Jerusalem needs a total overhaul from top to bottom after disastrous BCL campaign

Mar 20, 2024 | Holyland Hoops

Let’s be honest, Hapoel Jerusalem’s Basketball Champions League campaign was an unmitigated disaster. After running up a perfect record of 3-0 in the Round of 16 Group Stage, Ilias Kantzouris couldn’t figure out how to win again as the Reds lost three straight continental clashes while losing one Israeli league game after the next. Defeats to Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Holon and Hapoel Tel Aviv to go along with losses to Kiryat Ata and Hapoel Haifa sent Jerusalem spiraling out of control.

In essence, the writing was on the wall for Jerusalem to crash and crash hard out of Europe with absolutely embarrassing defensive play and with no rhythm on offense whatsoever. Anyone who has watched the Reds over the past couple of months has seen a once well oiled machine turn into a team that forgot how to defend and one that could never find the right rotations on offense.

The Jerusalem that defeated Tenerife in convincing fashion not too long ago disappeared as quickly as 1-2-3, never to be heard from again.

Ilaias Kantzouris – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

The Reds were riding high after that victory and were already punching their tickets to the quarterfinals, except they forgot that there were still three more games to go and despite holding almost every tie-breaker Kanztouris’s team, gave up a bundle of points in a 98-87 loss to Karsiyaka.

That made it two Israeli teams that were bounced out of Europe by Turkish squads after Hapoel Tel Aviv were ousted last week by Besiktas in EuroCup quarterfinal play.

Aleksandar Dzikic – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Sure there are plenty of excuses that Jerusalem management, staff and players can all come up with and there is no doubt that they are legitimate. From the Hamas attacks on October 7th that created havoc for the entire Israeli sports scene sending clubs to play abroad for a large swath of time to head coach Aleksandar Dzikic departing due to the war, there is not a soul that can say that these huge factors played a big part in the Reds BCL campaign.

However, this has been the same situation that Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Holon and Hapoel Tel Aviv have all faced as well not to mention the Maccabi Tel Aviv FC and Maccabi Haifa FC in UEFA Conference League action.

Yonatan Alon – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

But Jerusalem needed to make better decisions than the ones they did in finding a replacement for Dzikic that saw them appoint a coach that was blasted by the same Red teams last year when he headed AEK in the BCL playoffs. That in itself should have been a massive warning sign that sports director Yonatan Alon should have been very, very wary of.

When asked about why Alon himself didn’t step into the coach’s shoes he said that this would not be the right move for the franchise and the system that is being built. The question now if that Kantzouris has to be shown the door, there is no way, shape or form that he can be back on the sidelines on Sunday night when Jerusalem visits Bnei Herzliya. What options does Jerusalem have at this point? Bring in another foreign coach that will take tons of time to figure out what he can do with the players he has in a imperfectly built squad?

Ilias Kantzouris – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

That was already done with the Kantzouris hiring and we all saw where that went.

That leaves it to finding an Israeli caretaker type coach for the balance of the season and then from there most probably blow up the entire team and restart with a fresh slate. The problem is there aren’t many Israeli coaches available that Jerusalem may consider.

Ariel Beit Halachmi – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

There is Erez Bittman who was with the Denmark National Team for many years, Arik Shivek who is currently involved with the Dutch national team program, Ariel Beit Halachmi who is the Israel national team coach as well as a number of others that can step in for a few months, get through the rest of the campaign and then restart anew for the 2024-25 season.

There is obviously a roster construction problem that whoever will become coach will also adopt from Alon and while there may be some small steps that the club can make by perhaps bringing in a player or two to fill those gaps.

Brynton Lemar – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

There is no backup point guard for Speedy Smith as Bryton Lemar is at best a second guard, there is no forward to do the dirty work to free up Zach Hankins like there was last season in Mareks Mejeris or Siim Sander Vene and that is just the tip of the iceberg. There is two Israelis in Yovel Zoosman and Or Cornelius at the same position which had created issues for both as the list goes on and on and on.

The one positive that can be taken from the past few months is that neither the coach or the players threw one another under the bus the entire time which was not the case when Fotis Katsikaris came in for Simone Pianigiani. But even right after the game Kantzouris said that the values need to be checked, the question is was he referring to the players or management?

Alon Kremer, Matan Adelson and Gal Mekel – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Next up is a meeting between the aforementioned management and the fans slated for Tuesday March 26th, sandwiched between the league game at Herzliya and a State Cup clash at home against Hapoel Galil Elyon. That will for sure be very interesting to say the least if they don’t cancel or postpone it. The fans have been all over social media ripping the team to pieces and perhaps this may not be the most opportune time to hear from them in person if there isn’t concrete news.

There are a lot of pieces to pick up now for Jerusalem as they will try to finish off the season and then head into the new campaign with goals and milestones. While management would love to play in the Euroleague, Jerusalem needs to build up some sort of consistent tradition in continental play and being ousted in the BCL Round of 16 group stage is going to do them no favors in trying to reach what they desire.

There is a lot of hard work to be done and Jerusalem, from top to bottom, will need to roll up their sleeves and get ready to put in a tremendous amount of elbow grease to first overhaul the club and then find that consistency in building a franchise both on the court and off of it.

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