UCLA Jewish Ballplayer Shoots for the NBA

Talented, ambitious, conscientious and intelligent would all be fitting characteristics to describe Jordan Farmar, UCLA’s star 6-foot-2-inch point guard. Yet not as fitting as one characteristic: eclectic.

Farmar’s basketball skills are similar to his heritage as they both share a very diverse and hybrid nature. Starting with his familial upbringing, he associates with multiple ethnicities. Farmar’s biological father is Damon Farmar, an African-American man who had a distinguished career in the minor leagues. While pursuing a professional baseball career Damon married a Jewish woman, Melinda Kolani, future mother of the UCLA star.

When Farmar was 2, the couple divorced. Melinda stayed in the Los Angeles area and Farmar spent the majority of his childhood living with her. It would not be long before Melinda would remarry, this time to an Israeli immigrant by the name of Yehuda Kolani, who raised Farmar in a Jewish home. He reached the pinnacle of his Jewish upbringing when stepfather Yehuda sponsored his bar mitzvah at Temple Judea.

His strong Jewish upbringing inspired Farmar to take academics very seriously. He is on pace to graduate in three years. UCLA Assistant Coach Scott Garson said: “He is very close with family, and I think that’s a big part of his life. His family gives him a sense of how to be a teammate.”

During his teenage years, Farmar was not an observant Jew, but he has visited Israel twice and is not shy about labeling himself as a Jew. This is particularly important considering how faithful of a fan base he has in the Jewish community of Los Angeles. “A lot of young Jewish kids look up to him. I hear all the time talking about [being] a Jewish point guard,” Garson said.

But don’t expect Farmar to pigeonhole himself into playing professional basketball for a career in Israel – not with the NBA as an imminent possibility. Although it was only two years ago that Farmar was leading Taft High to its first ever Los Angeles’ City title, he is already being projected as a potential NBA first round draft pick.

So why is Jordan expected to be one of the few Jewish basketball players to set foot in the NBA? He’s an incredibly talented point guard, possessing that rare combination of brilliant court vision to find the open man, while also the ability to beat his man off the dribble and penetrate to the basket. He is equally adept at creating scoring opportunities for himself as well as teammates. For a relatively small point guard, Farmar is a force in the paint, compiling 185 rebounds over the course of his UCLA tenure.

Those aforementioned skills combined with precise long range shooting made Farmar an easy choice for last season’s Pac-10 rookie of the year. This season, there would be no sophomore slump for Farmar, who went on to average 13.6 points per game along with 164 assists in helping UCLA to a sparkling 27-6 record. Farmar’s leadership intangibles are nearly as paramount to UCLA’s success as his immense on-court ability. “Jordan’s got a lot of terrific leadership qualities. He’s an extension of Coach Howland,” Garson explained.

Alas, the NBA will have to wait as Farmar has his hands full anchoring the backcourt of a UCLA squad beginning its quest for its first national championship since 1995.

The culmination of this marvelous season came against California in the Pac-10 championship game this past Saturday. Farmar poured in a game high 19 points in leading the Bruins to a 71-52 romp over Cal en route to their first Pac-10 title since 1987.

Ah, 1987. The year in which Hall-of-Famer to be Reggie Miller last donned the UCLA blue and gold. Farmar’s got a long way to go to eclipse Miller’s vaunted total of 25,279 career NBA points and his .395 conversion rate from international waters.

Although it is premature to compare the teenage Farmar with one of the greatest shooters in the history of the game, Farmar is on a mission to do something that Miller fell short of: Leading UCLA to a record setting 12th national championship in its school history.

That journey begins this week against another Bruins team, Atlantic Sun powerhouse Belmont University. Chances are the Bruins team with Farmar on their side will advance to the ensuing round.

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