While Hapoel Tel Aviv pounded Cedevita Olimpija 100-73 in their EuroCup opener at the Drive In this past Tuesday evening, the Reds are well aware that this was just one game at the start of the season with plenty of games to go. With five players scoring in double digits, Head Coach Danny Franco couldn’t have been happier with the result despite not having Kyle Alexander who was out due to a stomach issue as Jaylen Hoard stepped up in a huge way to show exactly what he can do when given the big stage.
Hoard joined Hapoel Tel Aviv last year during the pre-season on a short term contract but very soon proved that he would be a fine addition to the squad and continued for the balance of the campaign.
There were games when Hoard was better than others and he showed glimpses of what type of force he could be but the consistency was lacking throughout the season. The other issue was his place as an extra foreigner with the five imports already locked in which meant his only way to play was primarily if there was an injury to one of the others.
Hoard featured in every Israeli league playoff game where he played 16.4 minutes, scored 7.9 points and grabbed 3.6 rebounds while in only half, 15 of the regular season games he played 20.1 minutes, scored 7.2 points and took 4.7 boards while only scoring in double digits in four of the 15 games. Over in The EuroCup, Hoard played in 17 games, averaged 9.3 points in 17.3 minutes and collected 5.1 rebounds.
The numbers may not be earth shattering, but the potential was there just waiting to be unlocked.
And that’s what happened in game one of Hapoel’s continental campaign.
Hoard was an absolute stud at both ends of the floor, scoring, dunking, rebounding, blocking shots and did whatever else the team needed him to do, time and time and time again as he checked in with 18 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals and an efficiency rating of 27.
“Last year was my first year overseas as a pro,” Hoard explained. “It took me time to get adjusted, sometimes I had good games but it wasn’t consistent, I watched film and worked all summer consistently. I worked hard every day and if I’m confident in myself that I can do some great things.”
Great things is exactly what Hoard is ticketed to do this coming campaign as he he a level comfort coming into year two that will most definitely help him reach the level of play that he himself expects as will his teammates and of course his coach.
“I brought Jaylen in and I didn’t even know he was French,” Franco said. “I had seen him a bit and I knew he had upside but he is young. It wasn’t good for either JP Tokoto and Jaylen Hoard when Tomer Ginat arrived. That zigzag didn’t do any good to either of them.”
“We knew that he would be able to do so much more than what we saw last year and I’m happy with what he is doing and he still has a lot to go to reach his potential. He has a good shot form outside but when you try and put all the pieces together at once in a short period of time, it’s not easy. We haven’t yet seen all that he can do but the step up he has made really helped us.”
Hoard, who was born in Le Havre, France attended Wake Forest University in 2018/19 before heading into the NBA Draft where he was not selected. However, the 2018 Jordan Brand Classic MVP inked a two-way deal with the Portland Trailblazers and then another one with the Oklahoma City Thunder. But after the majority of the 22/23 campaign as spent in the G-League, the 6”8 power forward decided to try his luck in Israel and following a solid debut seasons he signed a 2-year deal this past summer to remain with the club.
Without JP Tokoto who departed and signed with Ramat Gan, as well as center Chinanu Onuaku who left for Badalona, Hoard has the chance to show that he can perform on a prime time level which he did with a number of dunks from an alley-oop, tomahawk and reverse, the 24 year old provided plenty of ooohs and aahhs from the sold out crowd of over 3,000 fans.
“It feels good and for myself and the for the fans it’s amazing the fans are unreal, I was able to get a bunch and it’s just great to get everyone going,” Hoard said of his dunks.
While the high flying act and dunks are nice, Hoard’s teammates believe that he’s about to have a breakout season in Red, Xavier Munford explained, “Jaylen was excited coming into the game and he worked hard this summer and it shows. He will be the X-factor this season and I’m proud of his performance.”
Braian Angola who is in his first season with Hapoel was able to see right away what Hoard will be able to deliver for the club, “Jaylen it’s his second year as a pro. We saw his potential and now we are seeing what he can do. He’s the first one in the gym and last one to leave. He will have a great impact for us on both sides of the floor. It’s amazing to have him with us.”
Some of Hoard’s personal goals include winning a number of awards including the 6th Man of the Year, “That’s a goal of mine. I want to win the Cup and the league but that’s a personal goal on mine as well as winning the Defensive Player of the Year, however, I’ll take it a day at a time.
Granted it was only the opening game of the season and there is plenty of basketball left to be played this season, should Hoard hit both his expectations as well as the club’s then the sky the limit for this group. But he also knows that the way he came into the Olimpija game will be how he will need to come into every game for him to reach his potential and help the team reach theirs as well.
“I was prepared, locking in mentally and being focussed, it felt pretty good,” Hoard said of his overall performance. Now the trick will be the need to find consistency in order for him to use that self description after each and every game.