Big dreams come true for Ofek Reef
By Mollie Mayfield
Ever since he was a child, Ofek Reef dreamt of playing professional basketball in his home country of Israel. A few weeks ago, Reef got the call that his dreams were coming true. He was drafted by Hapoel Akko. Yet, these dreams would not have been possible without the schooling he went through which started in Dallas.
On Sept. 2, Reef made a visit to his alma mater high school Akiba Yavneh Academy, from which he graduated in 2019, to speak with current students and tell them about his time there. Alongside his former coach, David Zimmerman, Reef talked to an assembly on how to focus on their dreams.
“Anything you put your mind to you can do. It’s very cliche, but from firsthand experience, if you really do want something you have to put the work in. All the negative stuff people say to me, I would take it to the gym and prove everyone wrong,” explained Reef.
Being from a small Jewish community in Dallas, Reef didn’t know a lot of athletes that went on to play college basketball, which is an achievement in itself. He knew he wanted to do that and take it to another level.
“I never sat in my bedroom and thought I should be a doctor or lawyer. I had moments where I struggled in school, but knew I wanted to be in the sports industry. The workouts in college were killing me and it took a toll on my body and mental health. Those off days we have are good to take in and recover. Yet there were some days I would text my coach 10 minutes before practice saying I need the day off. To continue being an athlete, those mental days off are needed,” Reef explained as some of his experience at Yeshiva University.
While playing basketball at Yeshiva University, Reef and his teammates were making history and putting the school and the Jewish community on many radars. The Yeshiva Maccabees recorded a history-making two-year, 50-game winning streak before losing to Illinois Wesleyan Dec. 30. Reef explained it was amazing playing for his Jewish faith and doing the run he and his teammates did that he believes no other team at Yeshiva will do in the next 20 years.
“It was amazing getting text messages and emails from people in Israel and even Australia congratulating us on what we were doing. We had press come to the game such as the Associated Press, who were doing a documentary on us. Any type of press you can think of was there. We were able to put all the attention to the side to do something much bigger than what the school has done before. My team and I played for our faith rather than just the college.”
At the 2022 Maccabiah Games, Reef led Team USA to a gold medal in the Men’s Open division.
During Reef’s AYA visit, Coach Zimmerman pointed out that Reef didn’t grow up participating in the traditional Jewish religion. Reef was in shock when he first came to Akiba (now Akiba Yavneh) and even when he played at Yeshiva University in New York. Even though the community welcomed him with open arms, Reef still stood out from the crowd.
“I have a tattoo and piercings, which is something a traditional Jewish person shouldn’t have. I was asked to cover up my tattoo and I said I wasn’t going to do that. I didn’t see myself going to a university where I didn’t fit in because I wasn’t a part of the circle. I am grateful for my university community and the Dallas community for welcoming me for who I am and my appearance.”
Throughout the history of Akiba Yavneh Academy, Reef is the first athlete to make it to a professional team. This is something Coach Zimmerman wants the students to understand: It is possible to have big dreams come true.
“The bigger picture is that Reef is a young Jewish man who comes from a small Jewish community. Now he can say, you can be anything and it doesn’t have to be a stereotypical job,” stated Zimmerman. “So when someone comes into my office and says they want to play ball, I can say they can because it has been done.”
On the business side of being drafted into a professional league, it can be fairly easy if both parties agree. Now for the physical and mental aspect, that is where the grind and hard work comes into play. When Coach Zimmerman first found out Reef got drafted, he had to make sure Reef wasn’t “pulling a PR stunt and it was kosher.”
“I knew in my heart these last few years from the success he was having at college as a top Jewish ball player in the country, it was going to happen. To be honest, my first feeling I had was exhaustion. It took a lot of work, sleepless nights and a lot of conversations. Reef wasn’t an all-A student, and he knew where his desire was, which was to be a professional basketball player. It takes a lot of sacrifice to not take days off,” explained Coach Zimmerman.
After his time in Israel, Reef dreams of coming back to the United States to play in the NBA. He hopes to one day play like local former professional players Dirk Nowitzki or JJ Barea, who was the reason Reef wore number 11 while at Akiba Yavneh Academy.