Hapoel Jerusalem will take on BAXI Manresa from Spain in Champions League action on Wednesday (21:00) at the Jerusalem Arena as the Reds will look to even up their record after falling to Karsiyaka last week on Gameday One.
The ACB team is coached by veteran bench boss Pedro Martinez who had led Valencia against Jerusalem a number of years back in 2017 in the EuroCup semifinals while they are led on the floor by another finial face in Joe Thomasson who plied his trade for a couple of seasons with Hapoel Gilboa Galil.
Thomasson arrived in Israel for the conclusion of the 2019/20 “Corona” Season and helped his squad reach the Final Four that year. Last campaign the energetic guard bested that result and took Gilboa all the way to a decisive game 3 in the finals where they eventually succumbed to Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Now in Spain, Thomasson is thrust once again into a leadership role as he will be one of the players that Jerusalem will have to look out for and stop should they want to find a way to win. Just ahead of tipoff, Thomasson reminisced with The Sports Rabbi about his time in in Gan Ner, Iftach Ziv and Yotam Hanochi along with the midseason coaching change and his love for the Holy Land.
“It’s just lovely to be back. Israel is country that is very exciting whether I am playing here just visiting. It has all kinds of history, culture and an amazing atmosphere. It’s one of the top places I have ever been to.”
With so much love for the land, Thomasson expected to stay in Israel at one of the “bigger” clubs but no offers came his way, “I didn’t want to leave and I was looking forward to getting an offer from a bigger team but it’s tough to get into Maccabi and I was waiting for the other clubs. I didn’t want to go from Gilboa to just another team in the same category but one that would be playing in Europe as well. Jerusalem and Holon didn’t really reach out and I don’t know if they were waiting or what it was but I wanted to make a drastic jump in my career after going to the championship game with Gilboa. I thought I’d be a top priority, but I’m happy to be where I am.”
Signing in Spain was definitely a solid move for the 28-year old as he is now playing in arguably the best European domestic league which has plenty to offer he explained, “The ACB is one of the best leagues in Europe and I say that because of the competition and the fact that every night you play a great team. It’s also more about team play in Spain which is key unlike Israel where it’s more individual based. The team has to play well as a unit. It’s a tough league but has great exposure with great fans along with playing against some of the best players in Europe. If you’re not prepared for it then it may be a bit too much. I’m still adjusting to the league and I feel that I am respected here as I am always being focussed on by the defense with double teams.”
Heading into this game, Manresa was walloped in the ACB 105-61 by Badalona and that as a wakeup call that Thomasson and the club needed after a fast start to their season, “We only have ourselves to blame and we lost last game after a fairly good run of results lately. We lacked competitiveness last game. I’m sure they against Jerusalem we will be ready to go from the beginning of the game. We didn’t show any character and that’s not our team that our coach built. We got a big time home win in the Champions League versus Ostrow but a loss like we had in the league makes you more humble. We had won three games in a row and then we were riding the high horse and got smacked in the face.”
Last season Gilboa took Maccabi Tel Aviv all the way to the wire in the best of 3 championship series but came up just a bit short in the last game after having won game two at home in front of a rabid crowd. However, Thomasson pointed out that Gilboa were put into a precarious situation due to having to replay one of the semifinal games against Hapoel Holon.
“I feel that the first game of the finals wasn’t fair because in the previous series we played an extra game against Holon. We then had to play the championship game on Thursday a day after we had won game two on Wednesday and it wasn’t the right thing as to how it was handled. We don’t make any excuses but it was a tough game to play for both teams.”
“We overachieved and no one had predicted us to be where we were at the end of the season as a lower budget team. We showed up every night and beat some big teams. I’m very proud of all of the Americans and Israelis and everybody stepped up to play a tremendous to role. I’ll always be a Gilboa lover, fan and supporter. The late Haim Ohayon treated us so well and he showed us tremendous support along with his wife and children. It will always hold a special place in my heart.”
In the middle of lasts season, Lior Lubin, Gilboa’s head coach departed to become an assistant on Oded Katash’s staff with Panathinaikos. At the time instead of promoting Guy Kaplan who is now the head coach, management brought in Avishay Gordon to take over the reins. Thomasson chimed in on that peculiar situation, “We made the most out of it. We all knew Guy was the head coach as he ran the practices and the film. It was difficult for Avishay leading the team as a first year head coach in the league. Guy was a tremendous coach and when Lior left we made the most out of it and we all helped each other out. We had a young team and young coaching staff but we had the mentality and we just came up short to a powerhouse. We beat Jerusalem, we beat Holon but it’s tough beating Maccabi especially on their home court.”
One of the stars that Thomasson had the opportunity to play with at Gilboa was Iftach Ziv who signed with Maccabi over the summer and will now have the opportunity to play in the Euroleague as he continues to spread his wings as an up and coming Israeli star.
“I just saw him at the airport as I was arriving in Israel, he was flying out to Italy. He’s my boy. We had two seasons together and we will forever be brothers. He was there when I got engaged and celebrated my daughter’s birthday. We had a love and hate relationship on the floor because we both wanted the ball! We don’t go long without talking and we always reach out to each other, we have a special bond.”
Another young player who is now getting looks from NBA scouts is Yotam Hanochi. Thomasson also spoke about his former teammate in the finest of lights, “Yotam is a young talent and my little bro. I have tremendous respect for him and Amit Gershon, they worked the hardest. He was like a sponge and he soaked up the game. It’s not surprising that he’s getting those looks but he’s got to put that work in and he has a chance to show that potential. I’m proud of him.”
Thomasson is looking forward to stepping onto the floor in Jerusalem and seeing Israeli fans in the stands once again, “Shalom, Shalom everyone and a big Hi from Joe.”