One of the most difficult things to do in European basketball is to keep a team together. Each and every country across the continent, whether it’s Italy, Spain, Greece or Israel have that same challenge to overcome year in and year out. The lack of players staying with a team for more than one season creates apathy and disappointment for fans when they constantly see player movement and in some cases total reconstruction of a roster which is something that Maccabi Tel Aviv did just a couple of years ago.
Hapoel Jerusalem looked to buck this trend this season by keeping a solid core of players and making changes where needed to improve certain areas where they had been lacking. Tamir Blatt, Tashawn Thomas, J’Covan Brown, Bar Timor and James Feldeine all return while Mindaugas Kupsas, Trent Lockett, Isaiah Cousins, Idan Zalmanson, Nimrod Levi and Suleiman Braimoh join the squad.
As part of the preseason look at the Israel Basketball Winner League, The Sports Rabbi spoke to the players about the importance of keeping the core together both for the new players and the old, along with their thoughts on the season to come.
“It feels good to be back with the same people and with the new additions,” stated Tashawn Thomas as he begins his second season with the Reds and his third in Israel overall. “The preseason games I took part in were pretty good and the ones I didn’t play in I saw the team taking steps in maturing towards the season. Our defense is really big so far and I feel that the defense will carry us far this year.”
As for the solid base of the players from last year Thomas says, “Keeping the team together for a second year in Europe like we did is definitely going to help us.”
New recruits Mindaugas Kupsas and Isaiah Cousins were content with joining Jerusalem, “I’m very happy to be with the team and I hope that we will reach our goals,” explained the Lithuanian big man. “It wasn’t a hard decision to come to Israel when you are wanted by this type of organization. When I go on the court I hope I will be able to do some damage to the opposing defense. But for me it doesn’t matter if I am playing guys that are 6 feet or 7 feet, I’ll always give my best.”
“We have a great group of guys and we’re competing in practice everyday in order to get better,” Cousins commented. “The experience has been great as the people have been very warm and it feels like a family. I’m enjoying my time here.”
The lanky guard also talked about what he brings to the table along with having a friend in Thomas on the same team, “I bring physicality, aggression and making plays with a high basketball IQ. Tashawn Thomas is great as it’s my first time overseas and he’s been taking me around and showing me the holy city.”
Another pair of new additions include Idan Zalmanson and Nimrod Levi. While both are Israeli league veterans, coming to Jerusalem will be a solid challenge as they will both feature in Israeli league and Champions League action. “It’s very exciting to be here and it’s a big team, one which I wanted to get to for a long time,” declared an excited Zalmanson. “I am very excited for the new season and everyone is dedicated to the process. We also have a great coaching staff so I am sure we will have a good season.”
“It’s great to come into a team with a core of players who already know the system,” continued the Israeli international. “They know how each other play and now we are joining them with the goal of having a great season and take it one step forward from last season.”
Nimrod Levi echoed his teammates words, “It’s exciting to be with Hapoel Jerusalem and I am really happy to be here. You can feel that we have a team because there are players who were here last season and for newcomers like myself it makes things a lot easier.”
One of the areas that Jerusalem was lacking last season was toughness, aggressiveness and just being plain old nasty on the court when needed and that’s where Suleiman Braimoh who played with Eilat last season fits in. “It feels great to be here in Jerusalem. Coming off a good season I expected to be somewhere and take a step playing back in Europe and be more challenged.”
“The core group of guys makes the transition easier as opposed to a whole brand new team where everybody is trying to learn each other. They know the system and know the coach and they can also help us navigate the city so it makes the transition that much easier.”
Up and coming guard Tamir Blatt is happy to be back in Jerusalem and is looking forward to playing with his new mates, “It feels great to be back with Jerusalem and I am really excited to be here with the new players and new team that we put together. The core is very important as we already get along great and know the system. We can also help the new guys get into the rhythm.”
As for the keys to the season, Blatt feels that it will lie on, “our execution, defense and toughness which will take us to where we need to go this season.”
J’Covan Brown had the last word on what he sees that will take Jerusalem to the promised land, I’m happy to be back with Hapoel Jerusalem and I hope this will be my home for the rest of my career. Keeping the core together is always best or the team and sometimes when you go through some of those tough battles you need the guys that have already been through the war with you to understand and react to it. The guys we brought back are great as are the new guys who I feel are going to adapt well. As long as we put the team first the rest will take care of itself.”