Hapoel Jerusalem’s mission: To get to the Euroleague

Jun 23, 2024 | Holyland Hoops

While the 2023/2024 basketball season just came to an end last week, Hapoel Jerusalem is already gearing up in earnest for the upcoming campaign. The capital city Reds who are going to enter the second year under the direction of owner Matan Adelson are wasting no time as they look to continue to build upon a State Cup victory.

The first move for Jerusalem was to install Yonatan Alon as the permanent head coach after he moved down from the sporting director position in the front office to the sidelines when the club parted ways with Ilias Kantzouris. Next up was bringing in a new general manager as Dan Shamir was appointed to the task after having been Bnei Herzliya’s bench boss last season. Shamir, who had coached Jerusalem between 2006-08 has a wealth of experience with stops at Milano and CSKA Moscow as an assistant under legendary coach Ettore Messina as well as having been in charge at the New Zealand Breakers between 2019-2022.

Yonatan Alon and Dan Shamir – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

This coming season will mark Hapoel Jerusalem’s return to the EuroCup after six years in the Basketball Champions League as they will look to find a way to eventually play in the coveted Euroleague while the club will also introduce a new digital platform for fans to manage their tickets amongst other things.

However, the club is also facing a number of challenges that they will have to face head on as they continue to strive for greatness.

“It’s an exciting new day, new chapter in the era of the club under my tenure,” team owner Matan Adelson began. “I’m happy to announce Dan Shamir as the sports director and Yonatan Alon who had been in that position is now stepping into the role of head coach.”

“Transparency always wins,” Adelson continued as he spoke about how the club decided to take off Alon’s interim tag. “We set criteria for the head coach and it was important to bring someone with those items. When we saw that we would have to compromise on some, we looked at what we had in hand and we saw very quickly that Yonatan Alon was the right person. He did a great job to end the season and he deserves this.”

Matan Adelson – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

Gal Mekel spoke about how the team had searched for an experienced coach who had been a part of Europe’s biggest competitions, but due to the ongoing war with Hamas and the security situation, this was not going to be realistic.

“We have a vision and we wanted to bring a coach with certain acumen that has been at the highest levels of Europe but we couldn’t get someone to come. Things were black and white. We also looked at sporting directors, one of which came to Israel for an interview but his family didn’t want to come. When Dan’s availability came up, he was the best option with his abilities, both at a professional level and with the level of experience he has. His innovation and the fact that he has been in many places cane really be beneficial for us and we are happy that he is in this position.”

Alon will enter his first full season on the bench after having served in various roles throughout his career and he is looking forward to the challenge.

“This was the right thing for the club and of course me taking this position is not something that is done against my will, I am happy with this position and the onus of proof will be on me. The reality of the situation trumps everything, the question that is asked here is always what is good for the team. As soon as we thought it was what was best for the team, everyone did what was best for the team. Regarding the future – if I don’t succeed, then let the club find the best person to replace me, but I don’t plan to fail, so that doesn’t interest me. I always want to win in any situation and I wanted to do what I can to help the team. When we agreed this was the best idea then I was going to be all in.”

Yonatan Alon – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

However, Alon won’t be heading into the upcoming season with his captain Levi Randolph who opted out of his contract to join a Euroleague team which is expected to be Maccabi Tel Aviv. The Reds apparently did not limit his ability to sign with another club in the country which in the past had been a standard clause in the team’s contracts and Adelson admitted that this was a mistake.

“As for Levi Randolph, while there has not been any official statement that has been made, losing Levi is a hit for our organization not only is he a man who is true to his values, he’s a strong leader and gave a lot to this club as a professional, as a player and as a person. I’m the first to admit and if he signs with Maccabi it’s a hit. They won this round we have to get up and punch back. I’m going to make mistakes every day but I can promise I won’t make the same mistake twice.”

Alon also spoke warmly about Randolph and what he had brought to the team, “There is no thoughts of betrayal or anything like that. It’s a professional sport and every professional has to make the best decisions for his career and that doesn’t make me appreciate what Levi did for us any less. If he plays for Maccabi, I hope he will score 30 points and lose every game! He is an amazing guy, an amazing player, I want him to have an incredible life and that is how we treat our players who have left. We will embrace those players and if he does go to Maccabi we will compete against him on the court and show him that he made a bad decision.”

The new general manager Dan Shamir who left Bnei Herzliya to take time off from coaching didn’t want to get into details about his departure from his former club and wanted to focus solely on his new home, Hapoel Jerusalem and how he can help Alon as best as possible.

Dan Shamir – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

“We came here to talk about Hapoel Jerusalem and it’s odd to discuss the issue with Bnei Herzliya to open this day. I don’t want to talk much about myself. Our lives are very dynamic and I thought it was a good point to take a deep breath and a break to be with my family. As a coach I was very involved in the life of the club and when the opportunity arose I didn’t have to think too much to accept it. I don’t know what will be in the future but I am here now to help Yonatan Alon succeed and I plan on coming together with the staff and the entire team.”

Hapoel Jerusalem will move back to the EuroCup after more than half a decade away from the competition which is regarded as the continent’s second best league after the Euroleague. Unlike the Basketball Champions League, the EuroCup provides a slot to the winner of the league the opportunity to move up to the Euroleague and that is the goal of the club explained Adelson despite the rumors that the Eurocup and BCL will merge next season.

“The merger was being discussed last year and that’s why we stayed in the Basketball Champions League. But after we took that into consideration last year which was not the correct decision we moved to the EuroCup and we will try to get to the Euroleague and be better suited for that. That is our mission, to get to the Euroleague. That was not the right choice we made last year.”

“Last year Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Tel Aviv had to travel more than us and they strained their players and finances. We want to reach the Euroleague and not work on speculation. Now was the right time for the move as we have more time to plan and where we will play, deal with the physio of the players and build the roster. We always want to win and we want to win every championship that we are competing in. As for our budget it has increased each of the past couple of seasons. Statistically it’s not in our favor to win the EuroCup as we are one of 20 teams but we will do everything in our favor to make it happen.”

Gal Mekel – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

“We are building the club no matter have many flights there will be,” Mekel added. “That is part of the process that we are going to go through as we will be a part of the EuroCup. We are very proud of our roster and the Israelis that we have that we have as we have built this squad looking forward many years ahead. Noam Dovrat who is coming off an injury is due to have a breakout year, Khadeen Carrington, Yovel Zoosman and Gaby Chachashvili will lead us in the coming years.”

Shamir will play a big part in finding players to fill out the Hapoel Jerusalem squad and will need to look for not only the right matches but also battle a market that has been on one hand hurt by the war, but on the other offers opportunity to others.

“I don’t think I have a special perspective on the player market, but it’s good for everyone to know that there are very significant things happening right now in our region that affect many people’s lives. I’m sure everyone feels this burden on their shoulders and it obviously has meaning in what we are dealing with. On the other hand, bringing the right person to the right place is always challenging.”

“We are in an excellent situation despite what is happening and there is a situation here that is attractive to many players and I am sure that this will be reflected in building the squad. Everyone who lives here knows that professional sports are also particularly affected by what happens in Israel, but let’s put everything in proportion, many people are affected by it in a much more dramatic way. We need to discuss these things with the potential players, explain the situation, put together a quality team that plays in Europe, for us that is what is important right now. I see this as a big mission to bring in players who will leave with good experiences. It’s important and we’ll do our best to make it happen.”

Alon Kremer – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

As for the fans, the club’s CEO Alon Kremer spoke how the Reds are unveiling a new era in the digitalization of tickets and other perks along with how they are setting up their season ticket packages while also looking at various options as to where the club will play their home European games should they not be able to play at the PAIS Arena.

“We are making an upgrade to our digital accessibility and that will begin with having electronic tickets. But there will also be transportation, merchandise and much more down the road on this platform. We showed how much we have been with the fans and the community over the past season and we will continue with that going into next season. We as a club very much respect the time and the money of our fans. With the uncertainty of where the European games will take place, we will only sell season ticket packages for the Israeli games and if we do play in Europe at home, then we will have a separate package.”

Hapoel Jerusalem is no doubt entering one of their busiest off seasons to date with a lot of moving parts and changes that will potentially have an effect on the club for years to come. They’ll need to do so slowly but surely in order to ensure that they can put themselves in the best position to succeed.

Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

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