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LA's Ryan Turell Hopes To Become The First Orthodox Jewish Player In The NBA

Ryan Turell stands in the center of Yeshiva basketball player locked arm-in-arm.
Ryan Turell #11 of Yeshiva cheers with his team before playing against Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the first half during the NCAA Division III Men's Basketball Championship in 2020.
(Patrick Smith
/
Getty Images)
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The NBA may soon get its first Orthodox Jewish player, and he’s from Los Angeles.

Ryan Turell — the country’s leading college basketball scorer — declared this week for the NBA draft. He told ESPN that becoming the first Orthodox Jew in the league would be “a dream come true.”

Turell now plays for Yeshiva University in New York and was named Thursday as the Division III National Player of the Year. His college career for the Maccabees has been outstanding:

  • All-time school best 2,158 career points
  • School's all-time single-season scoring record with 786 points
  • Shot 58.7% from the field and 46.8% from the 3-point line
  • Led all three NCAA Divisions with 27.1 points per game

Turell cut his teeth in Southern California, at Valley Torah High in the San Fernando Valley. The school’s athletic director, Lior Schwartzberg, said he met the now 6”7’ player when he was just a “skinny freshman. He was probably like, 100 pounds with his jersey wet, like if the door opened and the wind blew, he would fly away."

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Schwartzberg said he quickly learned never to “put a ceiling” on Turell. He hopes the basketball star’s journey will serve as an example to other Orthodox Jewish kids with hoop dreams.

"He plays in the NBA and wears a yarmulke, like, imagine the kids that see that and say: 'I can invest in basketball too. I can maintain a level of faith and observance and still pursue a passion,'" Schwartzberg said.

Turell possibly making it to the NBA would have even broader implications, he said.

"I think he could be just another fabric of the American dream," Schwartzberg said, "a fabric of the American culture and another thread of representation that can go into other facets of life to see that this is what makes this country great. You can do anything."

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The NBA draft is scheduled for late June.

Brad Turell — who handles press inquiries for his son — said if Ryan makes it into the league, he plans to continue observing the Sabbath and would walk to any games held between Friday and Saturday evening.

He said when Ryan made the choice not to go to one of the secular schools recruiting him, including some Division I powerhouses, he did it with a lot of thought.

So his little decision to do the right thing turned out to be a big, big career boost for him.

— Brad Turell, father

Turell said his son told him: "I want to be a Jewish hero to kids who are going to look up to me, and show them that you can stay true to your religion and stay true to your convictions, and still fulfill all your potential in life, including athletically."

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At the time, it seemed like a decision that would make it less likely Ryan would get noticed. Instead, Brad Turell said his son's scoring records and Yeshiva's remarkable 50-game winning streak "became a bigger national story than if he had gone to a Division I school and just been another good player."

He added: "So his little decision to do the right thing turned out to be a big, big career boost for him. Did anyone think that would happen?"

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