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Judy Foreman: On the Basketball Court, and in Tel Aviv, Taylor Rochestie Is Feeling Right at Home

Former Santa Barbara High star is a long way from Montecito, but he’s living his dreams — and enjoying every moment

Taylor Rochestie drives toward the basket as a point guard with Maccabi Tel Aviv. Israel may be a long way from the basketball courts at Montecito Union School, but the distance and the years have not dimmed the former Santa Barbara High star’s love for the game. Click to view larger
Taylor Rochestie drives toward the basket as a point guard with Maccabi Tel Aviv. Israel may be a long way from the basketball courts at Montecito Union School, but the distance and the years have not dimmed the former Santa Barbara High star’s love for the game. (Judy Foreman / Noozhawk photo)

I love March! Not only is it my birthday month, it signals the start of NCAA basketball’s Final Four.

As I start picking my brackets (yes, I love college basketball), I can’t help reminisce fondly about my recent trip to Israel, where a highlight of my 10-day odyssey was a visit with Montecito’s own Taylor Rochestie.

Rochestie was a Santa Barbara High School basketball phenom who currently plays professionally for Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Israeli Basketball Premier League and internationally in the Euroleague.

When the idea of traveling to Israel was proposed to me, I jumped at the chance. I had wanted to return to the country, especially Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where my son, Robby, had his Bar Mitzvah at historic Masada in 1999.

I also thought maybe I’d get a chance to interview Rochestie — my son’s childhood friend — for Noozhawk if his schedule allowed.

Rochestie’s parents, Christina Campbell and Howard Rochestie, moved to Montecito in the early 1990s from Houston, where Taylor and his older brother, Alex, were born. Both boys were enrolled at Montecito Union School, and Taylor became a part of our lives with sleepovers and sporting events.

Having watched so many kids grow up in my house, I’m always interested in knowing what they’re doing now.

Rochestie’s love for and dedication to basketball was evident from an early age, his proud dad shared with me over a recent coffee at the Coral Casino Beach & Cabana Club.

It wasn’t surprising to me that he turned out to be one of Santa Barbara High’s all-time leading scorers. He went on to a distinguished college career at Tulane University in New Orleans — until Hurricane Katrina destroyed so many hopes, dreams and lives of so many in 2005. Displaced in the aftermath, he finished college at Washington State University in Pullman.

Rochestie tried out for the NBA after college, and the Los Angeles Lakers offered him a roster spot in 2009. But he wouldn’t be a starter so he decided to accept an offer to play in the European leagues, where he is now in his seventh year as a professional.

The author and Taylor Rochestie catching up during lunch at Sarona Market in Tel Aviv. Click to view larger
The author and Taylor Rochestie catching up during lunch at Sarona Market in Tel Aviv. (Agathe Seuru / Noozhawk photo)

Beginning with Germany in the 2009-2010 season, Rochestie helped his team win the 2010 challenge and was named the Final Four MVP. After playing for Turkey, France, Spain, Italy and Russia, he is currently a member of the dynamic Maccabi Tel Aviv. While I follow the NBA, I was unaware of the immense popularity of professional basketball in Europe.

A lunchtime visit with the now-30-year-old Rochestie and his girlfriend, Agathe Seuru, made me rethink my impression that soccer was the only game in Europe and the Mediterranean. Many star-struck fans and vendors wanted the American point guard’s autograph.

We walked through the famed Sarona Market, one of the most fascinating public markets I have ever seen, in a historic section of Tel Aviv that is now teeming with high-rises, trendy restaurants and plentiful shopping opportunities — and packed with people.

Taylor Rochestie and his longtime girlfriend, Agathe Seuru. Click to view larger
Taylor Rochestie and his longtime girlfriend, Agathe Seuru. (Judy Foreman / Noozhawk photo via iPhone)

It was easy to see why Tel Aviv is such an exciting place to be living and working. We discussed the security concerns that Rochestie dispelled as not being an issue for him, although he did mention that the team does have intense security while traveling to games in other cities around the region.  

Howard Rochestie told me that basketball has always been a big part of the Israeli culture. But, he said, “it was American-born Tal Brody, a Jew from Trenton, N.J. (the elder Rochestie’s hometown), a University of Illinois superstar from 1962-1965, and a first-round NBA pick as a guard for the Baltimore Bullets from 1966-1980 who put Team Maccabi on the map.”

Brody had a legendary basketball career in Israel from 1966 to 1980, leading Maccabi Tel Aviv to the 1977 European Cup basketball championship over a heavily favored Soviet Red Army CSKA Moscow team. Now 72, Brody is a permanent resident of Israel.

Born to a Jewish father and a Christian mother, Taylor Rochestie was not bar mitzvahed or given much Jewish education but, according to his dad, “both of us have felt very connected to the culture.”

Upon landing in Tel Aviv for the first time, the elder Rochestie said, “I felt as if I had come home.”

While Tel Aviv is a long way from Montecito, I could see how comfortable Rochestie is in his adopted city. It was fun to catch up on hometown news and talk about his upcoming summer visit to Santa Barbara for a friend’s wedding.

Taylor Rochestie remains cover material as a basketball star. Click to view larger
Taylor Rochestie remains cover material as a basketball star. (Judy Foreman / Noozhawk photo)

The chance to spend time with family and friends is a much-needed respite from the glamorous life of a professional athlete — and a grueling schedule of two practices a day, seven days a week, with lots of physical therapy.

I asked Rochestie how he felt living in a city with so much history, change and political controversy?

“I am so blessed to be exactly where I am now in my career and living in this city,” he replied. “After many teams and many countries, I finally found a place that feels like home. It reminds me of Santa Barbara with its beautiful beaches and temperate climate.”

He expressed appreciation for the friendliness of the Israeli people, who have embraced him as one of their own. He also said he was grateful for a couple of smaller things, like everyone speaking perfect English and the presence of familiar restaurants.

“My basketball life has led me to so many incredible experiences,” Rochestie said. “I feel as if I have truly won the lottery or the golden ticket in the Willy Wonka movie with these opportunities and the lifestyle.

“I am truly blessed!”

— Judy Foreman is a Noozhawk columnist and longtime local writer and lifestyles observer. She can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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