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Kings’ Omri Casspi hosts athletes, celebrities for a week in Israel

Kings forward Omri Casspi, second from right, hangs out with, from left, UFC star Georges St-Pierre, former Kings guard Beno Udrih, Kings forward Rudy Gay and actor Jeremy Piven on a star-studded trip through Israel on behalf of the Omri Casspi Foundation.
Kings forward Omri Casspi, second from right, hangs out with, from left, UFC star Georges St-Pierre, former Kings guard Beno Udrih, Kings forward Rudy Gay and actor Jeremy Piven on a star-studded trip through Israel on behalf of the Omri Casspi Foundation. Omri Casspi Foundation

Since being drafted by the Kings in 2009 as the first Israeli-born NBA player, Omri Casspi has been asked by his peers around the league about his country.

So for the second consecutive summer, the forward invited a group to Israel for a week for charity, a basketball clinic and opportunities to explore the country as part of the work of the Omri Casspi Foundation.

The group included Kings forward Rudy Gay, former All-Stars Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, former Kings guard Beno Udrih, mixed martial arts veteran Georges St-Pierre and actor Jeremy Piven. Center DeMarcus Cousins and forward Caron Butler were teammates who joined Casspi last year.

We’re going to have to make some strides. It’s time. We’ve added some good guys, some good quality players and quality individuals to our locker room, which is important, I think.

Kings forward Omri Casspi

“So many times in my years in the league, guys ask me about (Israel), about the history and what’s going on,” Casspi said. “And them having been there, having seen it first hand and having some quality time together and they get to see my country from my own eyes. And it creates good PR. Sometimes Israel gets a bad rap in the media unfortunately, and having those high caliber of guys and enjoying our country, I think it’s great.”

Casspi especially enjoyed spending time with Gay, the subject of trade rumors most of the summer. Gay has been Casspi’s teammate for two seasons since Casspi rejoined the Kings.

“Having some quality time with Rudy and just talking about this upcoming season and the summer we’ve been through so far,” Casspi said. “And we got to work out there. We got some good pickups and had some great games. And he looks good, he looks healthy, he looks in shape, and I’m excited.”

Casspi also got to know Gay and his family even better away from basketball. Casspi’s wife, Shani, and Gay’s wife, Ecko, were on the trip.

“They’re one of our favorite couples,” Casspi said. “Me and my wife, we love Rudy and Ecko. We always stay in touch over the summer. Having them there, meeting my parents, my family, where I grew up, my hometown, having some quality time, talking about everything, working out together, we really bonded. After you’ve been together for a week overseas and seeing my country, my homeland, we really bonded on a different level.”

Perhaps Casspi’s connection with Gay can carry over to the Kings this season. Casspi hopes the team can make significant progress. The Kings have missed the playoffs the last 10 years amid drama involving ownership and clashing personalities.

“We’re going to have to make some strides. It’s time,” Casspi said. “We’ve added some good guys, some good quality players and quality individuals to our locker room, which is important, I think. The great teams in the NBA have great locker rooms. Just in general we need to start making strides, try to make the make playoffs. With a new coaching staff, we need to make a big stride forward.”

Casspi has been working to improve his ballhandling and shooting, including free throws. Last season, Casspi shot a career-high 40.9 percent from three-point range, but he made just 64.8 percent of his free throws, the second-lowest percentage of his career.

Sometimes Israel gets a bad rap in the media unfortunately, and having those high caliber of guys and enjoying our country, I think it’s great.

Kings forward Omri Casspi, on leading a group of athletes and celebrities to his native Israel

“I want to take a big step forward and help my team win basketball games,” Casspi said.

If the Kings improve their camaraderie in the locker room, they would have a better chance to improve on the court.

“That’s one value a lot of teams overlook a lot in the NBA,” Casspi said. “But if you look at at how they build and rebuild, you look at San Antonio and the Warriors, they don’t have bad locker room guys. And it comes to a point where everybody’s good, everybody can play. If I make Cuz (DeMarcus Cousins) better and Cuz can make Rudy better and Rudy can make Darren (Collison) better and we push one another, our locker room can push one another and have a healthy locker room, that goes a long way.”

Jason Jones: @mr_jasonjones, read more about the team at sacbee.com/kings.

Key dates for Kings

Oct. 4: First preseason game, vs. Lakers in Anaheim, 7 p.m.

Oct. 10: First preseason game at Golden 1 Center, vs. Maccabi Haifa, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 26: First regular-season game, at Phoenix, 7 p.m.

Oct. 27: First regular-season game at Golden 1 Center, vs. San Antonio, 7:30 p.m.

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