The Israel State Cup Final Four begins on Monday in Jerusalem as Maccabi Tel Aviv and Nes Ziona play in the first game slated for 6pm while Hapoel Jerusalem and Hapoel Haifa tip-off in the second game at 8:45pm.
Last year’s winners Bnei Herzliya won’t be present to defend their title as a new champion will be crowned in 2023. Maccabi took home the 2021 version of the State Cup while Jerusalem captured two in a row under now yellow-and-blue coach Oded Katash back in 2019 and 2020.
Ahead of the semifinals, the head coaches along with a player from each team spoke about the challenge for each of the four squads.
Maccabi Tel Aviv head coach Oded Katash: “We are coming into the game like any Israeli league contest, with respect for all of the teams here. We all know what a Cup game is and this is one that has its own rules. The Cup is one of our goals this season and it’s a title. As a player, a fan and coach it’s awkward when you come in as a clear favorite because we are Maccabi and you don’t want to come in to not lose, but to come in and win. It’s exciting to be a part of a mid-season title like this one.
“We have to make sure we come into the game with the right mindset and we should be proud that we are here and make sure that we all understand that. I’m very happy to be here and like the rest of the season when we are on the road we feel the fans who will be with us here in Jerusalem.”
Katash also spoke about the challenge of trying to stop point guard DJ Cooper, “He had a terrific performance against us in the league and I didn’t have an answer to how he played. But we have to understand how dangerous he is which is something we saw first hand. It will be tactics in order to stop him, but Elad Hasin has been able to bring in some great players. It won’t be an easy task to stop Cooper.”
Nes Ziona bench boss Elad Hasin also looked forward to the State Cup: “We’re very happy to be here and this is our third time in the history of the club. We know that there are differences in the teams and we know what type of strength a team like Maccabi has but we will play 40 minutes and give everything we have.”
“As for which players will dress and who won’t on Maccabi, it really doesn’t matter as it’s the same style of game. We really spent time working on ourselves and this game will really be up to us and how we will play.”
Maccabi forward Rafi Menco: “This is a game against a good team and it’s a knockout game. We all know the importance of the game and we have to come in focussed and ready to go in order to win the game. We are playing a tough team and we have to win order to keep on dreaming. We have to play together and enjoy, play our game in order to succeed in our goal.”
Nes Ziona big man Tomer Levinson: “This is game which is winner take all. We have to make sure we play 40 minutes against a team like Maccabi and we are working hard this week to be ready for the challenge.”
Hapoel Haifa coach Sharon Drucker spoke about the challenge he sees ahead of his team: “This is a celebration of Israeli basketball and we are finishing off a period where we have had many games. We all know that Jerusalem is a good team with a good coach, but it’s one game. We have to come in focused and ready as we are telling our guys in order to surprise the opponent.
Hapoel Jerusalem bench boss Aleksandar Dzikic also looked at what his team will need to do in order to advance to the finals: “In different countries there are different understandings of the national Cup and in Israel it’s a big thing, it’s important for us. It’s more than just history. We won’t underestimate Haifa and they beat the champions in Holon and they know the opportunities. I hope we won’t be thinking about the finals because we have to be ready for the semifinals. In these games, having a shorter rotation is an advantage. We want to try and think about Haifa first and then see after that. We aren’t 100% that the finals belongs to us, we don’t think like that at all.
“As for which players will dress, it’s the same for all of the other teams and it depends on the health of the players and then matchups. We will make decisions later and see if two guys are available for the game.”
Haifa sharpshooter Amit Simhon: “We aren’t in our best form but we can’t wait to play in this type of game. We are super ready for this game and we are here to win. We are playing against a tough team who are playing at home but we are going to play our basketball and hopefully things will go well.
“It’s not a game that it’s up to one player or another, but as a team and to play together and battle and give what we can. We are playing against a good team and we have played them and know what they can do. We have to make sure that we are really ready with what we can do and hopefully surprise Jerusalem.”
Jerusalem forward Oz Blayzer: “We’re very happy to be here and that we are playing in our home arena. But in one game anything can happen. We have to use the energy to our favor, Haifa is a good team and we know that there have been tough games in the past with them. We all know that it’s 40 minutes and that we have to play our style of game.
“As a player I’ve been here in these situations, if we think about the final before the semifinal it will be a big mistake. I will give from my experience, the energy, focus and whoever will want to win the most will win. But it’s the small things, whoever will jump on a loose ball and give their body will be the one who wins the game.”