a natural lust for the game, he didn't want the rock to stop bouncing just yet. Driven by an unrelenting desire to pursue the game at the highest level possible, Ben-Avi landed at Elev8 Prep.
The quick-hit progress, Ben-Avi's transformation from callow and rough-around-the-edges to sturdy and reliable has been one of the more pleasant surprises of the 2015-16 campaign.
Here's a kid who came in as a blank canvas, still learning the intricacies of the game, who has turned himself into a ball player. Ben-Avi's metamorphosis occurred because he took advantage of the resources surrounding him.
To associate the word gym rat with Ben-Avi would be a severe understatement. Since he arrived at the doorstep in September rather unproven and totally raw, Ben-Avi has employed a maniacal workload moving up the roster in games and producing in all categories of the stat sheet.
The transformation has occurred with Ben-Avi's development of a dependable 3-point game, a newfound knack for slashing and finishing amid contact, and the confidence to make tough passes and crash the boards over bigger, stronger trees in the post.
His confidence, according to his coaches, continues to hike up a few pegs.
"He'll do an individual workout with Ganon (Baker), he'll do a team practice, he'll play a game, and then he'll still try to get in the gym later that night," said Shane Maynard, Ben-Avi's coach at Elev8 Prep.
"I swear, he's broken into the gym at Village Academy about 15 times. He's got an engine that never stops. He's a complete and total gym rat."
Acclimatizing to a new culture, making new friends, speaking an entirely different language, and also adapting to a vastly different style of play hasn't deterred Ben-Avi.
What could be a daunting transition for most hasn't affected the 6-foot-2 off guard.
"It was a little bit hard at first to be away from family and friends, but it doesn't affect me because this is for my future," Ben Avi said. "I like the game here. It is different than European game. I like the fast game, the athletic game."
Learning about the game caused Ben-Avi to do his due diligence. After hearing about the monstrous scoring exploits of Michael Jordan and his legacy, researched the American game and walked away more and more intrigued.
He'd like to culminate his stay at Elev8 with a Division-I scholarship. At the same time, he'd like to increase his ball handling to the point where can operate a souped-up offense as a point guard. With the amount of progress he's shown a short period of time, it wouldn't be far-fetched to expect this change to unfold.
"I've just developed more with confidence and having the confidence to make the play," Ben Avi explained. "Working with Ganon, it's helped me understand the mental component and realize just how important the mental aspects are in basketball. Hard work is not only on the court, it's also in the head as well."
His athleticism and body has changed in his brief period at Elev8 as well.
"Since Rom's been here, he's increased his vertical over two and half inches," said Tony Falce, a local Miami area master trainer.
Falce works diligently with Chris "Birdman" Anderson and Tyler Johnson of the Miami Heat, so earning plaudits from him certainly doesn't hurt.
"He's lost body fat, and lost body weight. Since then he's worked on his body and developed a great core, agility, and balance, which has led up to where he is today," Falce explained. One of the main important things is having a trust level and those guys (Mohamed Abuarisha and Rom), they came in and they gained my trust level just with their work ethic.""A lot of basketball players, in the real world, when they see performance they don't look at it and evaluate it to the level of extreme as Mo and Rom. These guys came in willing to learn, understanding what they are trying to do, what we're trying to achieve as our goal. Having Rom certainly helps (the Isreal-bred) Mohamed's production. They are two hard-working, blue collar kids that do everything to the max. They take no shortcuts.
"I have a lot of respect for Mo and Rom," said Ganon Baker, Elev8's president and an NBA skill development coach who has worked with the likes of Lebron James, Kevin Durant, and Amar'e Stoudemire.
"To be so far from home in a different country and different culture and adjust the way they have, it is truly commendable. Both players have grown as young men being here. They're both excellent workers both on the floor, in the gym, and in the classroom. I'm very proud of both."
Ben Avi said his ultimate goal would be to get a crack at the NBA and to represent Israel with their national team.
"The opportunity I have with Elev8, training with the best and playing a tremendous amount of games at state and national level is why I came to the U.S.," Ben Avi said. "Now I'm here, now I have my chance. I am going to make the most of it."