Latest on Perilous Situations of Former Arkansas Basketball Players Caught in Israel War

Justin Smith, Dusty Hannahs, Jalen Tate, Arkansas basketball, Pro Hogs, Israel War
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics / Instagram/d_hannahs / Arkansas Athletics

A trio of former Arkansas basketball players were in Israel, where they now play professionally, when the country was attacked by Hamas militants over the weekend.

While Dusty Hannahs and Justin Smith have since posted on Instagram that they’ve evacuated to Greece and Cypress, respectively, the plans of Jalen Tate are unclear as he has not shared anything on social media.

As of Saturday, though, Pig Trail Nation reported that all three — including Tate — were safe and in contact with Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman.

Smith, who helped the Razorbacks reach the Elite Eight in 2020-21 after transferring in from Indiana, shared a photo indicating he was in Cyprus, an island country in the Mediterranean Sea.

“Appreciate everyone that has reached out the past couple days,” Smith wrote. “Was able to get out of Israel late last night. Hoping for peace soon.”

After spending his first two professional seasons in the G League, including winning a G League title this past season, Smith signed with Hapoel Holon in Israel’s top league over the summer.

No details have been released regarding Smith’s evacuation, but Hannahs — who spent three seasons with the Razorbacks from 2014-17 — endured a scary few days before making it out of the country.

Dusty Hannahs Recounts Escape from Israel War

Although he’s had a couple cups of coffee in the NBA, Dusty Hannahs has spent the majority of his six-year professional career playing in the G League or overseas, with previous stops in Greece and Australia.

He lit up the G League this past season, averaging 17.5 points and shooting 43.2% from deep in 26 games for the Santa Cruz Warriors, and decided to take his talents to Israel this summer.

Last month, Hannahs debuted with Ironi Nes Ziona by playing in a couple of Champions League qualifier games in Turkey. It wasn’t until Friday night that he made his first regular-season appearance in the Israeli Basketball Premier League — and then war broke out.

In an interview with Frank Isola and Brian Scalabrine on SiriusXM Radio on Monday, Hannahs said he and his teammates went out for sushi and drinks after the game, a 77-73 win in which he scored 13 points off the bench. The next day, around 6 a.m., he woke to sirens.

The Little Rock native likened them to tornado sirens back home, but the “big booms” quickly told him he was in an entirely new situation. What he was hearing was Israel’s Iron Dome defense system intercepting terrorist rockets before they could hit their targets.

“It’s pretty insane, but you can still feel the shaking of the impact in the sky, especially if it gets low,” Hannahs said. “I could kind of feel my room shake, so I ran to the bomb shelter on my floor.”

That continued throughout the day and he eventually received a text from his general manager around 5 p.m., which told him to be ready to go to the airport in an hour.

While waiting to go through security, which was “taking forever,” Hannahs read a tweet that said Bat Yam, the coastal city in which he was staying, was hit by a missile. As he looked up from his phone, he noticed everyone in the airport sprinting to a shelter.

“As an American, my first thought was there’s a gunman, like they’ve gotten in the building or something, then you heard giant booms,” Hannahs said. “They were shooting missiles at the airport while we were there trying to get out.”

Hannahs admitted that was the first time he felt like he was in imminent danger, but he was eventually able to fly out around midnight. He was staying at a resort in Athens, Greece, with his team and awaiting word on the status of the season at the time of the interview.

Despite the harrowing experience, which he said was particularly tough on his 71-year-old parents, Hannahs said he has enjoyed his time in Israel and would be open to returning to the country to play if the current situation is resolved.

“You really don’t feel any danger when you’re there,” Hannahs said. “It’s a great place. … Tel Aviv is kind of like Miami. It’s really, really good vibes, good food. Expensive as hell, but it’s a fun place to be.”

Not Just Arkansas Basketball Players

Little is known about Jalen Tate’s current situation, but he did post a photo from inside a basketball arena with the caption “God is good” on Tuesday. He is playing for Elitzur Shomron, which competes in Israel’s second level of professional basketball.

He and the other former Razorbacks were far from the only Americans in Israel to play basketball, but just a few have shared their stories to the extent of Dusty Hannahs.

Former St. Mary’s standout Brad Waldow is still in Israel, along with his wife and young child, but did manage to escape from Ashkelon — which is less than 10 miles from the Israel/Gaza Strip border — to Tel Aviv on Tuesday.

Jared Armstrong, a Philadelphia native who played collegiately for Division II Slippery Rock, was also in Ashkelon, but has since evacuated to a teammate’s house north of Tel Aviv after a rocket landed just in front of his apartment.

Another Little Rock native, Kris Bankston, is also playing professionally in Israel, but has not shared any updates on his status. The J.A. Fair product began his collegiate career at Little Rock before graduating from Norfolk State.

As of Tuesday, out of the more than 1600 deaths stemming from the conflict, at least 14 U.S. citizens had been killed. According to the Department of State’s latest estimate, around 20 Americans are missing.


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