UCSB graduate Tal Sahar has found something to fill the gap before dental school: another season of basketball.
Sahar, one of the top long-range shooters for last year’s Gaucho women, has made some short-range plans to play in Israel’s top professional division next season. She recently signed a contract to play for Hapoel Petah Tikva of the Israeli Female Basketball Premier League.
“This opportunity doesn’t come around often,” Sahar said. “To be able to say I’m a professional basketball player is something that not many get the chance to say.”
Sahar, a 5-foot-11 guard from Calabasas, led UCSB with 53 three-point baskets last season while averaging 9.4 points per game. But she also scored in the top 90 percentile on the Dental Admissions Test.
“She has a gap year before she starts dental school, so this works out great for her,” Gaucho coach Bonnie Henrickson said. “It’s a great opportunity to go overseas and see the world and get paid to play.”
Sahar, who has not yet chosen a dental school, said she’s brought her game too far to stop playing now.
“The coaching staff at UCSB has always been diligent about player development and putting us in the best position to be successful,” she said. “That guidance and belief is why I took the leap and pursued this. I’m extremely excited to go abroad and experience that level of basketball.”
Sahar made six threes in a game against Chicago State this season and hit five in one quarter alone last year at Cal. She was heating up at the end of this year, making 5-of-10 threes in UCSB’s last two games before the season was halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Tal can score in bunches,” Henrickson said. “She’s one of those microwave scorers: She might get hot real quick. She was also better this year when she put the ball on the floor and her rebounding became pretty solid.
“She really helped us out this year as a passer to the post, facilitating Ila (Lane, UCSB’s All-America center) by getting her the ball on time and in the right position. She really stepped into that role.”
Sahar’s path to Israel was blazed by former teammate Drew Edelman, UCSB’s All-Big West Conference center in 2018. Edelman, a member of last year’s Israeli National Team, averaged 11.3 points and 7.1 rebounds for A.S. Ramat Hasharon in 2018-19 and 8.4 points and 5.2 rebounds for Maccabi Bnot Ashdod in 2019-20.
“It’s crazy, but Tal will be playing in a city just 30 minutes from Drew’s team,” Henrickson pointed out.
Edelman is currently on the West Coast, serving an internship in the entertainment industry. The Israeli league also shut down in March because of the coronavirus but it hopes to resume playing in September.
Sahar, like Edelman, was an honors student at UCSB. The Gaucho women’s basketball team had a combined grade-point average of 3.59 during the spring quarter.
“You’ve got to compete in the classroom here, too,” Henrickson said. “There are a lot of smart kids.”
Sahar, the daughter of Orly and Alon Sahar, transferred to UCSB after averaging 10.2 points during her freshman season of 2015-16 at the University of Seattle.
Her passion for dentistry was stoked during the summer of 2018 when she was among a dozen UCSB students that joined two dental professionals on a medical mission to Panama. It was sponsored by a non-profit organization called Floating Doctors.
Upon arriving in the province of Bocas del Toro, Sahar noticed that some of the children carried their blankets since they had no beds in which to sleep.
“These communities have absolutely no access to dental care,” she said. “The country doesn’t really care about them because they’re not an economic asset. They’re kind of just left out to dry.
“We had to take patients all day, and there were so many of them.”
She had been wavering about her plans to enter dentistry until she took the trip.
“In an office, you can clean someone’s teeth and they leave with a smile, but what are you really doing to help them?” Sahar said. “I want to do something where I help people and where I can make an impact.
“After this trip, I realized I would love to become a dentist. Not for the money and not for the comfortable lifestyle, but so I can build and I can help people like that.”