Did Israel experience an early modern day Chanukah miracle in Spain? Was Israel’s 95-87 comeback win over Spain in the Valencia bubble divine intervention? Perhaps, but if you’d ask the Blue & White players the answer they would give is that they believed in themselves and stuck to the game plan.
After going down 52-34 with 1:53 left in the first half, it looked like it was curtains for the Israel National Team. Nothing seemed to work as Quino Colom who hadn’t played a game yet this season for Valencia sliced and diced Oded Katash’s defense and hit shot after shot to lead the World Champions who weren’t playing with nearly the same world championship roster in what looked like a walkover. 8/14 from beyond the arc compared to Israel’s 2/6 and after 20 minutes it looked like it was Game. Set. Match. and let’s get ready for Poland on Monday.
But something happened during the 15 minute halftime break.“Coach said we’re not playing as bad as the result shows. We’re doing some good things and they are making some tough shots, but we still need to play better and more aggressive,” said Jake Cohen.
Instead of going ballistic, breaking the coach’s board and rewriting the game plan, Katash kept the squad level headed going into the third quarter and the confidence in his team paid immediate dividends.
Israel shot lights out to open the second half with one triple after another as they rattled off 10 3-pointers in 17 attempts which was a far cry from the opening 20 minutes. Tamir Blatt went off for an incredible 21 points and 9 assists and helped Israel write its way into the history books.
“The coach kept telling us to keep believing in the game plan and that is what we did,” explained Rafi Menco who is making his first foray in Europe this season playing in France. “We played together and fought together for our country, I’m proud of my teammates.”
“That’s a really good team we played,” Cohen continued. “It’s no small thing to comeback from that deficit, it’s just a really big win and I’m really proud of the guys. I’m really happy and it feels really good.”
Sergio Scariolo’s squad was nothing like one that won the World Championship in China back in September of 2019, without the likes of Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, Sergio Llull, Willy and Juancho Hernangomez but it was still Spain. The same Spain in which the players feature in the ACB although not for Real Madrid, Barcelona and Baskonia.
For Cohen, who moved to Obradoiro this season it was a reunion of sorts against players he had already seen up close and personal, “It was definitely helpful because some of these guys I didn’t play against until this season so it was helpful to get some knowledge on them. We don’t have any illusions that these players aren’t the same ones who played in the World Cup but they are still really good and they are really good players.”
Menco echoed Cohen’s thoughts on the Spaniards, “It has a special meaning and the Spanish National team is a great team.”
The biggest winners of the game who will reap the benefits of such a victory may have been the younger players. They were able to experience not only a game that was played at an extremely high level, but also one that saw them play an integral role in digging out of an early 18 point hole.
“The players stayed upbeat throughout game and this win will give us confidence especially for the younger players,” said Katash. “We stuck to the game plan and it will give us a lot of confidence going forward. We are a very young team as part of a process which we started 3 years ago.”
Cohen, who was one of the veterans brought in three years ago when Israel travelled to Crete to play Greece in Katash’s first game in charge has seen the process from day one was also thrilled for the Israel younglings, “We have a lot of younger guys in this team and they all showed a lot of character and a lot of heart.”
Menco, who hit a big 3-pointer as time wound down to put the game out of reach knows that the job in Valencia is only half done and that with one more win over Poland on Monday, Israel will secure its place in the 2022 EuroBasket tournament, “We come to win every game and I am sure even though it’s a short time until the next game the coaching staff will prepare us well. We are one step closer to the EuroBasket and we want to win on Monday.”
“If we win the next one we will be in for good, but Poland played really well toady so it will be tough,” commented Cohen.
“But with the win over Spain, hopefully we are gaining more respect for Israeli basketball.”
Israel will officially qualify for Eurobasket 2022 with a win over Poland or a loss by Romania to Spain on Monday.
Yam Madar played his first minutes with the Israel National Team and scored 11 points in 15 minutes of play gong 5/6 from the field. Madar had been on the roster for the two games in the previous window against Poland and Romania but didn’t appear.
Roman Sorkin made his debut playing the final 2 seconds of the third quarter.
Jake Cohen went 3/3 from long distance while Tamir Blatt chalked up 4 from 6 attempts.
Tomer Ginat went 7/8 from the field while finishing with 17 points.
Gal Mekel played in his first competitive game since coning back from an injury he suffered over a month ago with his club team Malaga and in 25 minutes he scored 18 points.
Quino Colom who played his first game of the season after not having appeared yet for Valencia scored 24 points in 25 minutes and added 5 assists.