Israel’s disappointments can be overcome with proper planning, accountability and transparency

Nov 15, 2022 | Holyland Hoops

Any dreams of Israel advancing to the 2023 Basketball World Cup have been dashed after back-to-back losses to Slovenia 75-62 at home and Sweden 71-68 on the road as the Blue & White never seemed to have the right mentality and right attitude to win these games. This is true for not just the players but the staff and entire Israel Basketball Association establishment.

Following a disappointing June/July window of World Cup qualifiers which saw Israel fall to Poland and beat Estonia, came yet another window in the second group stage of qualifying just ahead of the Eurobasket group stages in August. Somehow, Guy Goodes’s fully loaded squad lost at Finland and then back in Tel Aviv against Sweden in what as embarrassing result.

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Next up was the Eurobasket itself where Israel had five games on tap in Prague where they won their first two against Finland and Holland, however, they did not do so in convincing fashion. That left the skeptics, well, skeptical about the last trio of contests in which the Blue & White went down in order, losing to Poland, Serbia and then the host Czech Republic and were sent packing back home to the Holy Land instead of going to Berlin for the knockout stages.

With many players unavailable for Israel due to Euroleague and NBA commitments, Goodes and the IBBA brought in many first timers and players who have not yet had a chance to make a mark on the international level.

Guy Goodes – Photo Credit: The Sports Rabbi

The results obviously didn’t go exactly the way that Goodes and the rest of the staff really wanted as perhaps luckily for them, the World Cup, Manchester United and Ronaldo stole all of the headlines. In reality, the IBBA should be royally upset about what went down these past two games and the lack of any type of coverage, but in fact, they were probably more than happy that these two embarrassing and sad defeats will go down as a footnote in the history books.

There is plenty of blame to go around no doubt, but for some reason in Israel, the buck never stops at the top, the blame is always shifted to someone else, no one takes responsibility and that is just shuttled around to the sucker that will take it for whatever unknown reason.

This is the case with the Israel National Team which should represent the public’s interests but never quite does.

With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at the overarching issues that need to be examined and corrected should Israel ever want to get back on track.

Our story begins in 2017 when the national team failed miserably after hosting the previous Eurobasket group stage finishing with a pathetic 1-4 record at Yad Eliyahu. At that point, the IBBA made the correct decision to clean house and bring in Oded Katash to start building towards the next big tournaments with a brand new squad made up of younger players with a sprinkling of veterans.

Deni Avdija – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

The game plan worked brilliantly. Deni Avdija, Yam Madar, Tamir Blatt along with veteran leader and recently retired Gal Mekel began making some in roads and surprisingly came very close to qualifying for the 2019 World Cup while looking very good and like a well oiled machine as they headed towards the 2021 European Championships like a freight train.

However, that is where the problems with the administration began. Katash was apparently furloughed without his knowledge and agreement during the COVID-19 pandemic which led to a lawsuit by the coach aimed at the IBBA. After some time and a lot of arguments from either side, Katash continued on as head coach but did not have his contract renewed when it came up back in the summer/fall of 2021 and Goodes was appointed in his place.

For all intents and purposes this is where the entire senior national team establishment fell apart. Not to say Goodes is not a good coach, he certainly is and just guided Hapoel Holon to the Israel league championship as well as talking his squad to the Basketball Champions League Final Four.

However, this was not his team. It was not the one that he built, not the one he put together and not the system he had put in place. While that is also true for the Holon club he inherited when he was appointed midseason as their bench boss, with Israel and in a national team environment, you are not with the players day in and day out and most of them are on the other side of the court in domestic competition.

Things just never clicked the way everyone involved would have hoped.

Guy Goodes – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

It seemed that Goodes just never had the total faith of the players and management despite winning his first two games with the squad. Since then he has a record in official games of 1-7 in qualifiers and 2-3 in the Eurobasket. That’s 3-10 and it doesn’t matter who is coaching Israel, it’s not good enough.

This summer, players came in late to the June/July window and then to the Eurobasket training camp, exhibition opponents were not up to the level that they needed to be for a team like Israel who wanted to make waves in Prague and the excuses kept coming from teams didn’t want to play us to we did the best we can.

The IBBA has not figured out yet how to handle the naturalized player slot, which in essence is as gift to every national team. Maccabi Tel Aviv’s John Dibartolomeo did not make the final cut for Prague and that was the end of his participation at least for now as he was not recalled for the two recent games. Max Heidegger who was called up last year for a couple of games has been eliminated from the current pool and after the IBBA worked so hard to ensure that he would play for Israel and not Austria, he did not hear from them ahead of this window.

European Champions Spain decided they needed a point guard as their usual players in the role for international competitions were unavailable and went after Lorenzo Brown who had zero relationship with the country and he ended up being the unofficial MVP of the entire tournament.

Someone at the IBBA needs to be tasked with figuring out a proper solution for Israel in upcoming tournaments for the naturalized player slot. If it is not beneath a country like Spain, then there is no reason that Israel not find a player that can help the Blue & White. We are not above the game here in the Holy Land.

Tamir Blatt and Yovel Zoosman – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Another point of contention is the lack of availability of Euroleague players for the Israel National team. Yam Madar was originally supposed to be available from Partizan Belgrade but after a number of injuries on his club they withdrew allowing the Israeli point guard to be a part of the team. Tamir Blatt and Yovel Zoosman were also denied the opportunity to play for Israel by ALBA Berlin. There needs to be someone who works on making sure that these players are available for Israel and it was if no extra efforts were made to bring them in while there were tons of Euroleague players on the court for other teams including Scottie Wilbekin for Turkey, Vladimir Lucic and Marko Guduric for Serbia to just name a few. Where was the IBBA?

Maccabi Tel Aviv did make Rafi Menco and Iftach Ziv available for both games and Roman Sorkin for the second, but Sorkin was injured and did not take part in the Yellow & Blue’s last Euroleague game and didn’t travel to Sweden, not that there was any official announcement from the IBBA about that either.

During the summer windows and Eurobasket, Pini Gershon who works with the IBBA was somehow placed on the Israel bench to provide Goodes with a little bit of extra help. There was never an announcement of Gershon’s post and when he “resigned” on his own podcast, there was no press release about that as well.

Finally, it’s clear that Goodes is not going to continue as the head coach after his contract is up at the end of qualifying which still has two more games to go. If he isn’t going to be the coach when the next round of qualifiers begin, then why is a lame duck coach in place? Why not start the wheels moving for the next coach and have him begin to put his philosophy in place before the last two games in February of 2023. Let’s not waste anyone’s time from the players to the staff.

Get moving!

Gilad Levy and Noam Dovrat – Photo Credit: FIBA

There had been talk immediately after the Eurobasket that he would be replaced, but that never occurred. What also didn’t happen was anyone summing up the European Championships for the general public. As a national institution, the IBBA should have presented their findings from the tournament and the game plan ahead where Israel needed to win all four of their remaining World Cup qualifiers to advance to the big tourney. That of course was not done.

Israel had a very successful summer in the youth ranks and there seems to be a solid plan in place for the U16, U18, U20 teams but the senior national team looks to have none.

Ultimately, the basketball diehards know about all of the up and coming players, but the average Israeli is only aware of the senior national team and that is where it seems that nothing is in place with no accountability and transparency.

Last but not least, can the IBBA plan to play some national team games outside of Tel Aviv’s Drive In Arena? There are plenty of other places to bring the national team to whether it’s the nation’s capital Jerusalem, up north in Haifa, down south in Beer Sheva or any other locale. There are plenty of brand new facilities around. Make the national team the nation’s, not just the Drive In’s. It’s not that difficult a decision.

There is plenty of food for thought for the IBBA going forward and they have a chance to begin the process of making changes. No one wants to hear more excuses. It’s time to get back on track and make sure the next generation of players and fans don’t get lost in the shuffle.

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