Hapoel Jerusalem is coming off a great season in which they won their first Israeli League title in the inaugural season of the all new “Payis Arena”. A new sponsorship deal with “Bank Yahav” and financial security with the ownership team led by high-tech entrepreneur Ori Allon gave Jerusalem and its fans much needed hope that the season would be different than others.
However the club’s first test was the Israel State Cup where they reached the final but fell to Maccabi Tel Aviv on their home court. In the EuroCup competition, the second rate European basketball tournament behind the Euroleague they did even worse and finished last in their group winning only two out of eight games.
Another major disappointment for the club is the failure to guarantee a place in the Euroleague next season, even though the team won the domestic Israeli Championship. Maccabi Tel Aviv will compete in this tournament as they do every year since they have a contract with the Euroleague itself.
Hapoel are aware that the failure to qualify for the Euroleague is also due to the fact that they failed to achieve decent results in their recent European campaigns, and because most Israeli teams decide not to play in Europe due to financial difficulties. This leaves Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Tel Aviv the sole Israeli European representatives year after year. In addition, the host of the final four, Alba Berlin, whose Arena “The 02” will hold next year’s competition, did not make it into the competition.
Their chances in Europe this coming season will be tested as well being drawn into a group with Galatasaray, Nizhny, Volgograd, AEK Athens and Neptunas. It won’t be easy for Hapoel.
Another factor that hurt Hapoel is that the Euroleague’s main sponsorship deal is with “Turkish Airlines” and the Turkish League happens to be one of the strongest in Europe, therefore giving Turkey four teams in the coming year’s competition.
The big Israeli stars of the team, Yotam Halperin (31), Lior Eliyahu (29), (both on the last year of a three year contract), and Bar Timor (23, with two more years to his contract), will continue. Yaniv Green’s (35) future is uncertain following his patellar dislocation during the season.
Adam Ariel (20) decided to sign with Eisbaren Bremerhaven of the German Bundesliga, coached by veteran Israeli coach Muli Katzurin and the future of the other players, Itamar Mor (21), Tom Maayan (22) and Daniel Gur Ayeh (28) is uncertain as well. However, Rafi Menko will return to the team after a one year loan spell at Gilboa/Galil.
In regard to the American players on the team, Bracey Wright (31) will continue after the club opted to extend his contract for two more seasons. Star small forward Donta Smith (32) will continue as well as he will start the second season of a three year contract. Tony Gaffney (31) is still uncertain if he wants to continue with the team and he is checking options in the USA and Europe but Hapoel hold the option to extend his contract.
Deon Thompson is set to continue with the team after playing very well since joining Jerusalem from China at the end of March. Derwin Kitchen (29), who suffered injuries in the latter part of the season and Joseph Jones (29) are not set to continue with the team. It’s still uncertain if Tywain McKee (29), who was a mid-season replacement for Kitchen will stay or leave.
The team has already picked up three new players for the upcoming year. Yancy Gates (25) from Hapoel Tel Aviv signed a two year contract, former Hapoel player Josh Duncan (29) is back after a year at Brose Baskets of the German Bundesliga and Igor Mayor, a 21-year old talent from Maccabi Yavneh.
Duncan said after his signing: “I’m so glad to be back in Jerusalem. I missed the fans, the city and all the people who made me and my family feel at home. I know the first season in the new arena was one to remember and I’m sure that the group of guys already there along with a few additions will make a strong team that will compete hard.”
Head Coach Dani Franco is currently in the United States scouring the NBA Summer Leagues in Orlando and later on in Las Vegas where he’ll be looking for future talents and new signings for next season. Franco would like to see Elishay Kadir (27) return to the team, but he is looking at other options as well in Robert Rothbart (29) from Nahariya who had an excellent season up north.
Dagan Yavzury (30) opted not to sign with the champions, but with top rival Maccabi Tel Aviv after a mutual agreement was reached between the sides but not a signed contract. The fact that the player does not have a licensed agent played a large part in this “farce” (Amit Gal represents the player and he is not an official agent) as Hapoel Jerusalem was hurt by Yavzury’s move both publicly and privately.
The summer has just begun and a lot of speculation is abound, but when we will reach the pre-season in September the picture will clear up for Hapoel and then we’ll see stability in the Israeli champion’s roster.
Hapoel are set to sell over 7000 season tickets for the 2015-16 season. In addition, there will be further development inside and outside of the arena as various stores are expected to open and more parking spots are set to be built, a problem that plagued last season as parking was hard to come by. With the hope of stability on and off of the court and a good year again domestically and this time around in Europe, Hapoel will set it’s sights on the ultimate goal not yet achieved. Playing in the Euroleague.