Hapoel Jerusalem moved into the Final Four after coming back from the grave against Nahariya being down 0-2 to win the quarterfinal series with three straight wins. As the Reds prepare to face the defending champions Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion, the same side that defeated Jerusalem in the finals last season, The Sports Rabbi spoke to Head Coach Simone Pianigiani, Curtis Jerrells and Jerome Dyson.
The team’s Italian coach was brought in last summer by owner Ori Allon to begin transforming Jerusalem into a team that would not only be a presence in Israel, but across Europe and the world as well. Simone Pianigiani was charged with helping brand the team and did a fine job by taking his side to the EuroCup semifinals, State Cup Final and now the Final Four. Obviously the goal in every competition is winning, but there is also the process of building a reputation and a brand. Jerusalem is doing juts that as Pianigiani described, “The season as a whole like this one is so important for the club. Playing games at the highest levels in Europe shows the organization in a good light, because when a team is so consistent over such a long period of time, means that they know how to stay professional and not get to emotional. This is so important.”
Coach Pianigiani also looked ahead to the Semifinals, “When you arrive at the end of the season and we still have so many important games then that is great. The first two seeds were eliminated by lower seeded team which means that each game is one step at a time. We are happy with this season but we need to get better and go farther. We need to arrive at the Semifinal with the same desire to compete because Jerusalem must be here to compete in these games and we want to show everyone what we have built over these months.”
Curtis Jerrells has been an important player for the Reds all season long and featured in so many of the team’s critical wins over the campaign. He’s very happy to be at the Final Four with a chance to take home the league title, “I’m very excited. This is one of the goals that we set at the beginning of the year and here we are ready to compete for another title.”
Of course the guard wants to end the campaign on a high note both for the team and personally, “It would be very important for me, the coaches, my teammates and the organization as a whole. After being in the finals as a franchise last year, this was also one of the goals we set at the beginning of the year, to get back here and here we are. Even though it wasn’t the result we wanted, we are here again with another opportunity.”
Over the last part of the regular season Jerrells really took the team onto his shoulders to help finish in the top 4 and earn home court advantage for the Quarterfinals. However, in game 5 of the series, Jerrells had a quiet evening with only 3 points as Jerome Dyson who hadn’t featured over the last part of the season but made his mark over the pst 3 games was the high scorer, “They always talk about our depth and coach has a difficult job managing the playing time especially with all the rules. But we have a lot of talent and he has to balance it out. Jerome is important for us and Stat (Amare Stoudemire) back in there as well. It’s great. I am always about winning. In game 5 I played defense more than offense, a lot of times it’s role reversal.
Jerome Dyson also spoke about the series that was and how he had a chance to shine, “Yea it’s been the thing all year, each player has his chance to be that player. I just kept on pushing the ball, we played well.”
What will be the key Monday night against Rishon? “We will need to keep on fighting. It’s one game or go home, they know that and will come out fighting because everything is gonna be on the line and we need to come out the right way. Transition, holding the ball and tempo offense.”