Hapoel Jerusalem faces Prometey from the Ukraine on Wednesday (21:00) in Basketball Champions League Play In action as the winner of the best-of-3 series advances to the Round of 16 group stage round. The Reds will have home court advantage in the series which is in fact a minor miracle after beginning the regular season 0-3 and coming back to win three straight continental clashes under interim head coach Yotam Halperin.
One of the anchors in Jerusalem’s arsenal is veteran Israeli center Itay Segev who returned to the Holy Land after a challenging season abroad at Gravelines in France where he suffered a number of injuries. But now back in familiar territory, the big man is looking to make an impact with his new club.
“I believe that there is something very special here with a bunch of really great people. I also feel a connection to the fans and that is really exciting,” Segev began. “Hapoel Jerusalem is one of the biggest clubs in Israel with a wonderful history and also expectations. I want to be a part of a winning franchise and that is why I came on board.”
The 26-year old started playing the game of basketball thanks to his brother and slowly but surely fell in love with the sport. Having grown up in Kfar Tavor, a small town in the Galilee is a point of pride for Segev who looked up to Michael Jordan as a role model, “Not so much as to Jordan’s game but the way he faced a crisis and the entire mental makeup of his game. That was a real influence on me.”
Segev attended the Hapoel Emek Izrael youth department as well as the basketball academy at the Wingate Institute before making his way to Maccabi Tel Aviv.
“I had a wonderful time paying ball in my youth which means I didn’t exactly have a normal childhood. Most children who are playing basketball at a young age don’t. But I am so happy and thankful as to every stop I made along the way and helped mold me.”
As a youngster, Segev was actually a guard and not a center but as he explained it’s a matter of finding one’s strength and focusing on that, “I just went with the flow of my career and understood where I was more likely to make an impact. But at the end of the day, I just want to play basketball and I don’t really care at which position.”
In the 2012/13 season, Segev was a member of Maccabi Tel Aviv’s senior squad under the direction of legendary coach David Blatt. “That was not simple,” the center said. “I came into a team with players who already had a very rich history and a club that had a lot of pride and they did not make my life easy. But this was a very, very, very important experience. Being coached by David Blatt as a child was very interesting and there are some things that I learned during that time which I have taken with me throughout my career to the present day.”
After a couple of seasons on loan with Hapoel Holon and Hapoel Gilboa Galil where he was able to continue to develop and take his first real steps in the Premier League, Segev was back with Maccabi in 2015 where he earned the most improved player award. However, the following campaign as one of the yellow-and-blue’s toughest as they attempted to compete on difficult playing field against teams with more money, “The Euroleague changed somewhat and clubs began really investing much more and Maccabi needed to acclimate to the new situation.”
In the summer of 2017, Segev was appointed as Maccabi Tel Aviv’s new captain, but midway through the season under new head coach Neven Spahija, he asked to leave due to diminishing minutes. “This was a very emotional time and to be named captain, it was just like experiencing childhood dream. But I believe that I was just not ready for something like that and perhaps this wasn’t an ideal situation for both sides.”
Although there were some rocky roads during the campaign it did end with a championship and experiences that will last a lifetime, “I used to joke with the Regev Fanan the strength and conditioning coach that one season at Maccabi was like 7 just as in ‘dog years’. But all in all I was able to really experience it all and it was the biggest educational and maturation process that I had gone through.”
The next year it was off to Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion and then to Nahariya where Sgeev had the opportunity to play an integral part with both clubs helping them advance to the State Cup Final and also the League’s Final Four.
From there it was off to France and Gravelines for Segev while a pair of other Israelis Tomer Ginat and Rafi Menco followed his lead and signed with Metropolitans and Chalon respectively.
I felt that this was my time and that I was ready to make the jump to Europe. I had a good offer from a big club but unfortunately things didn’t go as planned due to a very early injury and it was tough to get back to where I wanted to be as I was on the shelf for half a year. But I want to thank them so much as to how they took care of me and treated me at the highest of levels. Whatever I needed they were there or me and I want to wish them all only the best.”
Segev has yet to participate in an official FIBA international tournament but that may be in the offing after becoming a regular during the Eurobasket 2022 and World Cup 2023 qualifying campaigns.
“I would love to be a part of that and it would be a big honor for me to represent the country. I really hope that the staff will consider my inclusion in that roster. I will do the maximum and I hope that will be good enough.”
At the end of August coach Guy Goodes will look to maneuver the blue-and-white through the Eurobasket group stages in Prague all the way to the final stages which will take place in Germany. “We have a great staff and incredible quality, so I hope that we will be able to advance out of the group stages in this summer’s Eurobasket. I can’t wait.”
As for goals ahead, Segev just wants to be a winner, “I want to collect as may championships and trophies that I can along with going as far as I can. But most of all to be happy while doing so.”