UConn men's basketball freshman Yarin Hasson fitting in since arriving from Israel: 'Loves being here'

While visiting Gampel Pavilion for the first time a few weeks ago, Yuval Shaham, a basketball recruiter from Israel, noticed a picture of a friend and fellow countryman on the wall.

He snapped a cell phone picture of that Nadav Henefeld photo and texted it to him.

"He didn't believe (his picture) was there," Shaham noted. "He was excited to see the picture. I think he was happy to see he was out there."

In truth, it should come as little surprise that Henefeld, a key contributor to UConn's 1990 "Dream Team" and the program's first significant foreign player, would be forever immortalized inside Gampel's walls. He was the first of several Israeli players to make an impact at UConn, a list that would include Doron Sheffer a few years later, and a true source of pride among UConn's Jewish fan base.

Yarin Hasson, who was with Shaham on that tour of Gampel a few weeks ago shortly after committing to the Huskies, can only hope to have a similar impact as he embarks upon his UConn career. It won't happen overnight.

Hasson is a versatile, 6-foot-9 forward  with a 7-foot-1 wingspan who can shoot, distribute and put the ball on the floor. Maybe not a "unicorn," as the current lingo goes, but certainly a talent.

"He’s really special with his skill set," said Shaham, who has known Hasson and his family for years. "The things he is able to do with his size are pretty unique. Sometimes you see 6-9 kids who can shoot it, sometimes you see 6-9 guys who are great passers who can lead the offense. He can do it all, basically."

He is also just 17 years old and won't turn 18 until next month.

"If he was playing high school basketball in the States," UConn coach Dan Hurley noted, "he'd be going into, like, his junior year or something."

Don't fact-check Hurley on that, but the point is understood: Hasson is young.

"He needs to get stronger," Shaham concedes. "I think that was one of the main things for him to play college basketball instead of staying in Israel and probably becoming a pro. And obviously the strength and conditioning in the U.S. in general, not just UConn, is the highest level. And he needs that. He needs to get stronger to be ready for the next level."

Hurley has said that the recent additions of Hasson and, more recently, Greek native Apostolos Roumoglou to fill the team's final two scholarship openings for the 2022-23 season was, as much as anything, a way to add more depth and competition in practice.

They're not playing, folks. At least not this season.

Hasson is so young and new to the U.S. that UConn is holding off on making him available to the media. The school did release some quotes from him, however, in which he acknowledged the Huskies' history with Henefeld and Sheffer (as well as Gilad Katz and Uri Cohen-Mintz) played a major role in his decision to commit a few weeks ago.

"In Israel, UConn is really an iconic university and it’s really well-known here," Hasson said. "Second, UConn is for real a big (basketball) school, a really high-major school, in the Big East and I believe in myself, I believe I can play at that level."

Hasson, who is from Gan Yayne, Israel, played high school basketball for Gimnasia Realit in Rishon Le-Zion. He is also a member of the U18 Israeli national team, and has played for the Maccabi rishon le Zion club team. He is considered one of the top young prospects in the country.

Hasson had originally committed to the University of Denver last spring, which Shaham helped facilitate. However, an admissions problem with that school caused Hasson to decommit, and other schools began reaching out. He first appeared on the radar of Hurley and assistant coach Luke Murray a couple of months ago, and the staff began watching video on him and conducted Zoom calls to get to know him better. 

"When I talked with Coach Hurley and Coach Murray, I really liked what they said to me," Hasson recalled. "They like to work hard, they have passion for the game. I liked that because that is my mindset, too."

'Energy giver, not an energy taker' 

Shaham originally came to the U.S. as a young ambassador for Israel who knew nothing about college basketball. He lived at the University of Notre Dame for two years and got to know Irish men's basketball coach Mike Brey, piquing his interest in college hoops.

When he returned to Israel, Shaham began helping young players go to college in the U.S. through the connections he had made at Notre Dame. He didn't know anyone on the UConn coaching staff, but got to meet them and visit the campus after flying in from Israel a few weeks ago to help out Hasson on his arrival.

Hasson has already made a favorable impression with his new teammates.

"Overall, he just brings great energy to practice," junior Andre Jackson noted. "He's an energy-giver, not an energy-taker. He just brings a lot. He's always talking on defense in our drills. He's really somebody that's fun to be around. He takes this basketball very serious. He loves being here at UConn with all these resources."

Jackson has tried to help make Hasson's assimilation in the U.S. as easy as possible.

"I know that if I was to just go to Israel right now and be smack dab in the middle of Israel, I would have no clue how to do a lot of things," he admitted. "So, just trying to be there for those guys to help them out. They love basketball, so that's why they came here. They're in (the gym) a lot, every day."

There is one thing Hasson will have to deal with that his UConn teammates won't have to worry a out. Military service is mandatory in Israel — three years for men, two for women. Most begin within months after high school graduation.

For athletes, however, it can be different. Players on the Israeli national team, or those who go overseas to play professionally, or at one of the big academies in Europe or a high-major program in the U.S., can get their service pushed back a few years, even waived. Deni Avdija received a deferment from his Israel Defense Forces service after being selected by Washington as the No. 9 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.

"We’ll have to take care of it year by year," Shaham said of Hasson. "Working with the college and the Israeli Basketball Association and the national team, it’s a process. There are logistics he’ll have to manage, but they will support him, so he should be fine."

This past weekend, Hasson joined fellow UConn freshmen Donovan Clingan and Alex Karaban at the Big East's annual Freshman Fundamentals seminar in New York City. Posing for a picture with former UConn great Emeka Okafor, who was one of the speakers at the event, the quartet formed an impressive Husky skyline in the Big Apple.

"Obviously, you can’t ask for better competition than UConn," Shaham said. "He needs to grow and develop. But his upside is very good. I’d say the sky’s the limit. The next two years are going to be very, very important for his development and eventually to become a pro."

"He’s ready to work," Shaham added, "and if he gets playing time, great. If not, he’ll keep working. That’s the mentality."

david.borges@hearstmediact.com @DaveBorges