Israeli Levy Lighting it up for USF Hoops
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Israeli Levy Lighting it up for USF Hoops

Romi Levy, originally from Herzliya, Israel, is leading the University of South Florida toward a possible March Madness postseason berth.

After coming off the bench for a couple seasons at Auburn, Israeli native Romi Levy (No. 11) is now one of the top scoring threats for USF // Photo Credit: Auburn Athletics 
After coming off the bench for a couple seasons at Auburn, Israeli native Romi Levy (No. 11) is now one of the top scoring threats for USF // Photo Credit: Auburn Athletics 

When Romi Levy, a product of Herzliya, Israel, signed with the Auburn Tigers in late April 2020, barely a month into the pandemic, the 6′ 3″ versatile, sharpshooting forward could not have been more bullish about her college basketball future.

Upon committing to Auburn, Levy, the school’s first-ever women’s basketball player from Israel, and one who was a key cog in the Israeli 18U national team that secured a bronze medal in the 2018 U18 Women’s European Championship, remarked, “The basketball program in Auburn is exactly what I was looking for. I know that Auburn will be the best place for me to get better and better every day. Also, the most important thing for me is to be around good and positive people. That’s what I felt from the first conversation I had with the coaches.”

Yet three years later, following an injury-marred career at Auburn during which she was shelved for the entire 2021-22 season with a torn ACL suffered in the pre-season following a freshman campaign in which she garnered SEC All-Freshman Team honors, Levy transferred to University of South Florida by way of the ever-popular NCAA transfer portal. It appears the change of scenery has done her good: as a redshirt junior for USF this winter, Romi is averaging a career-high 14 points per game and is third on the Bulls in scoring and rebounding.

For the March Madness-contending Bulls, the offense doesn’t necessarily run through Levy, but she is getting considerably more opportunities to score from the perimeter (her specialty) than she did at Auburn where she often came off the bench. Last winter, she only attempted 25 threes at Auburn – a number she is on pace to triple this year. And USF head coach Jose Fernandez’s faith in her has been rewarded – on Jan. 6, Levy dropped a career-high 32 points on Tulane before pouring in a team-high 28 in a 79-57 romp over Wichita State on Feb. 13.

“I think before I started my college career, I was just a three-point shooter,” the alum of Hof Hasharon High School told reporters following her 28-point, eight-rebound performance against Wichita State earlier this month. “Coming into college, things kind of changed. There’s a rumor that when you come into college, your shot kind of goes away. So, I think just playing at my old school [Auburn], the position that I played – I wasn’t really shooting a lot of threes, so now I’m just getting back to getting comfortable with it. I know that I can do it. I just have Coach [Jose Fernandez] backing me up and feel more and more confident every day.”

Levy may have entered her first season at USF healthy, but certainly not carefree. Quite the opposite, actually. A month before the season tipped off, the Oct. 7 Hamas assault on Israel occurred and Levy started feeling ambivalent about playing college hoops stateside while her loved ones back home were living under clouds of terror. Tragically, she ended up having several high school friends murdered in the invasion, and her cousin was shot while on the front lines of the war.

Several weeks ago, Levy, who completed her mandatory national service in Israel before enrolling at Auburn, provided some rather candid responses when speaking to Tampa Bay’s ABC affiliate, ABC Action News, about her family’s situation and the burden that she continues to carry.

“That day, I woke up and said, ‘Whoa.’ Something big happened. I started looking and thought that can’t be real. What is going on?

“I was speechless. I remember waking up, staring at the TV; this is basically a dream. That can’t be real. Israel is such a small country but really strong. Things like that you don’t ever imagine are going to happen. That was the first shock; what is going on for me being away from home.

“It was really hard. Definitely the day that it happened, I told the coach, and they reached out to me. They asked me, ‘Do you want to be here right now?’ ‘It’s OK, don’t feel bad if you need to take a day off.’ Nobody knows how to handle situations like this.”

As her first season at USF got underway, Levy didn’t appear to be sidetracked with greater concerns. On opening night against UT Arlington, Levy – sporting a wristband that said … ‘Israel is Alive,’” – chipped in 10 points, snagged three rebounds, and didn’t commit a single turnover in her team’s 76-61 opening night win. By the following month, Levy, who’s known for having an exceptional basketball IQ, tremendous court vision, and the ability to slide back-and-forth between multiple positions, cemented her spot in the starting lineup for the USF Bulls, a team that is squarely in the mix for an American Athletic Conference championship and potential NCAA tourney bid.

For Levy, personally, if the Bulls’ postseason run doesn’t pan out, she will have one year of eligibility left for another crack at her first-ever March Madness experience.

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