Gal Mekel is a 32 year old 192cm point guard from Israel that is currently playing for Unicaja Malaga (ACB). He has had an extensive career having played in countries like Israel, Italy, Russia, Serbia, United States and Spain for top teams like Maccabi Fox Tel-Aviv (Winner League), Dallas Mavericks, Benetton Treviso (Italy-SerieA), New Orleans Pelicans, Crvena Zvezda Telekom Beograd (Serbia-KLS), Herbalife Gran Canaria Zenit Sankt Petersburg (Russia-VTB), and Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia (Italy-Serie A). He played 35 NBA games for the Dallas Mavericks and New Orleans Pelicans played 34 Euroleague games and 36 Eurocup games. He also has taken part at 4 Eurochampionships for his native country Israel. He spoke to germanhoops.com before a Eurocup game against ratiopharm Ulm.
Gal thanks for talking to germanhoops.com. You won’t be traveling to Ulm, but have had your experiences playing against German teams. If you had to guess what your record is against German teams since 2009 what would you say?
Before reading your questions, I would have thought, I had a positive record, but after seeing the second question, I have a negative 3-6 record.
I will help you. You are 3-6 against FC Bayern Munich, Bamberg, Alba Berlin and ratiopharm Ulm. What memories do you have playing against German teams. One year you swept Alba Berlin including winning a very exciting game 75-72.
I remember the games we won against Alba Berlin well. That was an important game to qualify for the quarterfinals with Gran Canaria, I remember that Alba Berlin team as being very good. That was the first year of that new foundation that they had built with Aito and guys like Sikma, Siva and Giffey. I remember playing very well in Berlin. I remember hitting some big shots at the end. I was really happy that my dad and best friend had been there to watch me.
Before we talk basketball I have to ask you about your experiences in 2020 during COVID-.19. What was the biggest challenge for you on a daily basis that you had to cope with in life?
The last months haven’t been easy. I signed with Malaga last season in March shortly before COVID-19 came. I played 1 game against Badalona before the shut down came. I was there alone. My wife and son were supposed to come, but then the lock down came. I stayed in Spain by myself for 4 months. That was a tough time but I’m a positive guy and just tried to make the best of everything. During those 4 months, I was able to spend time with myself and do things that I wasn’t able to do before the lock down.
How do you feel did COVID-19 make you stronger as a man?
I was able to focus on things that I didn’t have time to do before the lock down. I read a lot. I saw lectures on things that interested me. I also had enough time to take care of my injuries. I learned to cook and speak a little Spanish. I really took advantage of the situation. I also have to say that the club took very good care of us. They sent us equipment form the weight room. My living room looked like a fitness room. I ran and practiced dribbling the ball at night in the underground parking lot. It was a very challenging time, but I made the best out of it.
In the last 7 seasons you have played for 9 teams. You are a real basketball globetrotter. How do you feel have you grown as a player having seen so many different styles in comparison to a player who plays 8-9 years for only one club?
That’s a very good question. Sometimes situations control us instead of us controlling the situation. I had many good seasons that helped me get that next better contract with another team. There were enough times where I really would have liked to have remained longer with a club, but it just didn’t work out. I have achieved a lot of things in my career winning titles and playing in the NBA, but the one thing that I never achieved was playing for one team for a long time. I have learned that sometimes a career will take you down a different path. What I’m really proud of is having played for 4 teams that had their best season sin their history when I was there. I have been very fortunate to have good seasons with those clubs in those times. But at the same time, I have that feeling in my head that I never became that symbol of a team in Israel and being recognized more.
Your playing your first season for Unicaja Malaga. The team is 3-4 in the ACB and a strong 3-1 in Eurocup. Why has the team been like night and day in the 2 competitions?
I think that it is still early and we are trying to find our identity. Last season we finished strong in the bubble and many players stayed and we have a good balance. We have some injuries at the moment and are still waiting for them to return. You can’t forget that the ACB is a very strong league. We have played well, but suffered close loses. What makes the ACB the best league in Europe is that you can win or lose on any night. If you aren’t strong on a given night, you will lose. We have played good games in the Eurocup and are a good candidate to go far. One of our goals is to go far in Eurocup so we can qualify for Euroleague.
You have many very experienced and talented teammates, but how talented is 16 Yannick Nzosa? He is predicted as a NBA draft pick. What kind of an impression has he left for you in practice?
He is an amazing kid. He is really young, but a super professional. He works hard, is dedicated and humble. At the second week of training camp, I remember telling a teammate that he will be a big part of the team this season. He brings things to the game that you can’t teach. He is long, has great timing and is a big shot blocker threat. I see him having an amazing future f he keeps working hard. He can be an NBA prospect. I enjoy playing with him and being a part of his career.
Before playing in the NCAA at Wichita State (NCAA), you played for Maccabi Tel Aviv youth team. Later as a professional you played parts of 4 seasons for the Euroleague power house. Did you have serious ambition to have wanted to have a longer career with them or was your desire to get experience with more teams interest you more?
Maccabi Tel Aviv and I just weren’t meant to be. I finished my junior career with them when I was 17 or 18 years old. After college, I signed 3 years with them, but they loaned me to Altshuler Saham Galil Gilboa (Premier League). I had amazing seasons with Galil Gillboa, but I wanted playing time which I wasn’t getting with Maccabi. So I left and went to Italy. My second time with Maccabi was after the NBA. When I went back to Maccabi, I arrived at a very bad situation. I did good putting up good numbers, but we only won the cup and lost in the league Final 4 in a close game. The second season was the craziest ever for me. Management went through 5 coaches. The situation wasn’t stable and I felt it. I felt that I played well again and it was a real challenge to face the roller coaster. But with Maccabi Tel Aviv all that matters are the results. After that season they decided to change the whole team. It was wrong timing for me. I would have liked to have stayed a long time. For every young Israel player it is the goal to play for Maccabi Tel Aviv. I’m happy that I was able to reach the NBA not through Maccabi Tel Aviv. I was confident with my skills that I could have success without them. It was never a disaster for me that I didn’t stay with Maccabi Tel Aviv,
You played 2 years at Wichita State playing a total of 62 NCAA games. How do you feel did your game benefit most from getting those 2 seasons of American basketball?
Playing in the NCAA for Wichita State was an unbelievable experience. I left my parents house at age 18 and went to a new country and experienced a new language. I met new friends that I’m still in contact today and will be for the rest of my life. I feel going to college was the perfect stop between junior basketball and pro ball. In Israel many go to the army at age 18 and need 3 years of playing time. I think the NCAA improved my physicality and athleticism. I came to Wichita State as a skinny kid and got stronger in the gym. You really work hours in the gym. I also improved defensively. Playing in the NCAA was one of my best decisions in my life.
In 2009-2010 you were briefly with Maccabi Tel Aviv. I remember that club having incredible talent with Chuck Eidson, Alan Anderson, Doron Perkins and D ‘OR Fischer to name just a few. What memories do you have of this team and where in your opinion did it stand against other great Maccabi teams?
That was an unbelievable team. I remember it being a very long pre-season. We played exhibition games in the States against NBA teams. The quality of the players was high level. I was young and tried to pick up as much as I could from my teammates. One player that I really looked up to was David Blue. He was my idol for professionalism. He taught me how to take care of my body and to get better each day. I left in mid season and joined Altshuler Saham Galil Gilboa. It was a lot of fun to come back at the end and beat them for the title. I had teammates like Jeremy Pargo, Brian Randle and Isaiah Swann. It was a great close to the season.
In the 2011-2012 season you played for Benetton Treviso (Italy-SerieA) playing 5 EuroCup:games averaging 4.0ppg, 1.6rpg, 2.0apg; and played 22 Italian League games averaging 6.3ppg, 2.2rpg, 3.7apg, FGP: 55.2%, 3PT: 24.2%, FT: 65.5%. What memories do you have of ex NBA player Brian Scalabrine? You must have a funny story concerning his personality?
I was injured then and that was the first time that I had been out of Israel. Brian was a funny guy. He was a talented player that really knew the game. It was the season of the lock down and back then he wanted to experience something else than the NBA. He was fun to be around. Basketball wise he was a big part of the team. It took him time to make the adjustment from being a role player in the NBA to being the main guy for us. I think though all in all he was waiting for the lock down to end. He would sign with Chicago for a few more seasons. I remember seeing him at the NBA Summer League where he was an assistant coach with the Warriors. I’ll definitely will never forget him.
In 2012-2013 you played with Maccabi Bazan Haifa (Israel-Winner League) playing 30 games averaging 13.3ppg, 2.6rpg, Assists-2 (5.4apg), 1.4spg, FGP: 52.5%, 3PT: 32.9%, FT: 77.9%. You led the club over Maccabi Tel Aviv to win the Winner League title. How did your game mature in that season?
That was one of the most important seasons of my career. I remember in the summer of 2012 the sponsor Beneton disappeared. I had one season left on my contract, but because the sponsor left, the club moved down. I didn’t want to go back to Israel. I wasn’t getting any good offers, so I decided to go to the States. I remember asking my friend Omri Casspi who had played his first season in the NBA if he could get me the best individual coach for me. He got me David Thorpe. He was based in Clearwater, Florida and had trained with many NBA guys. I flew to Florida in mid September and that turned out to be one of the best choices in my life. I spent 1 month 1-1 with him. I wasn’t totally fit, but after 2 practices he told me that I was an NBA player. He told me that if I would have a good season in Europe that he would make sure that NBA teams would look at me. He did a great job in that 1 month to help me develop further and to dream bigger. When I returned to Europe I still had no offers from other teams in Europe. In Israel I had to offers from Jerusalem and Haifa. Something in my stomach told me that the Jerusalem offer wasn’t the right one. I believed that Haifa was the right one and I signed in November. It was an amazing team with a small rotation. Many guys got many minutes. I took a huge step in my career winning the title and MVP. I knew that NBA teams had been looking at me the whole season.
In that final game you defeated Israeli legend Guy Pnini who has been your teammate in the national team. What has it meant being his teammate over the years?
Guy is a great friend of mine. We grew up together. His younger brother was my best friend. I know Guy since I’m 5 years old. He has had a great career. It is always fun to paly against him. He is a great competitor. He really likes to talk trash against me. We go very hard against each other on the court.
Do you feel like your very good play with Maccabi Bazan Haifa and winning the title and finals MVP opened up the door more for the NBA?
Definitely. I already had camps booked before the season had ended. I remember that it wasn’t easy going from an amazing peak and winning the Winner League title and making the switch so quick and find enough energy and be competitive to make my NBA dream come true. I opened eyes for many teams. I had good camps and fortunately I got an offer from the Dallas Mavericks.
What do you still remember from the 113-105 loss to the Houston Rockets where 2 Israeli players you and Omri Casspi played against each other in a game? You got revenge a few months later beating Houston
That was a very exciting game. It was early in the season. The hype was big in Israel. It was the first derby in the NBA for 2 Israeli players. We both played great. My future wife, father and aunt came to the game. It was a great experience.
You were teammates with Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas and also knew him from the Euro championships. What kind of a teammate as he to you? Did act differently to you because you were a fellow European and what did you learn about him that you hadn’t known before.
Dirk is a great person that acts great to everyone. We both obviously had a connection from Europe. He was always a leader by example. He was never a guy that would talk a lot, but he would make everyone around him better with his play on the court. He really helped me a lot when I first got there. We hung out a lot. Only a few months ago, he saw my dad in London and texted me and told me that he had seen my dad. I don’t need to say anything about his game.
In 2014-205 you played 4 games for the New Orleans Pelicans. You Beat the Los Angeles Lakers 104-87 playing 12 minutes. What did it mean for you to battle Kobe Bryant and what kind of an impression did his basketball legacy leave on you?
My time with the Pelicans was great experience, but super short. I remember joining the team in Los Angeles. At my first practice, there was no tape or contact and I was learning the plays on a I-Pad. I had back to back games. Everything went so quickly. I had signed for 1 month It was a great experience to play with Anthony Davis, Playing for the Pelicans was a great experience. They are a very good organization. I remember Kobe not playing, but he was there with the team. Just seeing him there and his presence was amazing. I remember my eyes being on him at all times like a kid seeing if he watched me when I scored. When he is in the room, all eyes are on him. I was very sad when I heard the news of his death. I’m still hurt by his death.
You played 35 NBA games. What will you always remember about the NBA that you will never experience playing basketball in Europe?
I will always remember the professionalism and the intensity of everything going on with the flights, games, hotels etc. You don’t see the pace of the NBA in Europe.
In 2015-2016 you played briefly for Crvena Zvezda Telekom Beograd (Serbia-KLS) before moving back to Maccabi Tel Aviv. What was the craziest memory you have seeing the incredible support by the club fans?
I will always remember the fans for sure. They are one of the best in Europe. They are always super intense. It was amazing seeing them in action and they always gave the team energy. Sometimes they were the 6th player. Even when there were seasons when they didn’t have the biggest budget or record they would still overachieve and the fans were a big part of it.
In 2016-2017 you were back with Maccabi Tel Aviv. You have played for many coaches in your time, but how special was it learning from a legend like Pini Gershon? What example do you have that fully shows that he is a basketball junkie?
Pini is the general manager of the national team now. He is a very unique coach. For me he is like an artist. He isn’t the basketball junkie or numbers guy 24/7, but he just has an amazing feel for the game and his biggest quality is his ability to manage the game and take decisions under pressure. He has coached great teams and has had a lot of success and was able to help the teams work together and achieve great success.
In the 2017-2018 season you played for Herbalife Gran Canaria (Spain-Liga ACB) playing 40 games averaging 8.4ppg, 1.3rpg, 3.4apg, FGP: 50.0%, 3PT: 34.9%, FT: 73.3%; and played 17 Eurocup: games averaging 9.6ppg, 1.6rpg, 5.1apg, FGP: 48.1%, 3PT: 32.4%, FT: 72.5%. That season you were 2-/4 against Real Madrid. Did you ever think in that last season that Luka Doncic would have such a quick impact in the NBA?
Doncic was unbelievable that season. He won the Euroleague with Real Madrid. I remember the playoff series that season against him. We lost the series 3-0, but all games were close coming down only to a couple of possessions. I knew that he would be good in the NBA, but I never thought that it would happen so quickly. I was super happy when Dallas drafted him. I remember texting head coach Rick Carlisle and telling him how happy I was they got him. I’m still a Mavericks fan. They have a great base for the next years. I will cheer for them and hope that they will compete for the title.
In 2018-2019 you played with Zenit Sankt Petersburg (Russia-VTB) playing 20 games averaging 7.4ppg, 1.8rpg, 4.9apg, FGP: 50.5%, 3PT: 36.0%, FT-3 (94.7%); and 7 Eurocup games averaging 7.7ppg, 2.6rpg, 6.6apg, FGP: 36.2%, 3PT: 30.0%, FT: 68.8%. You were teammates with Brandon Jennings. What kind of a lasting impression did he leave you there? He seems to have retired at age 30 only.
Brandon is an unbelievable talent. He had a bad situation with Zenit. His experience in Russia was a lot different to what he had been used to. I really liked playing with him. He was a great competitor and super fast. He was one of fastest guys I ever saw.
You played at 4 European championships. You played your best basketball at the 2015 Euro. Can you still recall the endings of the Poland and Bosnia games?
Yes I remember those games. I remember losing very badly to Italy in the top 16. I had some great campaigns with the national teams. I truly believe that our generation should have done a lot better than we did. We had many guys in their prime and many guys playing at top levels in Europe. I feel that I have 1-2 more chances to play for the national team. I really want to achieve success with the National team. I think the future of Israeli basketball is looking good. We have a chance with the new generation. Our U-20 team won the Gold medal and we have some great prospects.
How special was the exciting 2017 82-80 Euro win over Germany against Dennis Schroeder, Daniel Theis and co? Is that a game you might watch again in your free time?
Yes I would watch that game again. It was in Israel and the crowd was crazy. It was a big game and the atmosphere was great. It would be a fun game to watch.
Who has been the toughest player that you have ever faced in your career?
I think the toughest guy I had to guard was Mike Conley. He was super fats and crafty and hard to keep in front of you. He is one player that I remember saying it is going to be a long night.
Please name your 5 best teammates of all-time?
Dirk Nowitzki, Anthony Davis, Dontae Smith, Omri Casspi, Markus Errickson
Please construct your personal NBA Mount Rushmore of past or present heads?
Jordan, Lebron, Magic. Kobe
What is your personal opinion in the debate of who is the greatest Jordan or Lebron?
I will always go with Jordan. I grew up with him. He was the first to change the game globally.
What was the last movie that you saw?
Thanks Gal for the chat.