MVP Sorkin to wounded IDF solider Eran Ratzabi: “It’s because of you that we can be here doing what we do”

As the Israeli basketball season comes to an end after an extremely challenging year due to the horrific events of the October 7th massacre by Hamas of the Gaza periphery communities, the league held a very modest annual awards ceremony and league finals press conference that celebrated the highlights of the campaign. However, the most emotional moments of the event were when the families of those who had been murdered by Hamas, the families of those being held hostage as well as injured soldiers handed out the awards to the respective recipients.

Ari Steinberg – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

Ari Steinberg, the Israel Basketball League Chairman spoke about the challenging season that the competition experienced this campaign, “I want to congratulate the two teams who have advanced to the finals. We made it through a very tough season but to make it to the end with some great games and tough play and we made it. The league began on Oct 6 and then the entire country turned upside down the following day with the Hamas massacre by the Gaza periphery.”

“We had some ideas to move the league to Cyprus but due to security considerations that couldn’t work, so at that point we decided to just begin and go for it as best as we could and we worked around two clock to get the league off and running. There are huge thanks that I have to give to the entire league staff and the new CEO David Bassan for their tireless work. I know this wasn’t an easy season for the fans and it was far from ideal but we appreciate them understanding the challenges that we had upon the way.”

Meir Berdugo- Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

Meir Berdugo, the CEO of the Toto, who are the league’s lead sponsor also commented about the campaign that was, “I want to open up by sending my condolences to the families of the soldiers who have fallen in Gaza. We had so many challenges that we faced this season and we really wanted this one to be the best that has been but everything turned upside down due to October 7th. However, we were able to get the league up and running and while it hasn’t been the easiest we are also very proud that we were able to give some relief to the real issues that we as a people are all facing as there are still many hostages being held in Gaza. I want to wish the two teams the best and hope that the fans can stay away from violence and enjoy and celebrate the game of basketball.”

With Maccabi and Hapoel tipping off for the second straight season in the finals, both teams will be looking to take his, the championship with the yellow-and-blue trying to win back-to-back while the reds attempting to take home their first league title in 54 years.

Oded Katash – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

“Everything came together in a season that has been quite crazy,” Maccabi head coach Oded Katash who recently signed a 2-year extension with the club began. “Between the schedule and flights it’s been quite the year. There are have been many emotions this season and we want to end this one with a title. We see the end is upon us and we have a chance to finish it off with a sweet taste.

“On a personal level it’s very important for us and we have to give a ton of credit to the management and players for handling such a challenging season. We have had plenty of toogh battles this season and we want to end the season on a positive note. A Derby in the final will always have emotions.”

Stefanos Dedas – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

“The first big step was to get to the finals and it’s now a best of 3 series,” Hapoel’s bench boss Stefanos Dedas who took over the reigns of the club a few months ago explained. “We know that our fans want this so much. Coming into the finals for the second year in the row shows consistency. It’s two wins away and we will do our best. The fact that the team hasn’t won in many years gives us extra motivation to win the title and if we see the opportunity at the right moment and Maccabi isn’t at the level we can write history.”

John Dibartolomeo, the Maccabi Tel Aviv captain looked ahead to the finals series as well “Every time you play in the final there are expectations as this is always the case at Maccabi. There is obviously more pressure as it’s a derby but we can’t focus on that and we have to look at how we can get a 1-0 lead. Every year we go in with goals for the season and Israeli league is one of them. We have talked about how it’s been a toogh year and winning the league would be a way to end with a positive taste but we expect another battle and there isn’t much to take from last season. It’s a rivalry and we all look forward to it and in order to win a championship you need to get through tough obstacles and we expect nothing less.”

Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

Bar Timor, the captain of Hapoel Tel Aviv spoke about making sure that the fans will come and enjoy the finals and to keep the violence out of the arenas, “It’s important to all of us that the series will go off without a hitch and we know that the fans are enthusiastic and it all comes from a good place. But we all want it to be as sportsman like as possible and we want to have quality basketball with as little problems as possible surrounding that.”

Katash echoed Timor’s sentiments, “Last season’s final was violent and we want to really keep this out of the sport after what this country has gone through since October 7th. The games that we did play this season were a bit less heated and we need to keep this going into the final.”

Sharon Avrahami – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

The awards ceremony followed the press conference as Kiryat Ata bench boss Sharon Avrahami was given the Coach of the Season award by Simona Sharem, the mother of Liam Sharem who was killed on October 7th who had pushed forward the building of sports centers around the country.

“I’m very honored to be here and this was really an accomplishment after thirty years of coaching. Winning this award should give all of the young Israeli coaches the hope that they can advance and also reach these heights. We had a dream team for a coach that I had a team at Kiryat Ata that wanted to learn. I want to thank all of my staff for the help that they gave me but really it’s because of the players who deserve this honor.”

Roi Huber, Roman Sorkin, Amin Stevens, Tomer Ginat – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

The 1st Team All-Stars were awarded to Roman Sorkin, Tomer Ginat, Roi Huber, Levi Randolph and Amin Stevens while the 2nd Team All-Stars were given to James Batemon, Adam Ariel, Tamir Blatt, Jaylen Hoard and Justin Smith.

Along withe being named as a 1st Team All-Star, Roman Sorkin was also given the Israeli player of the Season award as well as the league’s Most Valuable Player award.

Roman Sorkin – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

“It’s a huge honor to win an individual award,” Sorkin began. “But it’s really because of my teammates because without them I wouldn’t have been able to win. We are looking forward to the final and we will do the best that we can. I never imagined that I would be at this stage, but right now the most important thing is the championship series.”

The newly crowned MVP then turned to Eran Ratzabi, an IDF soldier who was injured in Gaza and is now in a wheelchair who gave hm the award and said with tears in his eyes, “I want to thank you for all what you have done for all of us and it’s because of you that we can be here doing what we do.”

Rooi Huber – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

Hapoel Galil Elyon point guard Roi Huber was given his 1st Team All-Star award by Yehuda Yehoshua, the father of Ido Yehoshua who fell in the battle of the Gaza periphery on October 7th and said, “It wasn’t an easy season and we had a very short squad but we were able to reach our goals. I’m happy that we were able to keep the team in the league but most importantly our thoughts are with the hostages that are still being held in Gaza.”

Amin Stevens, Kiryat Ata’s star forward was presented his 1st team All-Star award by Eli Shativi father of Idan Shativi who is being held hostage by Hamas after having been a photographer at the Nova festival.

Amin Stevens – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

“I want to thank Kiryat Ata for dealing with me for three years and allowed me to grow and become a better player.”

Tomer Ginat who also received a 1st Team All-Star said, “The individual honor is great but we want to bring all of the hostages home. It’s clear that it’s been a very tough season and both teams will come in ready to go. We will do the maximum that we can as we always do and we will go into the first game to do what we know how to do best.”

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