From one Israeli coach to another: Franco and Hapoel Tel Aviv come up short to Prometey

Jan 24, 2024 | Holyland Hoops

Hapoel Tel Aviv fell 113-105 to Prometey as Ronald March did as he pleased all game long to the Reds defense to help the visitors to the crucial EuroCup win. Ronen “Neno” Ginzburg’s squad came out flying at Pionir Arena in Belgrade as March led the Ukrainian squad to a late 10-0 first quarter run to grab a 27-22 lead after ten minutes of play. Caleb Agada was key in the second frame but Hapoel led by Xavier Munford and Braian Angola closed the gap by halftime and the grabbed a lead after thirty minutes of play. However, big man Ondrej Balvin along with Gian Clavell, March and Agada spurred Prometey to the win.

March led all scorers with 27 points, Agada and March each scored 19 points while Balvin added 16 points in the win. Angola paced the reds with 24 points, Munford finished with 19 points and Ginat added 14 points in the loss.

The defeat is a costly one for Danny Franco’s squad as the Reds drop to 11-5 and second place is in doubt with London Lions coming on strong. For Ginzburg’s team, they move to 9-7 and inch closer to to a playoff spot.

Security was tight, air tight in fact that not a fly could penetrate the exterior facade of the legendary Pionir Arena in Belgrade. In order for a journalist to enter the facility it was most necessary to know the secret password to get into Fort Knox or more likely in this case the Flintstones Water Buffalo Lodge.

Finally upon gaining entrance after almost having my writing utensil taken away (I explained that my one was indeed necessary to take notes) as well as my house key and lip balm (my water was confiscated) it was up to the top row of the press box situated to the left of the basket closest to the Prometey bench.

From that vantage point one could see security personnel on each side of the court observing from above while more were at court side to make sure that there would be no issues whatsoever from the rowdy fans, all 6 of them!

The actual game was played as they had been during COVID with really no fans and no atmosphere to speak of. One doesn’t have to go back to far to remember those days and what it was like sitting as a journalist in a cavernous arena with no supporters to speak of. The coaches could be heard on the sidelines with ease, as they barked our the orders to their heart’s delight.

Tai Odiase and Oleksandr Lypovyy scored for Prometey while Tomer Ginat and Xavier Munford with 3-point players answered for Hapoel Tel Aviv as the Ukrainian squad led 14-12 midway through the first quarter. Ronald March knocked down a 3-pointer, Braian Angola drained a trio of free throws, while Tomer Ginat went from the outside and inside, March came back with a pair of triples and Issuf Sanon put in a pair of deuces as a 10-0 run by Neno Ginzburg’s team gave them a 29-22 lead after ten minutes of action.

Ginzburg is a Hapoel Tel Aviv fan and perhaps one day will coach the Reds (his dream is to coach the Reds soccer team) but for the past decade plus, the Israeli tactician has been plying his trade in Europe, first in the Czech Republic with Nymburk and then the country’s National Team before heading to the Ukraine. Ginzburg started his career on the bench in the Holy Land with Bnei Herzliya in 2000 and made the move abroad in 2006 when he was an assistant with Nymburk. Now he is one of the most respected coaches in Europe.

Bar Timor and Will Cummings as Munford went from the outside and inside, Caleb Agada, Gian Clavell and March all scored for the visitors, while Dez Wells went from deep but Prometey continues to lead 40-36 with 5:05 left in the half. Kyle Alexander finished off a nifty play in the paint, Wells put down a monster slam, Cummings found points Kennedy answered with a 3-point play, Angola came in with a swift jam, Wells went from deep but a pair of buckets from Ondrej Balvin sent Prometey into halftime holding a 56-52 advantage.

Prior to the game when the player introductions were made, the Prometey players wrapped themselves in the Ukrainian flag both locals and imports in a sign of solidarity with the country in the midst of their conflict with Russia. It was interesting to see all of the players with the flags as in Israel that would be a rarity and it’s why foreign players like Scottie Wilbekin and Levi Randolph were revered when they each did so at separate times during the course of their time in Israel. They became heroes to their fanbases for that simple act. No import player would be expected top do such a thing and therefore not something that one would take for granted in Israel.

The fact that so many players from a team like Hapoel Tel Aviv would decide to return to play in Israel also shouldn’t be taken for granted and the fact that a pair of new players in Will Cummings and Dez Wells signed with the Reds during the war is in fact incredible.

Munford, Alexander and Angola all scored, March, Odiase and Lypovyy came back with points but Hapoel went in front 68-66 midway through the third quarter. Alexander, Munford, Ginat and Cummings quickly found the hoop, March and Balvin scored but the Reds went into the final from clinging to a 1-point, 82-81 lead after thirty minutes of action.

In the stands sat Sergio Scariolo, the Spain National Team head coach as he observed the game. Why was he here you ask? Well, the only good reason he would be is that his starting point guard is in town and plays for Maccabi Tel Aviv. Of course, it’s always wonderful to have such a great coaching genius in the house and it was in doubt a pleasant surprise.

What wasn’t a surprise was how Agada kept taking the bull by the horns and scoring at will, Balvin and Idan Zalmanson did the same, Agada scored back to back layups with the latter a 3-point play, Angola went strong to the rack, Balvin and March each had 3-point plays to bump up the Prometey lead to double digits, 99-88 with 5:26 remaining in regulation time. Timor and Agada traded buckets, Ginat and Wells both scored, Clavell went from deep, March put in a deuce as Prometey polished off the win.

“It was an important game for us,” Ginzburg began. “We played against one of the best offensive teams in the competition if not the best. In the end what won the game was that we didn’t play good defense in the first half and we changed things up in the fourth and found a solution. We need one more win to get to the playoffs. I feel sorry that Ukraine and Israel can’t play in the home because both homes arenas have great atmospheres.”

Danny Franco also looked back on the game that was and how he was disappointed in his team, “We can be disappointed that we didn’t bring Hapoel Tel Aviv basketball game to both sides of the floor and as a team we are all going to check ourselves because I think that we didn’t demand enough respect of the competition in front of us, we need to look deep into ourselves to do a better job.”

The game’s star was no doubt Ronald March and Ginzburg spoke about what his player brings to the table, “Ronald March came from a small team and it took him time to acclimate especially on the defensive end but he has improved game by game and if he continues this way he can reach the highest of heights but he has to be more consistent.”

Franco didn’t look at March as being just the one player to stop, “I think at the end of the day many player stepped up and we weren’t at the table to handle it. It’s not just managing a player like Ronald March or any other player but it’s a situation that a one team beat another and I believe that we just weren’t good enough to deal with what was on the other side of the court. It’s disappointing but that’s what we have and we have to know how to deal with that.”

As mentioned, the atmosphere was that of a COVID with no one in the stands and to experience it first hand was very telling as to what it’s like to play in a time warp from a number of years ago.

“We are trying to get the maximum out of this season,” Franco said. “But it’s only natural that there is a limit in a year like this where you are always playing on the road. We had the Derby just a few days ago and the you come to this game with no atmosphere it’s just normal that the packers have to bring it all from themselves. Our home court is worth points to us and teams didn’t have to go and play there this season. Every team has a slump and hopefully we will pull ourselves together when we get to the critical stages of the competition.“

In the shadow of a very tough week in which we saw numerous tragedies befall the people of Israel, the loss of Lior Lubin also made an impact around the hoops fraternity.

“Lior was such a great person,” Ginzburg began. “We spoke to each other many times. It’s a big loss to the basketball world but of course also to his family. He was a very patient person and was quiet in his way who could have made it to the highest of heights. it’s something to know that we should not deal with nonsense and enjoy life.”

Franco also shared some words about Lubin, “I am part of the veterans and know Lubin from Blich in Ramat Gan where I worked for many years. We played against each other. It’s very hard to talk about it in the past tense and it was a huge gut punch to lose someone you know and respect who passed away. He was a person above all and it’s very hard as he was also so young. There is no doubt that life is more important than all and we have to know how to appreciate it. In a brutal week for us in the country Lior’s loss made it that much more worse.”

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