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Howell, Cohen, Mekel & More – Israel readies for Greece & Great Britain

1) Rich Howell is going to be the main man for Israel in the middle now that Alex Tyus has been disinvited to the Blue & White’s Training Camp. The Maccabi Tel Aviv big man as Final Four MVP was slated to return to the Holy Land on Monday from the United States where he is preparing for his wedding, but the Israel Basketball Association decided to withdraw their invitation after a 17 point performance by the Hapoel Jerusalem center. Tyus can do more on defense and plays above the rim, but Howell can certainly hold his own on the offensive side of the ball. Would Tyus vs Howell be the deciding factor against Greece and Great Britain? I’m not quite sure as Israel needs more than just help in the middle.

2) Israel’s shooting against Ukraine was abysmal especially from beyond the 3-point arc going 4/23 while their field goal percentage in general was only 43.2% overall. Add to that that the Blue & White had 20(!) more shots and Ukraine committed 32(!!!) turnovers one has to scratch their head as to how the host’s didn’t avenge their 24 point EuroBasket loss from last summer. Although Israel was out-rebounded to the tune of 52-24, they still had a chance to win the game on the last possession but Tamir Blatt and Gal Mekel missed 3-pointers. The Blue & White are going to need to raise their shooting percentage and find a way to keep closer on the rebounds in order to win their next two World Cup qualifiers.

3) Jake Cohen had a phenomenal game for Israel even though he rejoined the National Team a few days into training camp. The Maccabi Tel Aviv forward scored 17 points and looked as if he didn’t miss a beat since winning the league title the week before. Add to that the fact that Jake got engaged, he’s still firing on all cylinders and will have to be if Israel is to have a chance to pick up a pair of victories. Cohen spoke, “We’re not pleased with the result, but friendlies are about getting better and I think we got a lot better today if you look at how we started (only 7 1st quarter points) and how we finished. It’s almost like to different teams. I’m proud of the guys at how we put it together but we learned a lot today.”

Veteran Gal Mekel will need to take the bull by the horns in the upcoming two games and play a more central role than he did in the first 4 qualifiers should Israel want to get positive results against Greece and Great Britain. The guard who is averaging 5ppg, 4.5rpg and 3.apg spoke about what the key will be in the pair of qualifiers, “Coach Katash wanted to see how the players would react and it was important that many of us played to get us back into game shape after we had finished our season 1-2 weeks ago and that was the goal. The coach wanted us to run and to see how we would handle the size of the players which is something we will face against Greece and Great Britain. I believe that our running game is our strength and that begins with our defensive play. I think we did that well in the second half.”

Quick Hits
Joaquin Szuchman and Tamir Blatt are continuing their progress and will be valuable assets down the road for Israel. How much impact they’ll have this window remains to be seen but as they improve the youngsters will be key players for the Blue & White.

Raviv Limonad looked off of his game going 2/8 while Avi Ben Chimol went 1/5 and Rafi Menco 1/6. Those numbers aren’t going to cut it as Limonad finished -16 for the game.

Only 4 players that appeared for Israel also faced Ukraine during the Eurobasket: Mekel, Guy Pnini, Bar Timor and Idan Zalmanson. Howell missed that game due to a concussion.

Shawn Dawson who was out with an injury and Oz Blayzer who got married will be back for Israel at training this week.

Golan Gutt who played for Nes Ziona this past season made his Israel National Team debut and played 5 minutes, scoring 2 points and picking up a pair of steals. He probably won’t be on the squad for the pair of games but he played impressively in his first appearance.

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