Can Ryan Turell Become the First Orthodox Jewish Player in the NBA?

Van Nuys’ Ryan Turell was shooting 77% from the floor in last year’s Division III NCAA tournament before the pandemic abruptly ended his season.(Courtesy of Yeshiva University)

It wasn’t yet dawn on the morning of March 13, 2020 when Ryan Turell settled into the back seat of a blue-gray SUV destined for BWI Airport outside Washington D.C. The day should have been a joyous one: The sophomore wing for Yeshiva University had scored 71 points in back-to-back Division III NCAA tournament wins, and the Maccabees, historically a sub-.500 team, had advanced to the Sweet 16 and were cresting toward their first Final Four.

But the afternoon before, the onset of the coronavirus and the accompanying shutdowns had forced the cancellation of the entire tournament. Faced with the possibility of being stuck across the country from his parents at the start of a pandemic, Turell scrambled to book a one-way ticket to his Los Angeles home. As he sat in I-95 traffic, however, he stewed about his lost opportunity.

“I was in shock,” he says. “We had this amazing season without an ending, and I didn’t how to process it.”

The car’s driver was Harold Katz, an unofficial scout for Yeshiva and the former coach of Tamir Goodman, the much-celebrated guard from the late 1990s whose nickname, “The Jewish Jordan,” highlighted both his skill set and unique background. Katz remembers Turell “wallowing in self-pity.”

Turell’s field goal percentage during the tournament (77%) had attracted national notice that was now destined to be a footnote in some record book, and NBA scouts would have to wait another year to fully evaluate Turell. But as Katz pulled into the BWI departures lane, he assured Turell that the scouts would return, that his quest to be the first Orthodox Jewish player in the modern-day NBA had not diminished.

“I’ve always said that the Jews as a people are not as gifted athletically as others,” Katz said, “but the world is much more sensitive to differences in people than they were 20 years ago. No one took Tamir seriously, but the timing is right for a player like Ryan, who is a Swiss army knife.”

Turell spent a longer-than-expected offseason hoisting hundreds of three-pointers at Valley Torah High in Valley Village, not stopping until he had knocked down 500 of them. He added 25 pounds to his 6-foot-7, 195-pound frame before the Maccabees finally returned to the court last month, picking up where he left off in last year’s tournament. He is averaging 26.0 points per game for Yeshiva, which is in the midst of a 37-game win streak, the NCAA’s longest, dating to last season.

Turell can score from deep (42% from three) as well as get to the rim (a highly efficient 1.4 points per play, per Synergy Sports Technology), and he is a multi-positional defender, able to lock down guards and bigs alike.

“I can do whatever I want at the Division III level,” Turell says.

Turell has held his own during summer games in Woodland Hills against Amari Bailey (the third-ranked recruit in the 2022 class and currently at Sierra Canyon), Jordan Schakel (San Diego State), Johnny Juzang (UCLA), Kihei Clark (Virginia) and Alfonzo McKinnie (now with the Lakers.)

“I was a sponge,” he says. “At the next level, you have to fill a role. Not everyone understands that, and that’s why they don’t make the next level. It was a good learning curve for me to be the shooter, and absorb from Alfonzo how to always be in the right spots.”

At least two NBA teams have requested game tape of Turell, and one league executive says, “Ryan is certainly on the radar.”

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SOURCE: Los Angeles Times, Matt Giles

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