The Israel Under-20 National Basketball Team have won the FIBA U20 European Championships! The Blue & White under the direction of Head Coach Ariel Beit Halachmi defeated Croatia in the finals 80-66 to win Israel’s first Under-20 European National Team title. Michael Brisker (19p), Miron Ruina (14p/14r), Gil Beni (14p) and Tournament MVP Yovel Zoosman with 17 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals led the way for Israel as the Blue & White dominated the continental tournament.
Israel ran out to a 45-34 halftime lead thanks to Beni’s 14 points, Brisker’s 8 points and Ruina’s strong play on the boards with 9 rebounds. Croatia cut into the Blue & White’s advantage in the 3rd quarter pulling to within 2 points, 47-45. But a Brisker 3 pointer followed by back to back buckets by Ido Shabbat and Ruina gave Israel a 54-45 lead midway through the 3rd quarter and that was all she wrote as Beit Halachmi’s squad took the 14 point victory 80-66.
1) Amazing! What an incredible tournament for Israel. Not only did they dominate the opposition after a 1-point opening game loss to the host’s Germany, they ran away with the championship decimating one opponent after the next. Whether it was Romania, Greece, Spain or France there has never been an Israeli team that not only won but did so in such fashion. They wanted it more, they played harder and deserved to be on the podium taking home the title. The other teams never had a chance. Israel pressured every ball, controlled the pace of play and did things their way.
2) Their way was led by Head Coach Ariel Beit Halachmi and his upbeat, positive style of basketball. Pressure the ball handler, double team when necessary, help out and just go for it; that’s the way Beit Halachmi coached this tournament and that’s how he’s always coached his league teams especially Hapoel Gilboa/Galil. His style was the exact formula that was called for for this competition and his continuous encouragement from the bench pushed the team to this great accomplishment.
3) The European Championships were bookended by Deni Avdija (12.7p/6.4r) and Yovel Zoosman (14.4p/4.7r/3.6a/2.3a) both of whom were named to the Team of the Tournament while the latter took home the MVP Award as well. Avdija, arguably the most promising player in the competition with the potential of being the next Israeli in the NBA helped the Blue & White to a fantastic start while Zoosman came in big down the stretch dominating play over the last few games to help Israel to the title. “Zoos”as his teammates call him, played with the poise of a veteran and used the experience gained with Maccabi Tel Aviv this past season to his advantage as he looked at times to be head and shoulders above all of the other players on the court.
Is there a future for Israeli Basketball? After watching this tournament the answer is a resounding YES! Amiram HaLevy, the head of the Israel Basketball Association definitely believes so, “This is a huge day for Israeli Basketball, winning the first championship in the country’s 70 years at any age group. Congratulations to the players and staff. We’ve proved that there is Israeli Basketball and Israeli players. We will keep working hard to show everyone that this is the future of the sport.”
Ariel Beit Halachmi summed up the win, “No question that this is the biggest accomplishment of my career but it’s something the whole team earned. The first game against Germany was a difficult loss, but we came together with tremendous character. It’s not just basketball but it was the mental side of the game.”
MVP Yovel Zoosman, “We came into every game focused and when we beat Greece we realized then we could do something fantastic. I know what I can do but we play as part of a team. I don’t know yet where I’ll be playing next season.”
Miron Ruina, “We had a great team and an amazing coach and staff. Thank God we won. There are basketball players in Israel and not just foreigners, just give us a chance.”
Deni Avdija, “It’s a great feeling. We have a great team and staff. I don’t know what else to say but I have yet another tournament with the U18 side and I want to win another Gold.”
Michael Brisker, “We all gave 150% in the games and at practice. We worked very hard to get to this point and we made history.”
Gil Beni, “I don’t know what to say, I have no words. I’m so proud to be the captain of this team. This is a team of men and I’m happy we could become the first Israel National Team Basketball Champions. The loss against Germany was tough but it pushed us to get to where we are today. I hope everyone can see what we did here for Israeli Basketball and take it to heart.”