PHILADELPHIA – Sophomore Julie Becker, a guard for the University of Pennsylvania women’s basketball team, spent a few weeks of her summer representing the United States at the 18th edition of the Maccabiah Games in Israel.
Known widely as the Jewish Olympics, the Maccabiah Games--held every four years in Israel--attract many of the world’s best Jewish athletes. Becker, who served as the sixth man for much of the tournament, helped the USA’s open women’s basketball team reach the championship game and claimed a silver medal.
Below, Becker recounts her trip with PennAthletics.com.
When you found out that you were making the trip, what was your initial reaction?
When I initially found out I made the team, I was very excited and felt that it was a huge accomplishment. When I learned of my other teammates I was really excited for the experience ahead, and as the youngest on the team I knew I could learn a lot from my teammates and use this experience to help improve my game.
What went into preparing for the trip/competition?
In preparing for the trip, I continued to do what I had been doing in the off-season and just tried to get my body in the best physical shape I could before we left.
What were your thoughts/feelings before boarding the plane to Israel?
Before leaving I was excited but didn't really know what to expect. I knew it would be a great experience, but the trip was beyond anything I imagined. The combination of the basketball and cultural experience was really incredible.
What were some of the biggest cultural differences you noticed at the Games?
It was really surprising to see how many countries were represented. There were about 60 countries and I never realized that there was a Jewish population in so many countries. The fact that playing sports brought all of us together made it really special.
Basketball-wise, there were some rule changes that made international basketball different than basketball in the United States. The 24-second shot clock and eight-second back-court violation made the pace of the game much faster.
What were some of your most memorable moments on the court and off the court?
The first time I stepped on the court and looked down and saw USA was one of my most memorable moments. Being able to wear USA across my chest gave me a huge sense of pride that's hard to describe.
Describe your experience with your teammates and coaches?
Our team started practicing together in New York a week before we left. We were together every day for about a month—traveling, playing, and spending time together that allowed us to bond really fast. Our team got along really well, and being with my teammates and coaches helped make the experience so memorable.
Describe your experience with the other U.S. and opposing athletes?
The first week in Israel was pre-camp, and we stayed in a hotel with all USA athletes and got a chance to travel and tour the country. We got a chance to meet and get to know athletes who played other sports from all over our country. The next two weeks each sport split up to different locations around Israel. At our hotel were many basketball teams from countries all around the world. It was really great to get to know athletes who shared the same passion and played the same sport as I did.
Were you pleased with the way you played?
I was pleased with my contribution to the team, and despite being the youngest on the team I was the sixth man. Although we came up short in the gold medal game, we played four really great games before that. We were 4-0 after beating the Canadian and Israeli teams twice. The Israeli team was one of their national teams that has been playing together for years so the fact that we were able to beat them twice after only playing together for a few weeks was really great.
What did you learn from the experience?
I learned how sports are a bridge to connect people all over the world. The Games gave me a new sense of pride for my religion and my country. Playing in Israel and traveling there for the first time was a really amazing experience and allowed me to really understand my religion and discover the history behind what I have been taught.
Now that you’re back, what are you looking forward to in the upcoming Penn season?
I'm excited for our team and the new opportunity that lies ahead this season. I'm anxious to get back on campus and start the season.