Israel Women “Dare to Dream” as Eurobasket must be first step towards sustained success

Jun 19, 2023 | Holyland Hoops

Dare to dream is the slogan for the 2023 Eurobasket where the Israel National Women’s Basketball Team showed, grit, determination and a whole lot of heart, but unfortunately those key characteristics at this current time didn’t help them break a 32 year winless streak at the continental championships. However, there is no question that they are on the right path to success in hopefully the not so distant future.

With a solid mix of youngsters and veterans Sharon Drucker’s squad went through a process over the last few years of building a solid core, a base that could one day lead the team to the promised land and with that in mind, he succeeded here many hadn’t.

Although Israel did not have to qualify for the tournament as they were selected as one of the hosts, the team defeated some solid competition during the qualification rounds in one of the top national teams in Sweden while also having won a number of exhibition games against the likes of Germany and Slovakia.

Eden Rotberg and Gili Eisner – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

During the weeks leading up to the tournament where two groups of teams played in both Tel Aviv and Ljubljana, Drucker’s side came together as one solid unit. From the captain Eden Rotberg who has played international hoops for a number of years and 26-year old veteran leader Daniel Raber to youngsters Yarden Garzon who recently completed her freshman year at nationally ranked Indiana University and up and coming Eden Zipel, there was some high quality basketball among the players who would be representing the flag.

Newly minted Israeli Jennie Simms who had played in the WNBA to veteran sharpshooter Alyssa Baron and center Alex Cohen were all going to be instrumental in the team’s success or failure at this tourney.

However, despite that drive and desire, Israel came up short in front of their home crowd falling to Europe’s number two team in Belgium by 49-points, then came up short to the continent’s 6th best team in Italy by 20-points before succumbing to Czechia 61-52 without injured Simms who was carrying an ankle injury prior to the clash to finish off the group phase 0-3.

Alex Cohen and Eden Rotberg – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

Sure the expectations were high and the team wanted to be on the right end of history as a throughly disappointed Cohen explained and injuries also played a part in the results at the end of the day.

“We had high expectation for ourselves and we showed a lot of heart, but it wasn’t enough. We’ve been practicing with Jennie for however long preparing and when you have a big part of your team go down – same with Jennifer Fleischer [who was ruled out of the tournament after breaking her leg in the leadup] – she went down and Lior Garzon [whose preparation was interrupted by a foot injury in the second practice game against Slovakia], it changed a big dynamic of our team. So we sure missed them out on the court, but I guess it was ours to take.”

Obviously Drucker and his crew wanted to break that three decades long drought in the worst way, but came up short against some top level competition in the first two games while the last of the trio was winnable but they just couldn’t get over the proverbial hump.

Sharon Drucker – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

“We knew the situation going into the last game and Jennie was hurt and couldn’t play,” Drucker stated. “We had pride and we tried to give out best, it was a helluva experience to play eight high level games over the past five weeks. We won’t solve the Israeli basketball problem immediately, but we wanted to give the fans a gift especially in this last game, these young girls came and watched our team and they were wonderful.”

Injuries are part of the game and Israel is still developing a proper pool of talent that can help them going forward. Depth is key for any club and the blue-and-white were a bit short in that department.

Putting the results aside for the time being, one of the huge accomplishments for Israel was the fact that local fans packed the arena for their games and the atmosphere for those contests were absolutely incredible. Crowds of this size with families and young children, especially with girls haven’t had this type of opportunity in years to be able to see what could be their future role models.

Yarden Garzon – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

Hopefully this tournament along with proper backing from the Israel Basketball Association will encourage more and more young girls to get out of their homes and sign up and join a local basketball team. If that can be accomplished then the sky’s really the limit and this tournament was a smashing success save the results.

The most difficult part will be how the Women’s National Team can take the next step which is something that Ducker didn’t shy away from, “This is the million dollar question. The Israel Basketball Association gave us everything for this tournament. We saw our veteran and younger players playing in this intensity and against such power as they fought for every basket. We have that character in Daniel Raber and Alex Cohen but there is also a size issue when you go against teams with 5-6 bigger players, it’s not easy.”

“We want to develop Israeli women’s basketball and try to advance to the Eurobasket tournament not just because we are hosting, but we will be there. Personally I learnt a lot during this time period in games we played against the likes of Sweden and Latvia for example. I will sit with everybody on the team and explain what they need to do to improve and to put the bar as high as possible. I won’t say to them that this is their level and that’s it. No, I want them to get to the maximum that they can.”

Israel in action – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

Just as there has been opportunities in the past, whether it was the 2011 Eurobasket which also ended winless and was the last continental championship that Israel had featured in, or seeing the likes of stars Shay Doron, Ornit Schwartz, Liron Cohen and Naama Shafir, the IBBA needs to capitalize on what they have right in front of them.

That will be the real test for women’s basketball in the country in the upcoming months and years. With games coming up in the international windows in November and February for the national team, this will be the perfect chance for those fans who packed into the Drive In Arena for the Eurobasket to return once again and see the blue-and-white in action. This would continue to grow the game that has the great potential to expand and hopefully turn that potential into reality.

Everyone needs to “Dare to Dream”.

Teams like Belgium and Italy to Spain and Greece all have been top countries in the women’s game and have built up a tradition in Europe while having players who participate in the Euroleague which is something that no Israeli team is currently a part of. There is more participation of youth in women’s basketball in these countries and that is something that Israel must emulate.

Eden Rotberg – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

That has to be a priority for Israel Basketball should they want to be able to grow and compete in the game be sure without that there will be no forward movement and no results to show after having hosted such a high level competition.

Not advancing to the knockout rounds or to Slovenia is a real disappointment for Israel as it should be. But without having that disappointment, there would be no drive to be able to advance to the latter stages down the road.

This is something very good for the blue-and-white, the fact that a player of Daniel Raber’s stature is upset after having scored 20 points, grabbed 9 rebounds and recorded 6 steals, this will only set Israel up for more future success.

Daniel Raber – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“Despite my performance, we lost, so I can’t be too happy. I feel that we gave everything but it wasn’t enough. I hope we can take these games to the ones we have in November and February and look even better. Losing here bothers me a lot. We are all fighting, we spit blood and battled and all of us can take that feeling into the next game. We will work hard over the summer to get to the next level.”

The bottom line is that one needs to know how to lose in order to know how to win.

That’s what Drucker and his team were able to accomplish; they knew how to lose and to accept the loss which will be a lesson for the next time the team will be up against top level teams which will be able to spur them forward and take that next step without a doubt.

Daniel Raber – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“I learned that the next day isn’t the same and it’s a new day and a new game,” Raber said. “We have to play more at the level of play that we experienced here during the year. Belgium played like magic and that is where we need to go.

That’s exactly what the catchline “Dare to Dream” means. Take that next step, strive to improve, use other national teams as a benchmark and try to reach for the stars because in sports, anything is possible.

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