Captaincy Curse Under Katash: Bar Timor becomes 3rd captain in 3 years to depart Hapoel Jerusalem as the experts weigh in

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“I am beginning my sixth season here with Hapoel Jerusalem, but this is the most special one of them all. I am very excited because I know how important the role of being captain is.” This is what Bar Timor, the newly minted Hapoel Jerusalem captain said at the opening press conference held at the Crowne Place Hotel in Jerusalem on August 25, 2019 ahead of the 2019/20 season.

However, just as the campaign has come to an end, Timor is departing the club after becoming one of its symbols by staying with the Reds instead of heading to Maccabi Tel Aviv during the 2017 offseason. The reason that Timor, who lifted this past season’s Israel State Cup is leaving is clear to all Israeli basketball fans; his standing with coach Oded Katash has continued to be on the decline as well as his playing time. However, this isn’t anything new during Katash’s second term with Jerusalem that began in February 2018. This has been the standard operating procedure where the captain once again pays a heavy price.

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“Communication between players and coaches is a serious issue and in this case between Bar Timor and Oded Katash there is a lack of communication,” explained Arie Livnat, Haaretz’s basketball journalist. “This is also true with the Israel National Team where he wasn’t even part of the squad. Oded isn’t one who tends to be kind to players just because of their age, experience or their standing. He either goes with the players he believes in, like Tamir Blatt or Gal Mekel or he goes with players who have been playing well. Those who aren’t playing well or those who don’t meet his needs will play less. When Katash arrived at Jerusalem, Bar hadn’t been playing as a point guard and all of sudden he is playing the position which he just doesn’t play as well. It’s all a matter of what expectations you have for a player.”

Yakov Meir who is a basketball writer for Yisrael Hayom newspaper spoke about why Timor along with many of the other Israeli players haven’t had as many opportunities over the past few seasons with Jerusalem, “Well before Timor was named captain one could sense that Katash just didn’t trust him professionally and we know that if it was up to Katash, Yogev Ohayon would have remained with the team last summer and not have gone to Holon. Most Israeli players haven’t advanced under Katash over the last few years regardless of their age or status. The main reason in my opinion is his high level of demands and the high quality of foreigners that have played at Hapoel Jerusalem over the past few seasons.”

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Yotam Halperin and Lior Eliyahu, who both preceded Timor as Captain with Jerusalem also saw their professional standing suffer under Katash. In the 2018 semifinal against Hapoel Holon where the Reds were struggling mightily, Katash preferred not to play the 34-year old Halperin despite his vast experience in big time situations whether it was in the Euroleague or in Israel. The guard who had been the Reds captain since 2013 sat on the bench for the full 40 minutes and watched his teammates fall 80-76 against a Holon team that didn’t have the services of their star Glen Rice Jr. It was surprising to see Halperin glued to the bench as Katash had used the veteran guard regularly up until that time. Since then, Halperin has become the club’s sports director but that game, his last as a professional won’t be forgotten for a very, very long time.

Eliyahu’s story is a bit different than that of Halperin’s. While there was no known issues with the relationship between Halperin and Katash, the dirty laundry between the coach and Eliyahu all came out in the wash. The veteran forward was handed the captaincy at the start of the 2018/19 season just as Halperin retired and the relationship between the relationship between Eliyahu and Katash wasn’t good to say the least.

During a 77-72 loss to Rishon Le’Zion at Beit Maccabi in January of 2019, Eliyahu played 9 minutes and when he went back to the bench he pretended to throw a water bottle at the coach. After the game, when Katash contemplated all of the mistakes his club made during the loss, Eliyahu was the main target which resulted in a confrontation between the two. The coach told Eliyahu to shut up and the captain said, don’t tell to shut up which resulted in Katash telling the forward that he wasn’t worthy of being the captain. Katash then threw Eliyahu out of the practice, sent him home and soon thereafter saw the club suspend him. Despite the incident, Eliyahu remained the captain when he returned to the team.

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Livnat explained the difference between Katash and other coaches, “Oded isn’t a coach for star players. There are coaches like Arik Shivek who are and know how to get the maximum potential out of a player and make them even better players whereas Oded has his own methodology and less of one for star players.”

Eliyahu’s professional standing under Katash can be seen through his statistics. Up until Katash’s arrival during the 2017/18 season Eliyahu played 22.8 minutes per game. From that point on his minutes dropped to 18.5 in the regular season and 18 during the playoffs while the campaign he was captain his minutes decreased even further to 16.5 during the regular season and 15.3 in the playoffs.

In Europe, the then 33-year old Eliyahu played only 11.2 minutes per Champions League clash and didn’t see the floor in some while in the pair of playoff games against Tenerife he played a total of 7 minutes combined during the club’s elimination from the competition. Eliyahu who earned $500K net in his last season with Jerusalem which saw him lift the Israel State Cup, only played 9 minutes in the semifinal of the league’s Final Four in the ouster against Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion, his last game with the club.

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“I don’t believe that there is any connection between the captains and the decline in their standing with the club. You have to remember that both Halperin and Eliyahu were well past their primes and that to me is the main reason why they didn’t get minutes from a professional standpoint,” said Meir about the two former NBA draft picks.

Livnat pointed out the differences between the cases of Halperin and Eliyahu in comparison to Timor, “In the case of both Yotam and Lior their careers were coming to an end. Lior played this past season for Ashdod and the club was relegated while Yotam was at the end of the road. So it’s quite different than in the case with Bar who is in the middle of his career, in fact he’s in his prime and peak of his career so this is really a case of a lack of connection between Timor and Katash.”

And how about Timor’s stats? In fact, Jerusalem’s last captain played plenty of minutes at the start of Katash’s term as coach but saw that begin to drop in 2018/19 where he played 18.5 minutes in the regular season and 17.3 in the postseason. This past campaign Timor played 18.4 minutes during the season and 15.3 in the playoffs while he only featured for 8 minutes in the semifinal loss to Rishon Le’Zion which ended up being his last with the club. In Europe Timor’s minutes went from 11.3 in 18/19 to 8.1 in 19/20 and didn’t play in many of the games as well.

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“I think that Bar should have not even continued with the club this past season,” said Livnat. “Oded wanted to release him last summer but management really likes Bar and wanted him to stay. He’s also a very positive figure in the lockerroom and important to the fans and being a symbol is significant as well. You always have to try to find the balance between whoever the coach is at the moment wants and that of the club and the fans. A coach can’t come in and immediately release all of the club’s symbols. On the other hand it’s also hard to force upon a coach a player he doesn’t want, so you have to find some sort of balance. For one season, Oded settled on having Bar, but the minute he was going to continue as coach for another campaign it was only natural that Bar would want to leave after a season a frustrating season.”

Livnat also reflected on the player coach relationship between Katash and Halperin, “There was mutual respect and admiration between Oded and Katash, but again he would not have been a player that Oded would have chosen at any point of his career. Yotam grew up watching Oded as he became a player a decade later, but they have totally different characteristics, actually they are total opposites. Oded would take a lot upon himself and was very dominant while Yotam would let things flow and was more of a team player, so from the outset they weren’t compatible.”

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Is it possible that Katash doesn’t place to much importance in the captaincy? Jerusalem veteran Rami Mendel from Radio Yerushalayim and Kol HaIr gave an interesting point of view, “Usually the great players who become coaches don’t see the role as one that is critical. Katash wants a player that can help influence the lockerroom and because the captain usually is an Israeli, for Oded it’s just a armband nothing more.”

What will be the future of the club’s next captain under Katash? Will that player also suffer professionally? Livnat found an example where the connection between coach Katash and an Israeli legend actually worked out pretty well. “It doesn’t mean that Oded can’t succeed with a star player or a ‘name’ player. At the end of his career, Doron Sheffer played under Oded at Galil and their collaboration was exceptional just as it was when they were both players together at Maccabi Tel Aviv and with the Israel National Team.”

It’s expected that Idan Zalmanson will be next in line for the Jerusalem captaincy in what would be his sedan season with the club. Livnat is convinced that the professional relationship between player and coach will be much better. “I believe that Zalmanson will be the next captain because there really isn’t anyone else. Perhaps if Feldeine would have continued he would have been the captain or J’Covan Brown had he not left the team in the middle of the corona crisis.

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Idan is a player that is continuing to improve, one that Oded wanted and there is no reason to think that the relationship will go backwards. Hapoel Jerusalem just like many other clubs will be weaker this coming season as the budget will be cut while Zalmanson will be a pillar for the team. There are also less top Israeli players in the league, so Idan Zalmanson will be super important.”

Time will tell if the next Reds captain will succeed and improve professionally under Katash. But what is certain is that Timor’s departure, a player that has been identified with Jerusalem over the past number of years signifies a worrying trend of the captain’s professional standing who have played for Katash.

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