Hapoel Tel Aviv players, fans relish EuroCup opportunity with goal to win it all

Oct 12, 2022 | Holyland Hoops

The atmosphere in the Drive In Arena was absolutely electric. Hapoel Tel Aviv fans packed the northern Tel Aviv facility to the rafters and sang to the top of their lungs cheering on their heroes who graced the floor and defeated the London Lions 76-59 to record their first ever EuroCup victory.

Reds coach Danny Franco could not have asked for a better debut in the competition as his team came out flying from the get go and ran up the score by finding the bottom of the basket early and often as star guard J’Covan Brown scored at will to strike a vicious blow to the British newcomer.

J’Covan Brown – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Brown was on his game right from the tipoff hitting 3 of 4 from long distance chalking up 19 points and 6 assists while the rest of the squad followed suit right behind their vocal leader as Hapoel put together a 24-13 lead by the end of the first quarter to break the game open.

“J’Covan is very important for this team to succeed,” Franco said. “He’s a leader as he brings his experience right at the start of the game at home and he was aggressive right from the start. We need him healthy and playing well.”

Big man Chris Horton (6p/12r) who also made his first start in EuroCup play will be on the receiving end of plenty of Brown passes this coming season as he understand just how important the guard is to the team, “It’s fun playing with Brown. He started off with 3/3 from 3 and he is a great leader and communicator. It just makes my job easier.”

Bar Timor – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

One Hapoel player who is very much used to playing alongside Brown is Bar Timor who has been with the American guard both at Hapoel Jerusalem as well as in Tel Aviv, so he needs no introduction of what type of added value he brings to the team.

“I am kind of used to him as we have been together for four years. He was great and he had some great moments in the first half where he knew when to stick the knife in and to increase the gap and from there to keep us in front. He made very good decisions as the game wound down when they started to come back a bit and we began to tire. Hopefully it will continue this way.”

With Brown going off the way he did to set the tone for the entire 40 minutes obviously caused London coach Ryan Schmidt issues which wasn’t a surprise but nonetheless makes any defense’s job that much harder. “It’s very difficult when you give him (Brown) space and time in the first half and the more space you give him the more dangerous they are. You need to make them play in crowded space and we didn’t a good job with that in the first half. He’s a helluva scorer and helluva player who can make it a long night.”

Sam Dekker – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

However, for Schmidt it wasn’t just Brown who made it a long night for his team but the fact that London’s star Sam Dekker turned his ankle and had to leave the contest before it was even ten minutes old which turned the game on its head.

What was supposed to be a tight clash between the two newbies ended up being a one-sided affair that the Lions never quite were able to get into and while the Hapoel fans were thrilled to leave with they win, it left a bit of a bitter taste for the basketball fan that was asking for more.

Sure, London under the wonderful tutelage of up and coming head coach Ryan Schmidt tried their best to come back into the game with terrific games from Tomislav Zubcic (21p/8r) and Kosta Koufos (14p/9r) really missed Dekker and what the former NBA man who most recently played with the Toronto Raptors brings to the forefront.

Ryan Schmidt – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

However, those are the breaks of the game so to speak and while Dekker originally had wrapped his ankle in ice, he took it off and tried to convince the staff to out him back into the game to no avail. It’s only one game they said and there is a long marathon ahead. No reason to risk further injury and there will be a rematch in England in January.

“Obviously, a tough game for us,” Schmidt said. “Losing Sam [Dekker] in the first 5 minutes of the game was obviously a pretty devastating blow, especially from the offensive standpoint. Everyone knows [Dekker] is kind of our offensive go-to scorer. You have other weapons on the floor but as you can tell, it was a tough shooting night. So in nights like this when shots aren’t falling, I think we shot 15% from three, to be able to have a guy who can create his own shot, missing him hurt us.”

While losing Dekker would seem to be a plus for Hapoel, Franco spoke about how when a player of that caliber leaves the game early, it may cause a negative effect on the team and complacency may set it in.

Danny Franco – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“When you play against Sam Dekker you put together a game plan that you will use against him on both sides of the court and we invested a lot of energy into that. But sometimes when a player of that caliber goes out there could be a decrease in intensity but we started focused and didn’t go backwards. I am happy that we didn’t lose that mindset.”

Timor also referred to the loss of Dekker as having been a key to the club’s maiden victory, “I wouldn’t say we dominated but we controlled the game from the get go and after our opening they didn’t come back and I have to admit that the injury to Dekker really slowed them down. We controlled the defensive side of the game despite that they grabbed 14 offensive rebounds but we knew how to take advantage of the low score and run.”

For Hapoel, save for some of the rebounding issues, they could not have asked for a better opening game in the EuroCup and it was hard not to ponder two interesting facts.

J’Covan Brown – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

The first is that Hapoel Tel Aviv is participating in the continent’s second best competition and that they had the desire, drive and determination to do so. The last time an Israeli team took part in the EuroCup was back during the 2019/20 season when Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion decided to join the league. However, the club was ill prepared to really make a dent in the tourney and ended up being outclassed by the vast majority of the teams. Last year, Rishon dropped into Israel’s second division after numerous poor decisions across the board form the construction of the squad to funding to management.

Prior to Rishon participating in the EuroCup, Hapoel Jerusalem was a stalwart in the competition even having won it back in 2004 when it was called the ULEB Cup which brings us to the second fact that needs to be looked at in depth.

For years the Reds took part and attempted to make waves in the EuroCup when high tech mogul Ori Allon bought the club as he tried to find a way to enter into the Euroleague, however, that door was shut from every which way. The exception to that was if Jerusalem would win the entire competition and therefore would be given an automatic place in the continent’s number one league.

However, Jerusalem was never able to put it together and win the EuroCup and when Ori Allon felt that there was no chance to find their way into the Euroleague, he decided to move on as did the club when it went to FIBA’s Champions League which would pay a tidy sum for the Reds to participate in their European league.

Bar Timor – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Bar Timor is a EuroCup veteran and is happy to be back playing in the continent’s number two competition, “It’s very special to be a part of the EuroCup and everything happened so quickly as we finished last season in 7th place and we didn’t win a playoff series. When we decided to play in Europe in this competition I was happy as we took a step forward for the club and the players. It’s an incredible feeling. I played in the EuroCup for a number of years in Jerusalem and I am happy that I am back, it’s a lot of fun an excitement.”

Jerusalem gave up on the dream which is now ironically in the hands of Maccabi Tel Aviv’s cross city rivals Hapoel Tel Aviv.

Wouldn’t it be something if the Reds ended up winning the EuroCup and then play in the same European league as Maccabi? That’s quite the point to ponder if there was any!But before putting the cart before the horse, the EuroCup is not only a very, very long season, the Round of 16 is a one game knockout which is a cruel reality.

One win won’t be enough and yes, Rome can’t be built in one day but Hapoel Tel Aviv looks to be a team that can make some waves in the EuroCup this season without a doubt and their fans will play a huge role at home making it almost an impossibility to beat them.

Xavier Munford – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Xavier Munford (11p) knows what type of factor the home supporters can play, “They come every time with good energy, these are probably the best fans I’ve ever been part of in Europe so far, so I’m loving it so far and hope to keep it all year round.”

“This atmosphere is crazy,” Horton said understanding full well how much they mean to the Reds. “These fans and what they bring to the gym is crazy. We don’t play this well without them.”

Timo also sees how the team can benefit from the fans in the stands, “I don’t remember seeing the crowd so intense like this and we will get that twice a week now. Every time we step onto the floor we can’t stop smiling that we are part of this. To think of where we were two years ago with Corona restrictions to where we are today it’s quite amazing.”

Hapoel Tel Aviv fans – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Of course, it’s not just the fans but the quality and quantity that the team has within its squad. With arguably the deepest Israeli squad in the league and some of the best foreign players that have ever suited up in the Holy Land, Hapoel could very well have much success in both the domestic league and in Europe.

Franco knows that he needs his full roster to contribute in one game or another due to the volume of contests Hapoel will have this season and he doesn’t care of the players are Israelis or imports, but how much they can help.

“We had a very high intensity week as we opened up both the Israeli league and a historic season in the EuroCup. We have to take a but of air and I hope that we can come into our next domestic game with the right attitude due to our experience. I don’t make a difference between the players of they are Israeli or not. Some players didn’t play much and some more. I don’t look at the Israelis but the entire Hapoel Tel Aviv squad.”

Bar Timor – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Timor also isn’t checking out passports as to who teams the court and with Hapoel Tel Aviv’s depth there really isn’t a difference between the Israelis and imports it’s who plays best, “I hate to say that whoever is good plays, but we have a very deep squad and we have a game coming up on Sunday so it’s important that everyone contributes. We will play not because we are Israelis but because we are good players. We had a good game today so we played but if we don’t we would play less.”

As for expectations for the season ahead Horton stated clearly what Hapoel wants to do each and every game, “The goal is always to win. Our sights are on winning it all and show why we belong here. We play to win.”

Xavier Munford – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“I don’t want to put too many expectations on our team but we have a great team.” Munford confidently said. “We all have the same mission and the same goal. We want to win this whole EuroCup so that’s our goal, we come in strong and try to win this whole thing.”

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