It’s not just about him. Yeshiva University’s Ryan Turell clearly gets that, much in the same vein as Brian Flores with his recent lawsuit against the NFL, trying to put a greater focus on equal treatment of minorities in the league knows it’s not just about him. Central to both is the overriding principle for accepting everyone at a certain skill threshold, if they act appropriately, no matter their race or religion in sports.
Turell’s chasing his dream of playing in the NBA and forgoing his final season at Yeshiva, a New York City Division III school, to do so.
You see, Ryan Turell is an Orthodox Jew, and he’d be the first to openly identify from the strict sect of Judaism to play in the best basketball league in the world. The chase of landing on an NBA roster will be tough but that pursuit is groundbreaking by itself.
Playing at a lower classification (Div. III) and having less exposure to the American public won’t affect Turell’s draft stock. If you can ball, you can ball, and earn millions doing so. What will move the needle from can’t-miss prospect to having zero NBA future is how his production for the Maccabees translates against others with the same dream. This year’s NBA Draft class is full of Division-I heavy hitters, overseas elites and former prep phenoms applying their trade in the G-League. Turell must stand out as a smaller fish in a gigantic pond.
Turell was a piranha in a tank meant for a household fish. He’s the leading scorer in college basketball across all divisions at 27.1 points per game. He’s also shooting 47.1 percent from 3-point range, better than every Division I player. He drains shots from beyond the arc while wearing a yarmulke (pronounced ya-ma-ka, don’t get it wrong commentators, it’s so easy), and told ESPN he plans to continue doing so while playing professionally.
“Being the first Orthodox Jew in the NBA would mean the world to me, and a dream come true, God willing,” Turell told ESPN this week. “But, just as importantly, it would mean the world to others that never saw this as a possibility.”
Turell’s quote hits the bullseye of why his journey will mean so much to many. Representation matters, of all kinds. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Captain Marvel and Black Panther all got their time in the spotlight, highlighting differences in lead characters. Hopefully that pattern continues later this month with Disney+ series Moon Knight, the vigilante superhero whose father is a rabbi in the comics.
What looms large here is there are 5.8 million American Jews, or 2.4 percent of the U.S. adult population, per Pew Research Center. Also, 17 percent of American Jews between the ages of 18-29 identify as Orthodox. That’s a substantial sect of this country who now have someone who worships like them trying to play in the NBA. Classic Orthodox Judaism principles include a daily study of the Torah, following a set of dietary laws called Kashrut and separation of men and women in synagogue. Add dominating college basketball for Turell. It’s also an Orthodox value not to work or travel during the Sabbath, a weekly occurrence from sundown on Friday to Saturday’s sundown. Turell said he “plans on playing on Shabbat and walking to the gym,” per ESPN.
Not going to lie, it’s a little more satisfying to have Turell try to live out his NBA dream coming from Yeshiva, too. It’s one of the largest Jewish-rooted universities on the planet, where general course work combines overall academics with the study of the Torah, evidenced by their core values. The student population has traditionally been heavily Jewish, but all are welcome.
While Turell’s odds of making the NBA aren’t astronomical; he’s a longshot to say the least. He’s 6-foot-7, projecting as a shooting guard at the next level. His long-range shooting ability enters him into a space coveted by NBA teams. Steph Curry changed basketball forever and every sharpshooter thinks they can pull up from logos and knock down shots like he does. Turell is one of a selected few who can.
And another metric pro scouts will love is he’s a winner. During his time at Yeshiva, the school won the Skyline Conference championship and won 50 consecutive games, spanning from November 2019 to December 2021. Of course, the pandemic extended that streak by a bit. But a lot must go the Maccabees way to win that many in a row. Turell’s got a long way to go to claim his spot in the NBA, as no mock drafts have him being selected in June’s draft. Most pre-draft activities take place after the conclusion of the NCAA Tournament however. Several former Division III athletes have made it to the NBA. Most notable among recent professionals is the Miami Heat’s Duncan Robinson.
Turell’s presence is guaranteed to make a difference and that’s why it’s nice to see him not conforming his beliefs to try and achieve his NBA dream. There’s no shot he’s given a pity contract for a nice story. There’s too much money at stake. If he suits up professionally, he’ll have earned it. Because of his religious standing, it might be impossible just to focus on himself with the massive weight of possibly being the first Orthodox Jew in the NBA. Speaking openly about his experience shows he’s ready to carry that load.