Former BHS basketball star’s journey overseas

Sixth in a series of locals who have been involved in professional sports.

Ben Eisenhardt is one of the most notable people to ever walk the halls of Bainbridge High School.

Eisenhardt was a sophomore on the 2006-07 boys varsity basketball team that won the Metro League regular season title and finished second in the state 3A tournament.

“I didn’t realize how good I had it or even how good we were,” he said. “It was obviously a great opportunity to be able to train every day with this group of guys that are not only super talented, but we’re pretty great.”

Eisenhardt played for the Spartans a couple more seasons. White the team didn’t do as well, he developed into a collegiate basketball player.

“At that age, I was really tall and really thin,” Eisenhardt said. “I was learning how to be a big guy. On that [2006-07] team, we had a few big guys who were seniors. They were all different-style players and provided me with great opportunities to learn.”

Eisenhardt, now 6-foot-10 and 216 pounds, went to Cal Poly. He redshirted his first year to build muscle and learned how to be independent with the help of family and friends.

Eisenhardt was eager to suit up his second year, but things didn’t go as planned.

“We were supposed to open the season at Seattle University,” Eisenhardt said. “I was going to fly home to play my first college game, but I ended up having valley fever. Then, I had some family stuff through that year. I was just trying to figure out what I wanted to do with college and if I wanted to keep playing basketball.”

In his two seasons at Cal Poly, Eisenhardt played 18 games, averaging just 0.6 points and 0.4 rebounds.

He told coach Joe Callero he didn’t want to return but Callero said: “‘Listen, I’ll talk to some people when you want me to talk to people. For now, don’t pick up your phone, don’t worry about it, just do whatever you need to do, and you’ll figure it out.’”

For a few months, Eisenhardt declined calls from several colleges about playing basketball. He thought about traveling to Israel to join the army since his uncle lived there, and he had an opportunity to get citizenship there. However, Eisenhardt decided to answer one phone call that changed his path.

“I ended up picking up a phone call from Whitman College, and I don’t even know why,” Eisenhardt said. “We ended up talking for a little while and ended up heading there for the next year. It was the right decision for me at that time because it let me be a little closer to my mom and dad, my brother and take on basketball and academics a different way.”

Eisenhardt’s junior year was nothing less than spectacular. He became the first player at Whitman to be named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches Division 3 All-American Third Team.

In his junior season, Eisenhardt averaged 15.9 points per game, 4.2 rebounds and 0.7 steals. Eisenhardt felt he was ready to make another leap his senior year. Yet, injuries held him back.

“At one of the first practices, I was diving for a loose ball and got kneed in the head and missed the entire preseason,” Eisenhardt said. “One of the first games, I had just been back for a few days and got hit in the head again. I missed a little more than half the season so there was no rhythm to the year. It was frustrating individually and collectively as a year.”

Although he only played 10 games his senior season, he was on some European teams’ radars. When he finished at Whitman in 2014, he decided to play pro ball in Israel. When it comes to overseas basketball, teams can only have a certain number of foreign players. Therefore, Eisenhardt’s ability to get an Israeli passport made him a strong candidate to join a team.

Eisenhardt signed with Division 2 Elitzur Yavne. At first, he struggled to adapt to the lifestyle. “Culturally, it’s so different,” he said. “Coming out of college you’re used to a certain kind of rhythm of the season and intensity of practices. The way you lift, the way you practice are so different.”

The Israeli Basketball Super League usually begins in early October and ends in June. During the offseason, Eisenhardt returns to BI for a few weeks to spend time with his parents, brother and friends.

Eisenhardt said the relationships between coaches and players are different, too. “In the NBA, you have guys that are sort of looking at their coach saying, ‘Listen, I make five or ten times more than you. So our relationship is going to go this way,’” Eisenhardt said.

“In Israel, it’s very regimented about what’s going on. I had one coach for four years in Israel, which is very rare to be with one coach that long, and he wasn’t always clear. For some players, that’s great and for some players, it’s not.”

Eisenhardt has played in Israel for three teams over seven years. He has become more comfortable with the lifestyle, but it took a few years.

“For me, it was a little easier because I have some family in Israel,” Eisenhardt said. “There was some amount of adjusting to being in a foreign country and being that far away from a comfort zone. But, having citizenship there and having family there made it feel easier than it would if I were just an American coming over.”

In Israel, Eisenhardt got engaged to Sophia Ben Giyora last year. So, now he has even more support over there.

Eisenhardt also has been able to adapt his play to the European game. In the Israeli league, there are more travel calls and no defensive three seconds in the key. Therefore, players like Eisenhardt can stand underneath the basket the whole game. So, he learned to change his style from being a scorer to a playmaker.

“In college, I was with a lot of talented guys, but there were situations where I had to score there,” Eisenhardt said. “When you go overseas, the talent level goes up. In Europe, there’s a lot of action. You’ll see plays leading to the same act and have to figure out how to be a big guy in those situations.”

In Eisenhardt’s five seasons with Hapoel Be’er Sheva, he has averaged 2.5 points per game, 2 rebounds and 0.4 assists.

Although Eisenhardt re-signed with the club in July 2021, he is in the latter half of his playing career. The 31-year-old center has begun to question how much he has left in the tank.

“When I first went overseas, I heard people talking about playing until they’re physically unable to,” Eisenhardt said. “I looked at them and said I won’t do that. When I’m done, I’m done. As of now, I still love basketball even though some days are really hard. I have at least a couple of more years in me.”

Ben Eisenhardt decided to play in Israel because he would not be classified as a foreign player on the team and has family in the country. Courtesy Photos
Ben Eisenhardt has been with Hapoel Be'er Sheva for five seasons, playing in both the first and second divisions with the team.