Israel Basketball will be hosting one of the Eurobasket 2017 groups this coming August & September with the final round being held in Istanbul, Turkey. An opening press conference attended by the Blue & White Captain Omri Casspi along with Head Coach Erez Edelstein took place at the Hilton Hotel on the beach in Tel Aviv as the Israeli Eurobasket Ambassadors were also unveiled. Also on hand were Minister of Sports & Culture Miri Regev, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai as well as Israel Basketball President Amiram HaLevi.
Group play in the Holy Land will take place at the Menora Mivtachim Yad Eliyahu Arena in Tel Aviv with the Drive-In Arena being used as the main training facility. Countries who will be playing in Israel include, Italy, Germany, Ukraine, Lithuania an Georgia with other group phases being held in Turkey, Romania and Finland.
The Sports Rabbi had a chance to catch up with a couple of them including the Legendary Tal Brody and former Israel Captain Tal Burstein. Brody began by discussing the importance of Israel hosting such an important international basketball tournament: “It’s very important to be holding this prestigious completion here. If you go back in time to my days as a player we were in the second division, but since then we’ve always been in the first. We have good teams coming to Israel and Maccabi Tel Aviv has been in the Euroleague Final Four many times. Now we have one of the best teams in Europe and I think it’s a great attraction for Israel and it’s a testament to the importance of Israel in world basketball. We have a national team that could be one of the teams that will go up to the playoff round this summer, but of course we have lots of good teams coming here so we will see.”
During the summer there are many tourists who will be visiting Israel and now they also have the opportunity to see some of the world’s greatest stars: “First of all the fact that a basketball tournament is being held in Israel seems so far and foreign but I think that we have had success and landed on the map. There are film festivals that have been showing On the Map around America which is about the Maccabi Tel Aviv team that I was on which won the 1977 European Championship, so it gives a great feeling for sport here in Israel. Basketball has influenced the country in the hardest times. After the 1972 Olympic athletes were killed, all of a sudden we see an Israeli basketball team come and win the world championship. It changed the whole mood of the country, even when the prime minister (Rabin) wanted to resign they made him wait until the end of the game to do it. So basketball is quite popular in Israel and it’s part of our culture. In terms of our level and athletes here, we keep moving forward.”
When you came here after college, did you ever imagine becoming a European champion and getting the international respect that you have? “Instead of taking the road to the NBA, I took the road to come to Israel. I came with the idea to stay for just one year, but I decided to stay on because of that fabulous season. I always thought Israel could be one of the best as the potential was here. It was challenging when I came over, but you see today that we have a great league. Even the two best teams, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem had very weak seasons this year. The league is excellent and teams in 11th or 12th place can beat the big boys. Smaller teams such as Holon, Herzliya and Eilat all have a chance to win the title. I think it’s great we have basketball all over the country and today you have many young Jewish players that have some from America. Not everyone is going to the NBA and you see now they are turning to Israel to see if they can play in our league. It’s not easy, most can’t make it, but you have guys like Jake Cohen in Ashdod and Alex Rosenberg in Kiryat Gat who have been successful. These players will continue to help increase the level of play here.”
Looking back at the years he has been here, Brody almost can’t believe what he has accomplished: “I’m very proud to be a part of this dream and to see it come to life, it’s been an amazing journey. It’s great to see Israeli basketball ‘On the Map’”.
Tal Burstein, the former Israel Basketball Captain also was a part of Maccabi Tel Aviv who won the European Championship three times also spoke about Eurobakset coming to Israel: “The event today launching the Eurobasket was very nice and the fact that this tournament is coming to Israel will really help Israeli basketball and the league here as well. They said in the press conference that the goal of the tournament is that everyone who comes to Israel will have a positive experience be it as a fan, player or coach. This will be able to promote basketball throughout the country and will encourage kids across the country to play basketball. This is a game that we love and the Eurobasket can only do good.”
Burstein also talked about missing the game as an active player: “Of course I miss those days but like every good thing it has to come to an end. I still don’t know if I will get back into the game, but for now I will enjoy and savior the place I had as a player.”
From one captain to another, Burstein also talked about what Omri Casspi brings to the team: “First of all he is our most dominant player and he has a lot of pedigree and experience. Remember he’s not the young player that just arrived to the NBA. His personality and ability will be able to take us to new heights while also teaching the younger generation of players.”