Israel Basketball is getting to closer to return as the Winner Cup Preseason Tournament heads into the quarterfinal stages of the competition. With a pair of new teams being promoted to the league this season, there will be 13 clubs instead of the usual 12 which means more excitement and action across the country.
One of the new teams who will be playing in the Winner League this coming campaign is Maccabi Ironi Ramat Gan who have gone all in while building their squad bringing in some solid Americans to compliment a very strong Israeli contingent of veterans and youngsters.
One of those veterans is Adam Ariel who has been a mainstay in Israeli basketball as he enters his 12th season as a professional. The 28-year old forward, who is known for his stealth shooting from 3-point land has played for a variety of teams from his first club Hapoel Jerusalem to Hapoel Holon, Maccabi Ashdod, Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion and Hapoel Tel Aviv as well as a short stint in Germany.
Just as head coach Shmulik Brenner’s Ramat Gan readies to meet one of Ariel’s former teams in Hapoel Tel Aviv, the forward sat down for a conversation with The Sports Rabbi as we looked ahead to the new season, his challenging campaign with Hapoel Tel Aviv, Israeli basketball in general and the goals for not only himself but for his new team as well.
“I really believe that my personal goals are one and the same of the club itself,” Ariel began. “When I decided to sign with Ramat Gan I had one main mission in mind which is to help grow the franchise. I came here with responsibility and the club explained to me the goals that they were aiming for as well as what their aspirations are. I’ll see my own success as part of the success of the club. If the team makes the playoffs I will see it as that Adam Ariel succeeded this season because I’ll begin next season with a big smile since we were able to meet our goals and that the people here gave me the responsibility and the confidence and that they were rewarded by doing so.”
While watching Ramat Gan’s open practice it was clear that the entire roster of players seem to really enjoy not only playing with one another but also being together which is a real plus for a team that has been put together from almost scratch.
“I feel great and the atmosphere around the club is not one of a newly promoted team whatsoever. There is plenty of history here and the club is very warm which was part of my decision this summer to come here. I am at the stage of my career where I want to grow together with the team anew and show who Adam Ariel at Ramat Gan is and take them to the places they want to reach.”
Ariel has played under many coaches but ironically his new bench boss at Ramat Gan has not been one of them.
“Interestingly enough I never had the opportunity to work together with coach Brenner and I had only heard good things about him. I had a wonderful meeting with him this summer and he looked at me as a person first and the qualities that I will bring to the club instead of the just the professional goals right off the bat. We looked at how to build a winning team spoke to me as a human being and not just a piece of merchandise which really convinced me. He asked me personal questions and really wanted to get to know me which made me feel like he would rely on me and a central component to the club. I am really excited to work with him this season.”
Brenner and the Ramat Gan management put together a squad with a number of new faces to go with some others that have been around the league as well. Players like JP Tokoto will be entering their 6th season as an import player in Israel to go along with newcomers Kendale McCullum and Phil Greene while Karam Mashour, Benyahu Srur, Yuval Sznajderman and naturalized Sabra Jordan Cohen will all be looking to make their mark.
“This is a very interesting team as we have some players who have never played in Israel and also a player like JP Tokoto who has been here for many years. We also have a very hungry group of Israelis that want to succeed and that want to be in a place that they are trusted and can be factors in this league. We’re a very energetic team, positive and this is a place where you won’t see any ego and where we will all play for each other as well as for the success of one another. We will practice hard everyday, challenge each other, give it our all and believe in the path that is being forged ahead. That won’t happen in just one day or two or even a month but we will do some very nice things this season together as a club.”
The big question abound is can Ramat Gan make the playoffs in their first year up in the Premier League like Hapoel Galil Elyon did a couple of seasons ago when they moved back to the top division as well as Hapoel Haifa before that.
“Of course I believe that we are a playoff team,” Ariel stated confidently. “If I didn’t believe that I wouldn’t have come here to be in such a situation, be with these people and waste my time. I also believe that we can finish in the top 6 and I take that with me to every practice with these goals and that direction.”
Ariel spent last season with Hapoel Tel Aviv and was slated to be a mainstay in the Reds lineup as the club was only going to be playing with 4 foreigners, however, very early on in the season the team decided to make a change and move to five imports which cut into the Israeli’s minutes. For Ariel it was a big challenge to have to deal with such change that saw him spend huge swaths of time on the bench and not on the court of play.
“I believe that the situation was a bit problematic. I came to a team in a specific situation and during the season they went to a different concept with 5 foreigners. I was the one that was hurt the most from this decision. I’ve been asked a lot about the situation I was in at Hapoel Tel Aviv but I’ve been able to take it to an entirely different direction which I am very proud of in that season despite my stats or don’t show it.”
“I dealt with a big challenge that I had never had before in my career and I believe that I succeeded in managing it as I was always positive and I wanted the team to succeed. I kept working on myself and that I would always be ready and I also enjoyed myself as the people at Hapoel Tel Aviv were terrific and it’s a fine club which I want to wish all of the success to. I look at this season as one that I am proud of and that I was able to manage a specific situation because over the course of one’s career you have to deal with many things and you need to also be successful doing so as well.”
Of course, not having the chance to play serious minutes was not ideal for Ariel as he felt that he could have really made an impact had he been able to get more playing time.
“My only disappointment is that I really believe that I fit in very well with that team and that I knew the players well and that I was a good fit for the style of play. I felt the love from the fans as well, from the club and the people around it. I really, really connected with everyone and they liked me a lot, but sometimes situations in basketball and one’s career can occur where you’ll play a little less and your role is a little less significant. I think that even in the role that I found myself in I tried to give my all and stay positive and that made me who I am today. it’s another step in my journey and the experience strengthened me.”
JP Tokoto, who played with Ariel at Hapoel Tel Aviv and who are now teammates at Ramat Gan was in the almost identical position last year as the Reds had signed six foreigners but could only dress five in the Israeli league which many a time left the North Carolina product the odd man out.
“I think that JP will say the same type of things and that he is proud of himself as he had to deal with things that he had never had to deal with before which is something that strengthened him. It’s great to have him here with me and I believe we have the same thoughts about the mission here which is to help the club succeed and reach our goals. It’s great to be here and that they are giving us the responsibility. JP is a great guy and fantastic in the lockerroom as well as just being fun to play with as he does it all. He is more Israeli than all of us! He has a big advantage in league play and I am happy that he is here.”
Ariel, who grew up at Hapoel Jerusalem began his professional career in the capital city back in 2012. He stayed with the club until the end of the 2014-2015 season and returned in 2020 and thought that he would remain as a mainstay, however, sometimes things don’t work out the way one would have hoped.
“Hapoel Jerusalem is the place that I grew up at and it will always have a special place in my heart, I really like the people there. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out and that happens as part of professional basketball Sure I had a dream of being identified with the club for many years but things happen and there isn’t anything to do. Hapoel Jerusalem was very hurt by COVID-19 and it was a tough season that the club needed to get through, but now they are in a good place and I wish them the best of success.”
This summer, the Israel National Team played in the Olympic Pre-Qualifying tournament with a roster of primarily younger players after many of the regulars opted out for various reasons from injuries to weddings, however, Ariel was not called up by head coach Ariel Beit Halachmi.
“I always have the expectation that I will be a part of the Israel National Team and I am always ready to help but I also respect the decision, it was a professional decision and I have no problem with that. I was happy to see some of the guys for which it was their first time with the national team and t they had a good campaign. It seemed that there was positive energy around the team and that was great to see.”
Israel basketball had a very successful summer as the Under-20 Men’s team took home the Silver medal in the European championships while every other one of the six teams whether they were men or women remained in Division A for the next summer. With that, Ariel noted that there are many young players who need to be given the stage to play in the nation’s top league and the government will also reward financially those teams who register only four imports instead of five.
“It’s great that the thoughts are in this direction because I really believe that Israeli basketball has to give the proper base and support to the Israeli basketball player and that we see development and advancement in that area. We saw that the various national teams have had players who have gone out to play for big teams in Europe and I believe that Israeli basketball is getting more recognition in the world.”
“We need to have the goal of having the players who participated with the youth national teams as part of the Israeli league. This is no doubt a significant step that was taken this summer to help the Israeli player. I also believe that this will be great for the league and it will be seen as such to watch Israeli players developing, playing and that would just be fantastic.”
Ariel is known as one of the biggest clutch players in Israeli basketball history with numerous winning 3-pointers whether it was with Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion to knock Hapoel Jerusalem out of the 2020 playoffs or when while wearing red he put the dagger right into Maccabi Tel Aviv. Now, Ariel wants to do the same for his new team and make sure that he adds to his list of winning baskets.
“I hope that I’ll be remembered for a few more of those big shots. Every place that I have played the fans remember one of my game winning baskets like at Rishon. I hope that I’ll be remembered for many more here at Ramat Gan and that Adam Ariel will for many more things as well. It’s really great to be here and I’m enjoying my time so far, it’s going to be a lot of fun here at Ramat Gan this season. There is great energy here and that’s a good recipe for success.”