Hapoel Jerusalem opens up their Winner Cup defense tonight at the Holon Arena when they face Ironi Nahariya, their opponent last season a tightly contested quarterfinal series that saw the Reds comeback from an 0-2 deficit to take the series 3-2.
Though many players may be the same for Jerusalem, the head coach is not as Fotios Katsikaris takes over the helm from Simone Pianigiani who returned to his native Italy and to Milano. The man in the sidelines spoke to the Sports Rabbi about the season ahead and some of the challenges that he and the team will be facing:
How are you and the team doing so far?
“Good in a sense that it was a very different camp for me because of the circumstances because we were missing 5 players who were on the Israel national team. We planned to do a tour in Spain because we needed to play some strong opponents. But unfortunately we didn’t have time to practice all together as a team. When the guys came back from the national team we had to give them 5 days rest, so we only practiced all together twice and I am very happy how we reacted to the games that we played there because the team communicated well during most of the games.”
What else did you see during the camp?
“I saw some stuff that I was expecting individually and as a team that will be our strength, such as moving the ball, playing from side to side and playing with space. I think our execution will be better as a team and of course defensively I told them that I want them to be aggressive, play team defense where everybody helps out and not to think that perhaps I’m too short, weak or slow. I want to build a very strong defensive team mentality.”
Is the EuroCup a target for the coming season:
“Absolutely. I think it is the goal for everybody that we want the team to be as deep as possible so that we can compete anywhere and against any team. I think we did a good job with our budget and the players that we brought in. We don’t want to be competitive just in the EuroCup but we want to be competitive in every game that we play. That is the way to create the right mentality as a group and the best way to play team basketball. Our main target is to be able to win every game. We want to compete and give 100% both individually and as a team.”
More about the EuroCup:
“It would be my mistake as a coach to select the competition which I will play well in and not the other. EuroCup is a very complicated competition and I know it very well. I played in the 2013 finals with Bilbao Basket and I know it is extremely tough to get all the way to the finals. So I think the best thing is to help everybody build the right mentality for that by going game by game. We have a group that has to play a game for 40 minutes and if we do that without looking too far ahead, we are will build a unit that can compete against anybody.”
“I remind my players every day that we are champions and that it is extra motivation for everybody else when they play against us, which is something normal. If I have to play against a championship team tomorrow, I believe that me and my team will be extra motivated to beat them. We have to be concerned and prepared for that and we can’t go into a game thinking that because of our name and that we won the championship last year it will be easy. We have to forget that and we have to respect every opponent. We have to respect the game and ourselves.”