We Are Family. Sister Sledge’s 1979 hit that became the theme song for the World Champion Pittsburgh couldn’t have been a better description for a team that was made up of Willie “Pops” Stargell, Tony Parker, Bill Madlock, Omar Moreno and many others. It can also be used for this season’s Hapoel Jerusalem Basketball Club; they are truly a family. All for one and one for all.
This past week saw the Reds dominate both their State Cup semifinal tilt against Hapoel Holon and the final versus Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion to capture their first Cup in eleven years and their fifth overall. Jerusalem dominated their games and also showed a certain maturity for a team that has been together for half a year.
One of the most important characteristics when building what is primarily new team, was to find players with certain qualities. Qualities that didn’t necessarily mean ability on the court but personality off of it as well.
The job of putting together the puzzle was charged to the general manager Guy Harel. He was able to put together a group of players of the highest standards and who would look out for each other. They have given 1000% on the court for the best of the team and have checked their egos at the door.
In the final, Jerusalem brought off of the bench arguably their two best players in James Feldeine and J’Covan Brown. In fact, the Jerusalem bench scored 49 of the team’s 82 points! Add to the mix Tashawn Thomas, Da’Sean Butler, Tamir Blatt, Bar Timor, Lior Eliyahu and Amare Stoudemire and there’s not a bad bone in that locker room. Feldeine just re-signed with Jerusalem for two more years, only a few months after his arrival; that speaks volumes.
Maestro Oded Katash has been able to get the players to buy into his plan. A plan that is multi-pronged and unveiled following the State Cup win. The Cup was just the first title on a list that includes the Champions League and the Israel League Championship. Celebrations were surprisingly muted and each player kept talking about the goals that still lay ahead.
It’s not just the players and coaching staff who are key to the family concept. It’s the office staff, management and everyone else in between. There are many times during the season where you’ll see the team’s employees at away games both in Israel and abroad. On Gameday at the Jerusalem arena they are extremely active as well.
Head of the family, Eyal Homsky from the ownership group leaves it all on the table when cheering on the team. You’ll see him jumping up and down on the sidelines, clapping at the good plays and letting the referees know when he doesn’t exactly like a call. But it’s his ability to allow Harel, Katash and the rest of the staff to do their jobs with dignity and respect. That makes the whole club run smoothly both behind the scenes and in the forefront. With Ori Allon’s departure after last season, there was serious concern about what would become of the club. Would it falter and perhaps fall apart? That alternate reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
Harel and Homsky spoke to the players ahead of the game. They told them that they we’re proud that they made it to the final and they put no pressure on them to win the Cup. However, the players knew what they had to do and came out firing on all cylinders after halftime. Killing the game has been something Jerusalem has had trouble with this year. But this past week saw them get over that hump. They didn’t just kill the games, they annihilated their opponents and perfectly executed their game plan.
Fan support has been excellent throughout the season and the supporters have certainly been a force throughout all of the competitions. The team feeds off of their energy and will need them when they play in the Champions League Playoffs. Management already began talking about the importance of the fans playing an instrumental part in the club’s success going forward. They’ll need them if they want to go all the way.
Will that be enough to take home the Champions League title and the league championship? There are some very worthy opponents in Europe while the Winner League features Maccabi Tel Aviv, a team that schooled them earlier this season and plays in the Euroleague. Time will tell, but there is a certain path that they are taking and the State Cup was just one of the goals along the way.
It’s clear however, that for Jerusalem to have a chance to sweep the next two titles up for grabs, they’ll have to keep to their recipe for success this season. Right now Hapoel Jerusalem are Israel State Cup Champions, possibly the first title of three. We Are Family.