In early round play at the World University Games, taking place in Belgrade in early July, Israel's men's basketball team gave convincing performances against traditionally strong Russian and Italian squads while looking to advance to quarterfinal round play and a chance to medal.

After a win against Brazil and forfeiture by Gabon who was a no-show, Israel faced Russia. The Israelis combined speed, strong shooting and tenacious defense to attack the Russians. Russia was unable to get on the scoreboard until 5:52 in the first quarter. Russia seemed to find a rhythm and became more physical underneath, but Israel succeeded to penetrate inside and managed to get past Russia's big men, or shot from outside, to build up an impressive 43-26 halftime score.

Israel's defense made it difficult for Russian players to get shots off, resulting in some 4 or 5 shot clock violations. Leading by as many as 27 points, Israel won the game 81-55. Floor leader Gal Mekel, who played the 2006-07 and 2007-8 seasons at Wichita State, had 12 points for Israel. 7'1" Robert Rothbart, who was born in Sarajevo in then Yugoslavia, but later moved to the U.S. with his family and currently plays for Israel's HaPo'el Galil Elyon, added 12 points and 8 rebounds.

  Advancing to intermediate round play, Israel faced Italy two days later, and went on to a relatively easy 109-76 win. Rothbart showed his ability in both the high and low post, getting feeds from his teammates to pump in 17 points.

Team captain Avi Ben-Chimol, also a member of HaPo'el Galil Elyon, commented afterwards, "Our goal is to make it to the final 8 (i.e., quarter-final play) and then take it one game at a time.'

Israel faces Canada next.

Host Serbia is considered the gold medal favorite, but will face still competition from a U.S. squad comprised of lesser known players from strong programs like North Carolina, coached by Wisconsin Head Coach Bo Ryan.

This year marks the 25th edition of the World University Games, a bi-ennial event second in size only to the Olympics. Athletes from 145 countries are taking part, the highest number to date.

Israel also fields a strong swimming team, with at least four swimmers who took part in the Beijing Olympics.