Men's Basketball, Sports, WVU Sports

Ofri Naveh will play in his first Backyard Brawl, but has lived through The Derby

MORGANTOWN — At first glance, it would seem like WVU forward Ofri Naveh is the least-likely candidate to speak on the WVU-Pitt men’s basketball rivalry that resumes again at 9 p.m. Wednesday inside the Coliseum.

Naveh, a native of Israel, has only been in the United States less than five months. His only taste of the rivalry between the WVU and Pitt fan bases came in September, while attending the football game between the schools.

“It was unbelievable,” Naveh said of the atmosphere that surrounded that game. “The whole stadium was singing songs, and the crowd was being hyped. That was an unbelievable experience.”


The basketball version of the Backyard Brawl comes at a time when both schools find themselves at a crossroads and needing a win.

Pitt (5-3) has dropped two in a row to Missouri and Clemson, while the Mountaineers (3-4) are still treading water, trying to find the right way to cope with the adversity thrown its way with a shortened roster.

“The first thing that comes to mind is bend but don’t break,” WVU head coach Josh Eilert said. “We’re bending and 3-4 doesn’t sit right with me whatsoever. It doesn’t sit right (with the players) and doesn’t sit right with our staff.”

A rivalry win, Eilert said, would be a major step toward WVU lifting itself up from rock bottom and moving into positive territory.

Which is where we get back to Naveh, a freshman who has become a pivotal role player for WVU this season.

He may not know the history of WVU-Pitt, and probably has no idea what significance “13-9” holds or even that the Mountaineers have had their way in the hoops series and own a six-game winning streak heading into Wednesday.

But the young man knows something about rivalry games during his playing days for the Maccabi Tel Aviv under-18 team.

WVU-Pitt is the Backyard Brawl. In Israel, whenever Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Tel Aviv hook up, it’s called The Derby.

“It’s like Pitt and West Virginia,” Naveh said. “I know how competitive the game is and how everyone wants to win. I know how chippy things can get.”

That he does, because The Derby is no joke.

Take this last summer, when the two professional basketball clubs played in the Israeli Premier League Final.

The start of Game 2 of the series was delayed 45 minutes for, get this, because fireworks were being shot off by the crowd and smoke filled the arena.

Once the game began, there was a bench-clearing brawl near the stands, in which Maccabi Tel Aviv fans pelted Hapoel Tel Aviv players with plastic cups and flag poles, according to published reports.

That’s not a misprint, players were being hit by flag poles, as if it were an old WWF wrestling match featuring the Iron Sheik.

One player from Maccabi Tel Aviv was reportedly hit by a drumstick, which, thankfully, is not a common concession stand item in the U.S.

“It’s not like (soccer), but (the rivalry) is still very important to our people and to our clubs,” Naveh said. “It’s about our pride. We don’t want to lose to them, and it’s been going on for years.”

And it’s that line and that experience that can maybe best summarize the Backyard Brawl coming from a player who has yet to play in it.

“I think we’re all going to do our best,” Naveh concluded. “We understand how much this game means to people.”


WHEN: 9 p.m. Wednesday
WHERE: WVU Coliseum
TV: ESPN2 (Comcast 28, HD 851; DirecTV 209; DISH 143)