Hapoel Jerusalem BC honored Hapoel Jerusalem FC before tipoff for earning promotion to the Israel Premier League in what was the high point of the night for the club. The Reds tried to use the energy by the sparse crowd to surprise their opponents Hapoel Gilboa Galil and it worked somewhat for the opening twenty minutes.
Jerusalem looked rusty over the first half but Gilboa played down to their level and was lackadaisical at best as they went into halftime down 47-40. However, that was the first half. The second half was an entirely different story. “Coach lit a fire under us at halftime and we came out and showed it,” Kerry Blackshear said.
And it was quite a fire to the tune of 35-16 over the next ten minutes to go up by twelve at the end of the third quarter as the Galilee squad continued the offensive onslaught in the final frame to notch the win. “In the third quarter we were very sharp and we did what we wanted to do,” Coach Avishay Gordon explained.
With the way Gilboa is playing, which has been absolutely seamless since coach Lior Lubin departed for Panathinaikos there’s no question that they can challenge for the league title, but Gordon downplayed that as a goal of the club, “We want to go as far as we can. We won’t talk about championship but if we can get there then we will. There is a lot of work to do and it will be a tough and interesting journey.”
Two players who have been key in the journey so far have been the aforementioned Blackshear who is in his first season abroad and Israeli guard Iftach Ziv who was rumored to depart Gilboa over the summer for greener pastures but decided to stay to continue to hone his skills in the backcourt.
“We got a lot of guys who have aspirations to reach their ceiling and we have a coach that wants to do that as well, Blackshear commented. “We are humble and we want to win and in order to beat these teams we have to stay together. I’m around a bunch of great guys.”
As for Ziv, the sky’s the limit for the budding superstar who showed once again why he has to be considered one of the top Israeli point guards. “Iftach reminds me of Gal Mekel from when I played and he made it to the best league in the world,” Gordon reflected. “I hope he can have the same career. He is also maturing as a leader on the floor.”
“Iftach lit afire under us. He makes plays and we can always count on him and everything in between,” Blackshear commented. “He’s going to make big shots and I’m happy to call him my teammate.”
Both Jerusalem and Gilboa were forced to make coaching changes as Oded Katash took over the reins at Panathinaikos and Dainius Adomaitis took over for the Reds. The Lithuanian didn’t last long and his replacement Yonatan Alon hasn’t been able to make a dent either, but Gordon has just picked up where Lubin left off without skipping a beat.
While Gordon didn’t want to comment on why things weren’t working out for Jerusalem he did say what his formula for success has been, “The minute I came in we didn’t make many changes and I want to give credit to assistant coach Guy Kaplan. He’s really a head coach and he does so much for the players whether it’s video or conversations. He has no ego and he just wants to the best he can as do we all.”
The issue with Jerusalem is that Adomaitis may have wanted to make too many changes that just totally upset the applecart. Adam Ariel became a starter who became the glue guy instead of what everyone had been used to which was a 3-point shooter. That’s not to say Ariel can’t do more, but to mix things up midway through a season proved to be a fatal mistake.
The smooth running pick and roll between Tamir Blatt and Tashawn Thomas disappeared and has still not reappeared for Jerusalem while whatever could go wrong did.
Can the capital city squad pull out of this funk in time for the playoffs? Or will they be the team that everyone will want to face in the quarterfinals?
Ray MacCallum looked towards the former, “We got a lot of good practices over the two weeks. We played well in the first half but we didn’t come out with the same focus in the second half and a game is 40 minutes. Today we looked like two totally different teams in the two halves and that has happened often. We have to compete and we have to find a way to become mentally tougher.”
“We were two different teams in two different halves,” Alon agreed. We worked hard over the past two weeks in practice and we have to translate that work to the games.”
Apparently the defense is still being worked on after the club gave up over the century mark once again for the 5th time in their last 9 games while conceding on average over 95 points per contest. YIKES!
Jerusalem travels down to Eilat on Thursday night and then host Gilboa once again on Sunday in the third round of league games. The Reds will certainly want to show a marked improvement and won’t want a repeat performance of what went on the first time the two met at the Jerusalem Arena.
On the other hand, Gilboa would be more than happy to walk away with another victory. “We are taking it a day at a time,” Blackshear said. “We can’t look past anyone as we have to play Jerusalem again on Sunday. We have to focus on what is in front of us.”