Hapoel Jerusalem welcomes Maccabi Tel Aviv to the Arena Monday night at 21:15 for the latest edition of the “Israeli Basketball Classico” with the Reds reeling after replacing Lithuanian Head Coach Dainius Adomaitis with assistant Yonatan Alon.
Alon, who has never been a head coach in country’s top division is tasked with turning around the team that he grew up with and a Jerusalem squad that has been plagued with issues all season long which were extrapolated after Oded Katash’s departure.
Following last week’s loss at Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion, the club’s management finally pulled the plug on a flawed and failed experiment that lasted only a few months and made perhaps the move that should have been happened the minute Katash decided to depart; naming his lead assistant Alon as the interim head coach.
“We are going through a very rough period,” began Eyal Homsky of the ownership group. “The entire season we have been trying to change things up while thinking outside of the box as to what we can do so the team will look better. We won’t give up and are always battling. There is a title still available and we have made a significant change in the coach and we are hoping and praying that this move will work. We believe that Yonchuk (Yonatan Alon’s nickname) is worthy of the opportunity that he is getting.”
When asked why Alon wasn’t given the opportunity back in January, Homsky didn’t want to go into too much detail and responded with a brief one line statement, “At that moment we thought one way and that is what we decided.”
Alon also confirmed that this was never on the table as well, “This wasn’t an option to take over after Katash left.”
However, it would have most probably made the most sense at the time to elevate Alon as he would continue with the same style that Katash had used over the past few seasons but as the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20.
“I am part of the issues that have occurred here and I hope that I will be able to influence the players. Perhaps if I was in this position in January I wouldn’t be able to, and now maybe I won’t be able to either, but I will try to do everything that I can,” expressed Alon in his first meeting with the local media.
Those who have worked with Alon feel that he has the tools to succeed including Ryan Pannone who was on Katash’s staff as well during the 2018/19 campaign. “Yonatan is going to do well. He’s somebody I got to work with everyday and got to see his preparation, his work ethic, his commitment to being great, his IQ and his love for Hapoel Jerusalem as a club. It’s very difficult to find a coach that bleeds Hapoel Jerusalem more than Yonatan and his commitment to the club from the youth organization all the way to the pro team.
“He’s stepping into a difficult situation that there will have to be patience for him to turn it around. But his relationship with all of the players, he helped build the team, recruit the team, he helped build the team offensively and defensively with Coach Katash. He has an intimate knowledge of the working parts physically but also the working parts mentally and the makeup mentally of the team.”
Veteran forward Tashawn Thomas who was named the team’s new captain after J’Covan Brown departed for the United States where he will continue his rehabilitation was content to have Alon, a coach that he worked under both in Jerusalem and at Holon now in the top position, “I’m happy for him. Being with Yonatan for four years and seeing how he’s grown like me and Tamir being teammates. Seeing him have this opportunity, I am happy for him. I want him to be confident and be himself. This is an opportunity that you have to take advantage of and hop on and run with it.”
Another member of Katash’s coaching staff from last season Australian Liam Flynn chimed in as well about the appointment, “You won’t find a more passionate coach anywhere on the planet than Yonatan. I’m sure the players will feed off of his energy and turn their season around. He’s also extremely knowledgeable in the technical aspects of the game, so the team will be well prepared for every opponent. I’m really happy for him that he got this opportunity to coach at such a special club.”
Pannone spoke of Alon’s personal touch and that being a key to helping get the Reds back onto the right track, “Anyone or any player that has been around Yonatan knows that he has their best interest in his heart and cares for them as people, not just as players. I think that relationship is going to put him in position to get the players to have fun again and help have joy in playing. He is someone who has worked his whole life for this and has made a lot of sacrifices and has put a lot of hours into this to become a coach that is ready for this situation.”
“Jerusalem is a team with high expectations,” explained Homsky. “Since Ori Allon and I bought the team our mentality was not to lose, right now that isn’t working. We are trying many different things and we had a critical moment when Oded left and up until now things aren’t going the way we want them to.
“I can’t put my finger on one thing as there have been things which have happened both on the injury side and also within our club. The players have the desire to play well, but it’s not happening. When the other team puts their foot on the gas we fall apart.”
The new captain echoed some of the frustrations while also taking some of the blame for the club’s poor play the past few months that saw them eliminated from the Champions League, Balkan League and the Israel State Cup.
“It’s very difficult and we got to get into a groove, But it’s a business and we have to try and win games. When the situation happened and the coach came in we probably didn’t respond the right way. We tried to accept the fact about the situation that we were in and we had to roll with the punches.”
However, with Alon now in the saddle, Thomas feels that the team can get back to playing the way they know best and the style that was so prevalent when Katash was at the helm, “I think that we will start getting back to that type of play, but there’s no telling what will happen. We can’t predict future, but I’m hoping that things can get back to normal and everybody is optimistic about that and playing basketball the way we know we can.”
“We have to turn the negative momentum around,” said Alon. “We have to be more responsible and play positive basketball. I believe that we can play better ball otherwise I wouldn’t have put myself in this situation. There are things on the mental side that we will have to work on with the players and go back to the basics as this team was built to play a specific style. Due to all of the things that have happened this season that has changed.”