Idit Oryon peppers her conversation with enough “that’s cool” and “it’s awesome” to make clear some of California has rubbed off on the exuberant Israeli national and UC Davis women’s basketball player.
Oryon, 23, is the only senior and non-Californian on the roster. And she’s the only player who has served two years in the military.
She and redshirt junior Brianna Salvatore also are the last remaining links to the 2010-11 Aggies team that went 24-9, won the school’s only Big West Conference women’s basketball tournament championship and made its lone NCAA Division I playoff appearance.
“I just filed for graduation,” Oryon, a 6-foot forward, said. ”It’s crazy to me. I don’t know where the four years have gone.”
It’s also a little crazy how Oryon wound up at UC Davis.
A club basketball standout in her hometown of Jerusalem, Oryon later played for the Israeli junior national team, then decided to follow in the hightops of sister, Inbar. Five years Idit’s senior, Inbar played at Stony Brook University in New York from 2003 to 2006.
“I got a YouTube video highlight of Idit, and as coaches, you get about 100 of those a day,” said UC Davis coach Jennifer Gross, a former Aggies star who played professionally in Israel. “But then I looked at it and said, ‘Wow! This kid is pretty good.’ She’s the first international player we recruited.
“You figure that someone who has already been through basic training is pretty much ready for anything.”
Oryon said that while she learned how to “shoot guns,” she spent most of her two-year compulsory military service helping soldiers struggling with financial or psychological issues and placing Americans coming over to serve in the Israel military with support families.
“I had the best of both worlds,” Oryon said. “I got to still practice and travel to play basketball while also doing something that was a really meaningful experience.”
She wanted her college experience to be meaningful, so getting a scholarship wasn’t only about being a basketball player.
“The thing that struck me about Jenn that stood out from the others recruiting me is that she wanted to know more about me as a person, not just as a basketball player,” Oryon said. “In the end, it was a combination of the coaches, the system they played, the location – I always wanted to come to California – and that it was a UC school. I felt Davis was the total package.
“I have no regrets. I feel I made the right choice.”
Still, Oryon did not develop into the impact college player she had hoped to become.
She has started only eight of her 102 games as an Aggie. This season, she is averaging 3.9 points and 2.7 rebounds in 15.7 minutes, though she had a career-high 13 points in a 79-73 overtime loss at UC Irvine on Feb. 8.
“She’s our best athlete,” Gross said. “I know she would like to be playing more, but she is helping us as a captain. Her experience is invaluable.”
UC Davis star Sydnee Fipps said Oryon, her roommate, has acclimated to coming off the bench.
“She knows what the team needs of her,” Fipps said. “As the most athletic person on the team – she can really get up high – she helps us on the boards and brings defensive intensity. She’s also been on a championship team, so she knows what it takes (to win).”
When Oryon arrived at UC Davis, she encountered taller and more physical players and a faster-paced game.
“It’s a different ballgame here – I wasn’t as strong as the rest of them,” Oryon said of her first UC Davis teammates. “Now I’m just trying to do what I can to help this team. I feel I’ve taken over a leadership role. I feel my teammates can come to me with problems they have.”
As a rookie on an experienced 2010-11 team, Oryon played in 27 of the Aggies’ 33 games, including brief appearances in a 66-49 win over Cal Poly for the Big West tournament title and an 86-59 loss at No. 2 Stanford in the NCAA Tournament opener.
Now Oryon is surrrounded by youth. The Aggies (10-13, 5-5) usually start three sophomores and two juniors, but they have hope for the reminder of the season.
“Even though I didn’t play that much, being on a championship team was a special experience,” Oryon said. “So I tell them what it feels like to be a part of that. For us to experience something similar, we’ve really got to rebound better and make fewer turnovers.”
Oryon, a political science major, plans to work for a year – she said she earned invaluable experience interning for the Israeli consulate in San Francisco during the summer – then either enter law school or return to Israel to play basketball professionally.
“I’m facing a lot of dilemmas,” Oryon said. “I’d love to play a little longer, but if I stay here and get a job, then it may be time to start my adult life.”
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.