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30/04/2020
Asia
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Ariel Loiter: From Israel to Singapore to national team debut at 15 years old

SINGAPORE (Singapore) - Ariel Loiter played her first FIBA Women’s Asia Cup game back on July 23, 2017. Singapore were facing Fiji in their opening match, and Loiter was expected to play. This moment was unique in a way since Loiter had only celebrated her fifteenth birthday just four months ago.

“I was nervous playing on such a big platform for the first time,” Loiter said. “But the experience was very memorable and exciting.”

“We won [our first game] game, and it was a great way to start. The thing that stuck with me the most was the interaction with all the various players from different countries, the impressive setup, and the festive atmosphere.”

 

The incredibly young youngster scored 11 points in her debut, knocking down 3 three-pointers in a crushing win for Singapore. Here she was in India, playing basketball for the national team with and against players, most of who were 5-10 years older than her. Matching up with more mature physicality wasn’t a challenge for her; she had already been playing against older players with her club in the Singapore Women’s National Basketball League, as well.

But just being right there and then, midway through her teens, was an incredible feeling which Loiter had felt ever since she was notified of making the team.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” she recalled.

“It was the last day of the national team training camp in Taiwan where there were 14 of us left out of 28 initially invited, but the final roster had to be cut down to 12. We were having our morning shoot-around before our last scrimmage, and our coach, Kirk Murad, called me to speak with him.”

“When he told me I made the final roster, I was speechless and was teary out of happiness. I felt so proud to be representing my country and also to make history as the youngest player to ever join the women’s national team. I was beyond grateful for coach Kirk having so much belief in me and giving me a fair chance despite my age.”

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Being selected for the national team at such a young age is always a rare feat at any level, which is why the selection might have raised a few questions. Nonetheless, Loiter had continuously put in the work to prove herself, and it paid off.

“Obviously not everyone supported this, and doubters were saying that I was not ‘mature’ enough or that my time will come,” Loiter explained. “Although I feel that it wasn’t due to [lack of] skills or abilities, but rather a mindset that the priority should be given to players meeting the ‘predefined’ age group.”

“Despite that, Coach Kirk gave me a fair chance to compete and earn my spot. He kept track of stats throughout training and scrimmages in the selection process, and most of the time, I knew where I was standing. However, he made it very clear to me from the very beginning that for me to make the team, I will need to be positioned high in the performance bracket considering the situation.”

“It was a huge achievement and one of my personal goals to wear the Singapore flag across my chest. I felt very thankful for all the support from my family and all the coaches who put so much work with me throughout the years.”

 

Aside from standing out early in her basketball career, Ariel Loiter’s uniqueness stems from her multi-cultural upbringing. Though she is proud of wearing the Singapore national team jersey, her love for the game grew in another country quite a distance away.

“I started [playing basketball when I was eight years old while living in Israel,” Loiter said, tracing back to her origin story. “My first coach, Ziv Erez, showed up at my elementary school and handed out a flyer to all the girls in the class saying to come and try out at his club, Maccabi Rishon Leziyon.”

“I was already involved in many other extracurricular activities: piano, violin, swimming, dance, and horse riding, but something still drew me to want to try. That same day, I went for my first practice.”

“It felt like learning something completely new and exciting, like learning to walk all over again or a new language. The credit goes to Coach Ziv; he made me fall in love with the process of learning the game and developing skills. The process revealed character traits in me; I didn’t even realize existed and the feelings they gave me.”

“Most of all, it brought out the competitive nature in me that drove me to work harder and improve. Twice a week, 45 minutes practices very quickly elevated to two training sessions a day, every day of the week.”

Among the extracurricular activities that Loiter had been taking a part of, one by one, they had to give way for her love of the game. Even though relocating obstacles, she maintained her competitive fire and determination to keep on improving.

“Quickly after I started basketball, I started dropping most of the other activities,” Loiter said. “None of them could give me the excitement and feeling that basketball did. I remember sitting in my piano and violin lessons and waiting for them to end so I can get to basketball training or head to the park. I did maintain my swimming and even picked up tennis as I fell in love with sports in general through basketball. But when times of training started to clash, and I felt that the tennis and swimming training started to compromise my physical abilities to perform on the basketball court, I decided to drop them off.”

“When I moved to Singapore, I had a complete culture shock. Apart from the fact that I hardly spoke any English, the basketball culture I was exposed to was completely different. There were no clubs that had daily training, and the only competitive basketball games that were available to me were in school and weekend leagues.”

“On the other hand, the strong fundamentals that I developed in Israel gave me a significant advantage on the court and due to my competitive nature that drove and kept me motivated and in love with the game, although it was very different.”

Through the culture change, Loiter continued to work on her game and work on herself until another door eventually opened in the world of basketball.

“I started to rely on personal training. It was very different. A lot more intense, a lot more repetitions, and as time progressed, advanced a lot quicker. I was falling in love with the game all over again, but differently. These trainings also required me to sacrifice many other activities, including family time and social life, as I needed to put in more work and often late into the nights. I had a mix of trainers from local coaches who brought an entire team of assistant coaches to simulate game situations and foreign coaches that worked with me on skills developments. I would train 4-5 hours each day. I was having a blast. Through my foreign trainers and school athletic director, I was first exposed to US college basketball as a possible future direction.”

“That goal became more concrete after my first trip to the US during my 7th-grade summer break. My dad and I traveled all over the US: New York, Florida, North Carolina, Washington, DC, Virginia, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. I attended multiple basketball camps in each state and talked to several high schools, AAU, and college coaches about basketball in the US and the US basketball college system.”

“After that trip, I knew that’s what I wanted. I would get a great education and will play at the best level of basketball. Earning a scholarship from a D1 school became my number one goal, and I was willing to do anything to get there, including leaving home and moving on my own to the US 3 years later.”

The rising star of women’s basketball in Asia succeeded in achieving her goals after committing to Colgate University after attending IMG Academy for the past few years.

 

There were multiple obstacles Loiter had to overcome on her way towards her desired path, but she always managed to breakthrough. She knew there would not be much interest from college coaches for a kid on the small island of Singapore, so she had to work harder than anyone else to get on the radar. Whether it was personal training sessions with multiple coaches or playing on multiple youth clubs and women’s clubs, Loiter went through it all.

She had to utilize social media as a channel to get exposed.

“I would regularly post workouts, training, and game highlights videos,” Loiter said. “I connected to as many college coaches I could find to establish recognition and relationships. This worked to an extent, but while many coaches regained my personal skills and work ethics, no coach will recruit you based on that.”

She sent as many game videos as she could to those coaches, but ran into another bump when they said they’d love to see her play against tougher competition. So, she used school holidays to travel and attend elite college camps. This all finally broke through with her decision to attend IMG Academy since her junior year of high school, where she said she got the chance “to play close to 100 games”.

Even though other hurdles like girls’ basketball drama and time management, Loiter overcame them all and is ready for her next step in her basketball career. She has had amazing support to help her get through all of this.

“My dad, wow... I don’t even know where to start,” said Loiter of her inspirations through life. “He is my dad, my best friend, my mentor, and at times was even my coach. Basketball wise, he has been to almost all my practices and games since day one. He is always there for me on and off the court as my number one fan and worst critique. He taught me never to be satisfied and to always strive for more. To always demand excellence of myself in everything I do. He taught me how to set up goals and relentlessly go after them. The unconditional love and support he shows and gives to others is truly inspirational and pushes me every day to do everything in my power not only to help myself but to help others. The fact that he had put his own life aside and put my sister and my success as his number one priority is truly inspirational and rare. I’m forever thankful for that and all he had done for my family and me.”

“My mom is not as involved in my basketball life but is a big influence on me as a woman. She taught me how to be more than just a person in a crowd, to demand and work for the spotlight. She taught me how to find my voice and speak up for what I believe in both on and off the court.”

“Another major inspiration for me is not a single person, but all my coaches through the years. Coaches have such a tremendous influence on my life both on and off the court. The commitment and sacrifices they make are so often overlooked. It’s beyond skills development or x and o’s; they often help you reveal characteristics in you that you didn’t even know you had.

As an avid student of the game, Loiter lists Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, and Shannon Bobbit as WNBA players she looks up to. She also always keeps an eye on Israeli professional player, Shay Doron.

“Diana Taurasi is a phenomenal player all around; she can do everything to almost absolute perfection. When I watch her play, it seems like the defense is always lagging.”

“Sue Bird’s basketball IQ, court vision, and leadership on the court are what stand out to me and what I really look up to. It seems like she has eyes everywhere. She always sees the game ten steps ahead of everyone else.”

“Shay Doron inspires me not only because of the phenomenal player that she is but because of her story of moving to the US to pursue the goal of playing D1 basketball and ended playing for the University of Maryland and helped them win their first NCAA title in 2006.”

“Later, she became the first Israeli player in the WNBA.”

“Lastly, Shannon Bobbit is also a player who really inspires me. Her story is similar to mine when it came to her physicality and college recruitment process. She demonstrated that there are no excuses. If you put everything you have got into a goal, you will get there. Shannon Bobbit is 1.52M, which is considered very small for a basketball player, and yet, she played for the University of Tennessee for Pat Summit and later even had a brief career in the WNBA.”

“Now, she helps other athletes reach their own dream of playing in college, which is something that I strive to do as well.”

Even though she just turned 18 earlier in March this year, Ariel Loiter has already accomplished so much on the basketball court. She’s been a national team player ever since she was 15. She’s followed her dreams of earning a scholarship in an NCAA Division 1 school.

And there’s still so much more she wants to do.

“The next chapter for me is attending Colgate University in New York, where I will be majoring in Economics and minor in Psychology. In my freshman year, I aim to get the Patriot League freshman of the year. Another goal is winning the conference championship and making the NCAA tournament. I am also aiming to break the school record of three-pointers made in one season, 100 threes.”

“After college, I plan to continue playing professionally. After retiring from playing basketball, I still want to remain involved in the sports and basketball world but from either the business or coaching side of it.”

It seems like Loiter has everything planned out down the road. Considering how things have gone for her so far in her career, which is to doubt that she’ll follow through?

FIBA