Penn men's basketball forward Michael Moshkovitz is not like other players on the team.
Unlike other players, he never played AAU, and wasn’t recruited out of high school. Unlike other players, he has won an international championship, and was a teammate of two NBA lottery picks. Unlike other players, he has served in the military, and has played games everywhere from Spain to Kankakee, Ill. Despite his unusual path, Moshkovitz is planning on bringing his unique experiences and talents to help the Quakers reclaim the Ivy League crown in the upcoming season.
Moshkovitz was born in Jerusalem in 1998 and started playing basketball at the age of six under the direction of his father — a former semi-pro player. Moshkovitz played recreationally and in children’s leagues in Jerusalem up until the age of 16.
At 16, he transferred to a school at the Wingate Institution — Israel’s premier sports training center. At Wingate, he began training more seriously for a basketball career. Following his first season there, he tried out for the Israeli national Under-18 team, where he nearly made the team, being the final player cut.
The next year, Moshkovitz had a tremendous growth spurt and grew to his current height of 6-foot-7. This late growth spurt, combined with his intense training, made him one of the best players in his age group in the country, and a shoo-in for the national team.
As a member of the team, he was able to accompany the team to Turkey for the FIBA U18 tournament. Despite the fact that he led the team in scoring one game, the Israelis went 0-3 and were eliminated in the group stage of the tournament.
At this time, Moshkovitz, like every other 18-year-old in Israel, was drafted into the Israeli army for a two-and-a-half-year period beginning that summer. He was able to join a special program in the army for athletes, where he did a few months of basic training before he returned to the army base on Wingate’s campus to serve as a weight room instructor for cadets.
During this time, he was also able to play basketball, on both the U20 national team as well as on various teams in Israeli professional leagues. His first stop in the Israeli professional leagues was with Hapoel Jerusalem — one of Israel’s premier first division teams.
Among his teammates on Hapoel Jerusalem was former NBA All-Star Amar’e Stoudamire. Stoudamire, a noted lover of Israel and a convert to Judaism, had gone to play in Israel after his successful 14-year NBA career. Stoudamire was using his time on the team as an opportunity to mentor some of the top young players in the country.
Moshkovitz recalled many instances of Stoudamire helping out younger players sharpen their skills not only through actions, such as rebounding shoot-around sessions, but also by setting a professional example for many of the younger players to follow, something that was especially helpful to Moshkovitz.
“[Stoudamire] took the time and was all about helping everybody and sharing his experience and just seeing his habits, how he came before practice, what he was doing to prepare his body and keep it healthy, and seeing him play, was a really good experience and I learned a lot,” Moshkovitz said.
In that season’s FIBA U20 European championship, the Israeli team went undefeated in the group stage and made it to the finals before falling to host country Greece.
The next season, Moshkovitz and his teammates came back ready to finish what they had started the year before. Despite losing the opening game to Germany, Moshkovitz and the Israeli team won the rest of their games, defeating Croatia in the finals to secure Israel’s first FIBA U20 championship. The team was led by a 17-year-old named Deni Avdija and tournament MVP, Yovel Zoosman. Avdija is currently a member of the NBA’s Washington Wizards, and was the ninth overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
Moshkovitz roomed with Avdija throughout the tournament and watched as his younger roommate made a name for himself on the international stage, elevating to NBA draft lottery status. Moshkovitz helped Avdija navigate the ups and downs of the tournament, an experience which ultimately led to a treasured friendship.
“It was a great experience, we became best friends," Moshkovitz said. "I really appreciated how he played and how he handled being younger. I was really happy to see him play well and get drafted.”
Moshkovitz's performance in the Israeli league wasn’t as striking as his exciting tournament run. So, he decided to move to a team in the second division to get more playing time with hopes of making a name for himself, so he could move back into the first division after his final year in the army.
This plan did not work out, as instead Moshkovitz was forced to switch to another team in the second division, midseason. This was the lowest point in his playing career, as this team was even worse than the one before. This whole experience had Moshkovitz questioning if he even wanted to play basketball anymore. After thinking about it for a while, he decided to take a new path and come to the United States to play college basketball and earn his degree.
Moshkovitz made this decision in Apr. 2019, very late in the recruiting cycle. Unfortunately for Moshkovitz, at this point most colleges had already filled their rosters. Luckily, in a small town in Illinois, there was a junior college team where three Israelis were playing, among them Moshkovitz’s friend Oren Amatz.
Upon hearing that Moshkovitz wanted to come to the U.S. to play, he told the head coach of Kankakee Community College, Alex Thorson, about Moshkovitz.
After watching some film, Thorson knew that he needed to recruit the Israeli, but he also knew that convincing him to come to a small school in Illinois on the junior college circuit would be an uphill battle. Thorson spoke to Moshkovitz and his parents about the Israelis who had previously been on the team and explained that playing at Kankakee would be a quick, one-year stop before transferring to a bigger Division I school. With this pitch, Thorson was able to get Moshkovitz to commit to coming to play at Kankakee for the 2019-2020 season.
The transition was not an easy one for Moshkovitz, who had never been to the U.S., let alone lived there. Moving to a small town an hour south of Chicago, as well as a language barrier and a new playing style to learn, all contributed to what Moshkovitz called “the hardest year of my life.”
Despite all these challenges, Moshkovitz stuck it out and ended up playing well enough at Kankakee to get some serious D-I consideration and gain the admiration of his coaches and teammates.
“We were blessed to have Moshkovitz at Kankakee," Thorson said. "He was a great example of what it means to be a Cavalier. He was a great example from a student standpoint, an academic standpoint and also from an athletic standpoint."
After the junior college season wrapped up in early March 2020, it was time for Moshkovitz to decide on his plans for the next season. He had been talking to coaches of D-I schools in the area about a transfer, but decided that he wanted to play in the Ivy League due to the high level of academics offered.
Columbia's coach, Jim Engles, was friends with Coach Thorson and was told about Moshkovitz in the months leading up to March 2020. He had recruited Moshkovitz and had gone out to watch a few of his games at Kankakee and liked what he saw. It seemed like a done deal: Moshkovitz was ready to transfer to Columbia for the following season.
Then, the world turned upside down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the offer from Columbia disappeared. With no other offers and uncertainty about the next year due to the pandemic, Moshkovitz planned to stay in Israel, where he would play basketball in the third division of the Israeli Basketball League while taking courses at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, at Penn, men's basketball coaches Nat Graham and Steve Donahue were looking at junior college players to see if there was anybody they could recruit to play for the Red and Blue for the 2020-2021 season. The Penn coaches had been recruiting from junior college since their days at Cornell and were hard at work in the early days of the pandemic looking to see if there were any strong junior college players they could recruit for transfer to Penn.
After hearing about Moshkovitz from some colleges in the junior college circuit, talking to Thorson, and watching Moshkovitz's film, they decided to offer him a spot on the Quakers. The recruiting cycle was a very strange one, as it was early in the pandemic and thus all conversations were over zoom with Moshkovitz in Israel. The coaches only met Moshkovitz in person for the first time in January 2021, when he came to campus for the first time.
Despite the long winding road to Philly, when Moshkovitz was finally able to come to Penn for the second semester last year. Even though the team wasn’t able to play games last season, they still were able to practice together, and Moshkovitz impressed everyone around him.
“It’s more like coaching another adult than a kid. Most of our guys get there by the end, but [Moshkovitz] is starting off that way, so that is a little different. The fact that he served in the military, and then the fact that he is willing to come across the ocean and believe he will make some good out of something he had never seen before, is impressive," Graham said.
When speaking to people around the team, a consistent theme emerges: Moshkovitz will have a huge impact in the upcoming season. His experience playing on the biggest stages in a variety of leagues and tournaments has given him a basketball IQ not commonly seen in college players. Additionally, his passing and off-ball skills are widely praised, which will help the Quakers, who are looking to replace the production of legendary forward AJ Brodeur.
No matter where in the world he has been, from Israel to Turkey to Kankakee, Ill., Moshkovitz has been an exemplary player and teammate, gaining valuable experience in the process. This experience will be vital for both him and the entire Quakers roster, as he looks to help lead the Quakers to their first league title since 2018.