“Gaby could be one of the top 5 Israeli players of all-time” Chachashvili comes of age in the Galilee

Apr 15, 2022 | Holyland Hoops

Gabriel “Gaby” Chachashvili is one of the hottest names in Israel basketball. Hapoel Galil Elyon’s 22-year old center is in the midst of a terrific rookie season as his club newly promoted club notched a guaranteed playoff spot and will participate in the Balkan League Final Four.

Just ahead of the postseason push, Chachashvili spoke with The Sports Rabbi about his young career along with the ups and downs along with the current campaign.

“I’m very, very happy with my first season with Galil Elyon who are back in the top league for the first time in many years,” the center began. “We were thrilled after defeating Hapoel Tel Aviv to get into the postseason, then we punched our ticket to the Balkan League Final Four and as things were coming together we signed DJ Kennedy. I believe that we have a chance to go far in the playoffs but right now we are taking it one game at a time and not thinking too far ahead.”

DJ Kennedy – Photo Credit: Basket.co.il

Not only did Galil Elyon down Hapoel Tel Aviv but just a week earlier they also disposed of Hapoel Holon which came after a tough period where the team was winless in six straight losses. But a win over Hapoel Eilat and the arrival of Kennedy from Prometey due to the conflict that is currently going on between Russia and Ukraine got things rolling, but Chachashvili believes that there are other reasons for the squad’s success.

“Every team has ups and downs and I can’t put my finger on the exact reason but there is no question that DJ joining the team has had an impact. We raised our level of aggressiveness and we have been focusing on what we are doing and are in our control in order to change the situation that we were in. We lost league games just like every other team and the staff as well as management weren’t under pressure as they were calm and looked at things proportionately. That allowed us to continue on without pressing.”

Chachashvili who now stands at 6”9, only began playing basketball at the age of 15 after having played as a central defender with the Hapoel Nazareth Elite soccer team. “In 9th grade I began to watch basketball and I saw Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs as well as Maccabi Tel Aviv playing in the Euroleague and I fell in love with the sport. Soon enough I was playing basketball with friends and found that it was more fun than soccer. This was after I had grown and had gotten taller so it was a natural fit.”

Gaby Chachashvili – Photo Credit: Basket.co.il

Having grown up in Nof HaGalil, Chachashvili moved from the town’s youth department to Hapoel Emek Izrael where he helped the team win the 2017/18 State Cup by defeating Maccabi Tel Aviv while earing MVP honors as the top youth player.

“The level at Nof HaGalil wasn’t the highest and that is why I moved to Emek Izrael which had much more of a professional atmosphere where I began working on certain skills such as where to stand on the court, shooting and other things. Since I was still maturing this was a great place for me to learn the game.”

As for role models, Chachashvili said that he doesn’t have one single person but a variety of players that he looks up to, “ Whether it was Tim Duncan’s style, Guy Pnini from the Israel National Team, my teammate Nimrod Levi or last season when I played with Alon Sapir, I can take something from everyone.”

In the summer of 2018, Chachashvili was part of the Israel Under-20 squad under the tutelage of Ariel Beit Halachmi to win the European Championship which was held in Germany and while his numbers were a modest 3.3 points and 2.8 rebounds per game, the experience was second to none.

Gaby Chachashvili – Photo Credit: Basket.co.il

“It was amazing and it was the year after the team had taken 2nd place in Greece. No one gave us a chance and in fact we probably also had doubts but game by game we were looking better and better. Everything came together under Ariel and it was something really special especially to be able to win the title in Germany.”

Yovel Zoosman was named the tournament MVP and today plays for ALBA Berlin while the other star was Deni Avdija who is playing with the Washington Wizards in the NBA, “Those two players are extraordinary. I think that as time goes by Deni will keep getting better and better and it will be even easier to see what he can do on the court. You can see his development from the first season to the second and I believe that he will keep improving and we will see how good he really is.”

During the 2018/19 season, Chachashvili took a step in his development that we don’t see everyday when he took part in the Get Better Academy in Prague which plays in the second division in the Czech Republic.

“I tasted what it was like to play abroad at a very young age,” he commented. “It was a great place which I very much enjoyed and I made a ton of friends. I learnt a lot from the coaches who were at a very high level. I wanted to make this move instead of trying to play in the Leumit League or working with a coach here and a coach there in my development. This was a great opportunity and it was the right place for me at the right time.”

Deni Avdija – Photo Credit: Washington Wizards

In the summer of 2019, Chachashvili was slated to be one of the key components with the Under-20 team who were looking to repeat as European Champions with the opportunity to also play in Tel Aviv. However, he tore the cruciate ligament in his knee and the meniscus during an exhibition game against Bulgaria that kept him on the sidelines for an entire year as he watched his teammates led by Avdija win the title.

“It was very disappointing to get injured regardless of the timing. To be told that you will be out for a year is tough whether the injury occurs in the off season, the playoffs or with the National Team. I was happy to be at the championship game and it was amazing to see how the team played throughout the tourney. As much as I felt that this was a missed opportunity I was really happy for the guys, the team and for the country.”

Sitting on the sidelines for an entire season is not easy he explained, “Mentally it was really tough. You’re used to practicing and then all of sudden you can’t for a full year and you have to just focus 100% solely on your knee and do what needs to be done for the recovery. The most important thing is that I worked with some of the best people in the country to work with me in Rimon Yivzori and Guy Morag who did an incredible job with me the whole way. That’s what really helped me.”

Gaby Chachashvili – Photo Credit: Basket.co.il

Last season, Chachashvili decided to sign with Galil Elyon who were playing in the Leumit League, “I had a number of options and I had a good conversation with Barak Peleg the head coach, the CEO Nir Wasserman and my agent Matan Siman Tov which was very helpful. I knew that this was the right move for me about 30 minutes into our conversation as they really wanted me and that they would also let me play and make mistakes.”

Galil Elyon earned promotion after defeating Hapoel Afula and then went on to win the league championship over Netanya as Chachashvili averaged 7.9 points and 7.9 rebounds in his first year with a senior team in Israel.

“It was very exciting to see the Kfar Blum arena going bonkers and the fans were going crazy. To win the series over Afula is something I will never forget, it was such a high and I was so so so happy that we were able to do it.”

This season, Chachashvili’s first in the top league has seen hi be able to adjust to the various attributes associated with a better league, “The size and athleticism is much more significant but I don’t feel that I have had to make many adjustments. Over the summer I worked with Guni Izraeli on my outside shot in order to add an element to my arsenal along with also learning how to play with another big on the floor at the same time. At the end of the day, basketball is basketball and while there will be differences in every league the changes for me have been minimal.”

Gaby Chachashvili – Photo Credit: Basket.co.il

Chachashvili usually is in the starting lineup and has been averaging 7.5 points, (56.1% from two, 41.7% from 3, 69.6% free throw) 5.1 rebounds (4th best Israeli) along with 1.4 assists in 22.4 minutes per game. There is no question that the big man is one of the top rookies this season.

One of the unique qualities of Chachashvili is that he can do so many different things on the court from dunking, rebounding on both sides of the floor, passing the ball, picking up steals and being a top shot blocker.

“My athleticism is one of my biggest advantages and the ability to jump, move from side to side and being able to defend all of the positons from 1 to 5 on the floor. I am also able to run faster than the opposing center while moving quicker on the pick and roll. I’m also very intense and when I am my physicality is also an advantage.”

Gaby Chachashvili – Photo Credit: Basket.co.il

With all of those attributes, he also understands that he has to keep improving his skills in order to take his game to the next level. “I still have to work on my shot and decision making along with making sure I am in the right spots. There’s a lot to do but it’s also working on the mental side of the game and taking more upon myself. I just want to continue to enjoy what I am doing.”

One of the areas that Chachashvili has to be careful is fouling where he commits on average 3.1 fouls per game. “I play aggressively and against most teams I am up against a foreigner in the center position where there is a lot of physical play. As a younger player that is probably one of the reasons I get called a bit more because it’s easier to blow the whistle on me than on an import. But it’s a combination of a number of things and not just the referees as I can probably need to do a better job with my hands and make sure I am in the right places as well. All in all if there is a call, there’s a call and if not, not. I try not to get wrapped up in these things.”

Galil Elyon has a full fledged staff that includes not only head coach Barak Peleg but also a top flight assistant in Avishay Gordon who guided Hapoel Gilboa Galil to the league finals last season. In addition, Yonatan Alon serves as the sports director and he ended last season on the sidelines at Hapoel Jerusalem.

Barak Peleg – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“One of the advantages with the staff is the level of experience that they bring to the table. Both Avishay and Barak were former players and Yonatan has a tremendous amount of know how about basketball. In fact, it’s crazy how much basketball he has in his head. There is a ton of experience on the staff and they work on so many aspects on a day to day basis on small things, tips here and there and all of the adjustments that need to be made playing in the Premier League in order to improve. I don’t take it for granted what we have here.”

Speaking of Alon, he recently mentioned that Chachashvili can not only play at two positons but he could be one of the top 5 Israeli players of all time. “I remember that he said that. It’s a huge compliment and it’s also funny because Yonatan knows me and I am sure he wouldn’t say that to embarrass me because I don’t pay attention to what is written about me or what is expected from me as well. I really try to pay attention to my own expectations and what I want from myself because at the end of the day I believe that this is the way for me to succeed. If it’s the top 5, top 10 or top 100? I don’t know, but I will continue on the path that I am on.”

Nimrod Levi – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Nimrod Levi, one of Chachashvili’s teammates has been having a banner year thus far in the Galilee and has been one of the club’s consummate professionals as its captain who could also be selected as the Israeli of the season.

“I didn’t know Nimrod before this season but I can say that it’s not just the numbers that he is putting up but it’s his maturity and mentality which is something that I have not been exposed to before. As for his game play, he’s just very comfortable on the team and vice-versa. When I am on the floor with him I know that almost every shot of his ends up in the hoop. It’s the confidence that he shows us all of us on a day to day basis.”

Galil Elyon is a club that works a tremendous amount in developing young Israeli players which includes not only Chachashvili but also Itay Moskovitz who has been given a chance to gain experience on the job so to speak.

Itay Moskovitz – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“The team really wants to help in developing Israeli players and that is one of their goals and central missions. Another thing is that there is magic in the Galilee which is something that just can’t be explained. It’s something that has to be experienced.”

The club also took a step this season into Europe as they are participating in the Balkan League in addition to the domestic competition and have punched their ticket to the Final Four. “We really want to win the title and this has been a terrific competition. We aren’t going to the Final Four to lose. The Balkan League has helped us in many ways this year and its contributed to my development as it has allowed me to play more games and ones that are a different style as well. I can’t remember the last week where we only played once which is good. I would much rather play twice a week as it can also lift us up during times when we need it and get us a on roll.”

This season, Chachashvili was called up to the Israel National Team and while he wasn’t in the squad for all of the games he was dressed for the home game against Germany but didn’t play during the recent World Cup qualifying windows. However, the center is hopeful that he will be a part of the team that heads to the Eurobasket in Prague this coming year.

“I still can’t get over that I was selected to be a part of the team and that I had this amazing experience which is one that I believe will continue. Of course, I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t play which is natural but the main goal is to get to the World Championships. Guy Goodes the coach felt that it was right not to play me and that is fine. The goal isn’t me playing or not and I am not worried. I want to be a part of the squad for the upcoming qualifying window and for the Eurobasket later on in the summer.”

Gaby Chachashvili – Photo Credit: Basket.co.il

Chachashvili who wears #33 in honor of the Chicago Bulls great Scottie Pippen, explained why he decided to adopt that number, “While watching basketball highlights I was enamored by the player alongside Michael Jordan who had a tremendous influence on the game and that was Pippen. I loved his game and he was incredible. Aggressive, intense, defended everyone on the floor and it always seemed that he was one level above the game itself. He always sounded modest in his interviews and he became someone that I admired. SO when they asked me at Emek Izrael what number I wanted to wear, I said 33 and it’s been that ever since.”

Many teams have made a note in the scouting books about what Chachashvili can offer them on the court and there’s no question that the likes of Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Jerusalem and Hapoel Holon are all interested in the budding Israeli, but right now his focus is on the here and now.

“I don’t know what will be next season and I don’t want to think of that while I am in the middle of the current campaign. We still have the playoffs, the Balkan League Final Four so I will just wait until the summer to see. Of course it would be great to be a part of the best there is to offer and it’s like a dream but practically right now I am looking at what is right in front of me and not so much the future.”

Gaby Chachashvili – Photo Credit: Basket.co.il

As for his career goals, Chachashvili is looking to be the best that he can be as he works his way up the ladder of success.

“I want to realize my potential and continue to enjoy what I am doing which is the most important thing as this has been the key to my development in basketball and in life as a whole.”

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