Travis Peterson was one of the Hapoel Jerusalem fan favorites during the 2016/17 season and The Sports Rabbi has a chance to look back at his campaign in Red as well as his experience last year in Vilnius.
“It was a fun season in Vilnius. I lived in a very nice city and I enjoyed it quite a bit, especially in the spring and fall. The people were friendly, great places to eat and plenty of things to do. My daughter’s school was great, so life outside of basketball was fantastic. Basketball was terrific too, although we ended up losing in the Lithuanian League finals to Zalgiris. It was a good series but we just fell short. All in all it was an enjoyable season in Lithuania and it was a good experience.”
What were the big differences between the Israeli and Lithuanian basketball leagues?
“Both leagues feature a high level of competition. There are solid teams with solid players across the league with a lot of home gown Lithuanian players who are born and bred to play basketball. There’s plenty of competition from the top to the bottom and both are small countries. The styles are a little bit different with the Israeli style probably a little more gritty, pick and roll, more modern type of basketball and a little more flowing like the NBA. Lithuanian ball is more structured and the coaches know what’s going on with a little more X’s and O’s type of play, but overall are very similar.”
How was the rivalry against Zalgiris?
“It was great to play against Zalgiris. They had amazing fans and we had great fans as well. It’s a huge rivalry, similar to Jerusalem and Maccabi where both sides have strong support. The games were always very intense, had a good atmosphere which you could feel on the court. All in all it was really good competition. I feel like we matched up very well against them this year and I believe we were ahead in the season series. We always felt confident that we had the chance to beat them even though they were a Euroleague final four team where they played really well.”
Thoughts about Zalgiris Coach Sarunas Jaskevicius:
“Obviously there were a lot of good players on their team and they were very well coached. Saras manages the game and knows how to put players in a position to succeed. When he built the team he didn’t go after the same big names that all the other Euroleague teams are going for, but instead he’s taking pieces that he knows will fit well for him, and his style of play.”
Let’s take a look back at the Hapoel Jerusalem season. How often do you think back to the magical season you had in Jerusalem?
“At the beginning of this past season I was always thinking about last year and I still kept in contact with a bunch of the guys on the team. All of the guys were great and easy to get along with from Curtis Jerrells and Amare Stoudemire to Ike Rosefelt and Shawn Jones. It was an unbelievable season and the Jerusalem fans really want to win. I think that Coach Simone Piangiani did a good job managing the team, understanding how the Israeli league works as well as the Final Four and he put us in the position to succeed. We did pretty well even-though we came up a bit short in the EuroCup.”
The Nahariya series:
“We blew a big lead in game one. We came out super aggressive looking to kill the game and we played very well. But then Nahariya started making shots and Scotty Hopson hit that buzzer beater which crushed us a bit. Game 2 was in Nahariya and they probably wanted it a little bit more. They smelled blood in the water and I think we still had that chip on our shoulder where we knew that we should have won. However, once we got our first win in game 3 we knew that it was win or go home and every game was a must win so we had to just keep winning. That was our mentality against Nahariya and it set us up well for the Final Four. Once we got that first win at home against Nahariya we got the proverbial monkey off of our backs and away we went.”
Playing with Amare Stoudemire:
“Amare led by example. He was the first guy in the locker room and he was always in the gym. He was always very interested in learning especially since it was a different game from what he was used to in the NBA and that says a lot about his character and leadership. He would get on you when you weren’t doing what you’re supposed to do, but he would praise you to let you know what you’re doing right.”
Working under Coach Pianigiani:
“Looking back, the biggest thing for me was that he always had the big picture in focus. He really understood what the big picture was. Sometimes players have a shorter term view of things, but he always explained what the long term target was. He knew what buttons to push, when to push them, who to push more. He understood all of that very well and that was a big part of his success. He’s successful wherever he goes and it’s not by chance. The big picture from him helped us as a team and although we probably didn’t see it at the time but at the end of the day it helped us win the title.”
Jerusalem issues over the past season:
“Since I wasn’t there last season it’s hard for me to know what was going on. But if you want to go with a car reference, it’s what’s underneath the hood. Lior Eliyahu, Yom Halperin and Bar Timor are all good leaders and Jerome Dyson, Tarence Kinsey are good guys who want to stick together. I didn’t know the coach (Fotis Katsikaris) so I don’t really know his system and why things didn’t work. He had great success in Spain while everywhere else has been short term and I don’t know if Ori Allon leaving had anything to do with the season they had or not.”
Thoughts about Guy Harel:
“The team made a lot of moves and obviously hind sight is 20/20. If it works out perfect then Guy Harel look like a genius. It didn’t work out unfortunately so you live and you learn, things like that happen sometimes. Hopefully it didn’t leave a sour taste in his mouth as he’s always a big part of the team providing huge support. It’s was always good to have him around, number 1 fan kinda guy, always there to offer support.”
Plans for the 2018/19 campaign:
“As of right now I don’t have any plans, just regrouping after a tough season. I’ll have to figure out what the next move is but right now there’s nothing in the works just yet.”
Potential return to Jerusalem in the future?
“There’s a chance, there’s always a chance. My wife and family as well as myself very much loved Israel. The people are warm and welcoming, the food is good and you can’t complain about the weather. We very much enjoyed Israel and if the possibility comes up again there would definitely be a high consideration for something like that.”