(JTA) — Ryan Turell may be from Los Angeles, but when he returns to New York as a member of an NBA G League team on Feb. 4, the game will represent a homecoming of sorts.
Turell, the former Yeshiva University basketball star who in October became the first known Orthodox player to be drafted into the G League, is returning to New York for the first time this season, as his Motor City Cruise — the Detroit Pistons’ minor league affiliate — take on the Long Island Nets at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.
The 6-foot-7 forward has drawn a growing crowd of Jewish fans in Detroit as an openly Orthodox player who wears a kippah on the court. But the Feb. 4 game will be the first opportunity for Y.U. fans to see their former star in action since he graduated.
“I don’t think people realize, there’s so many Y.U. fans that have watched Ryan play for four years at Y.U., and now they’re going to have a chance to see him in a G League uniform in New York,” said Simmy Cohen, a Y.U. superfan who works in marketing.
The game will tip off at 7 p.m. Saturday night, an hour after Shabbat will end. That wasn’t always the plan: Brad Turell, Ryan’s father, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the matchup was originally scheduled for 11 a.m. — which would present a challenge for those who do not travel on Shabbat. He and another observant fan both contacted the Nets about the conflict.
“We just told the Nets, hey, by the way, you have Ryan Turell, it’s his return to New York, a lot of Jews from Long Island and the surrounding area would love to attend, if you made the game after sundown,” Brad Turell said.
Within 24 hours, the game was moved to 7 p.m.
“They got it. They understood it, they didn’t question it, they didn’t say there’s red tape,” Brad Turell said.
Brad Turell, a communications executive at a Los Angeles talent agency, said he and his family have been to seven of Ryan’s games in Detroit, plus the three recent matchups in Los Angeles. He said he “wouldn’t miss” the game in New York.
Cohen, who grew up near the Nets arena on Long Island, also said he will be at the Feb. 4 game. He anticipates that quite a few of his fellow Y.U. Maccabees fans will be there, too.
“I’m predicting that it’s going to be really, really wild,” Cohen said. “And it’s interesting, because he’s playing for the road team. A lot of the fans coming to the game are going to be chanting for him, wearing blonde wigs or wearing his shirts, and screaming for one specific opposing player who’s on the bench more than he’s on the floor. And chanting ‘We want Ryan!’ I’m going to be leading that if no one else will.”
Brad Turell said his son’s return to New York could be “emotional and cathartic” for Y.U. fans — and that some singing may even break out in the stands, as is customary at Maccabees games. (Another aspect of the celebration: Feb. 4 is the day after Turell’s 24th birthday.)
The wigs Cohen referenced are just one way Turell fans have shown their support for the golden-haired prospect: There are Turell-branded shirts — including a special one for the Feb. 4 game that is no longer available — plus branded kippahs, sweatshirts and hats for sale on his website.
Cohen, a self-described “extremely online fan of Jews in sports,” said he started following Turell a few years ago, during the Maccabees’ unlikely 50-game winning streak.
“I was really interested in their success and jumped on the bandwagon when they were winning a billion games in a row and having so much success and kind of taking DIII by surprise,” Cohen said. “And how the Jewish community was rallying behind them, I got into that.”
For Brad Turell, Jewish fans’ embrace of his son has been “the most satisfying aspect of this entire journey,” he said.
“They’re proud that this guy — who wears a yarmulke and proudly represents Yeshiva University and the Jewish people — is getting his shot, and that all the hype that surrounded Ryan in college, which was quite phenomenal, was real,” Brad Turell said. “He is good. The fact is, you can’t play in the G League unless you are really good.”
Ryan Turell told JTA at a November game in Detroit that he appreciates all of the Jewish fan support. “Jews love basketball. They really do,” he said. “The Jewish community is incredible, them coming out and cheering me on. It really means the world to me. And it’s special, because it’s bigger than basketball.”
Turell has appeared in 27 of the Cruise’s 30 games between the preseason Showcase Cup and regular season this year, playing off the bench. He’s averaging 14.3 minutes during the regular season (out of 48 in each game), with 4.2 points per game.
Turell’s best performance of the regular season was his first: he scored 21 points in less than 18 minutes on Dec. 27.
“He’s the perfect guy to have this happen to,” Cohen said. “He’s just such a mensch, on and off the court. Cheering on his teammates, helping people up when they fall down, things like that.”
But for Cohen, Turell’s appeal transcends his ability to sink three-pointers.
“He’s always talking about and thanking Hashem [God], and he’s talking about being a Jewish hero and a Jewish role model,” Cohen said.
For fans who can’t make it on Feb. 4, the Cruise will be back in Long Island in March — on Purim. Cohen pointed out that the timing of the game, 11 a.m., may be auspicious for those who observe the holiday.
“After you hear megillah and before you have your seudah [the festive Purim afternoon meal], what else are people doing in that in-between time on Purim?” Cohen said. “It could be something that kind of bridges the gap of the day.”
Brad Turell said the timing of the March 7 game is perfect — perhaps even divine.
“If you didn’t think Hashem was looking down upon this situation and helping this out, you look at that and say [Ryan] is going to be in Long Island at 11 a.m. on Purim day. How does that happen?” he said. “A day when all the kids are off school, where everyone’s in a great mood. This is a great family activity, and it’s an 11 a.m. game. It’s just fantastic.”