One day splash – Hapoel Jerusalem’s Sports Director Yotam Halperin talks about signing Thon Maker, Anthony Bennett and Sean Kilpatrick

Sep 6, 2021 | Holyland Hoops

Hapoel Jerusalem made quite a splash during one evening in late August by making a trio of high profile signings that set off the alarm bells throughout the basketball world. After having kept very quiet throughout the summer, the capital city reds stole the thunder and created headlines across the United States, Europe and of course in Israel as Thon Maker, Anthony Bennett and Sean Kilpatrick all joined head coach Oren Amiel’s club.

In order to make sense of that one evening in time and how the trio will help take Jerusalem to the top of the league, The Sports Rabbi spoke with the team’s Sports Director Yotam Halperin who himself was once a star played for the club healing them win their first league championship.

Yotam Halperin – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“The summer is very dynamic,” Halperin began. “When the summer begins, it’s not clear when signing the foreign players will occur but in this case everything came together in a very short period of time which created a sensation in the media. You can try to have things work it the way they did over the course of the summer but you don’t always have the control to do so.”

“You may have had a list of targets but sometimes the summer has its own way of developing. Players that we may have wanted fall off the radar and players that we may not have thought of at the start of the summer suddenly fit into a situation that is more favorable. Every day in itself is dynamic in that way and I’m really happy with the players that are now with us.”

As the news spread of the signings coming fast and furious back on August 25th, the top media outlets in America were glued to the action happening back in the Holy Land which wasn’t a shock to Halperin. “I wasn’t surprised at all because you are talking about players with impressive resumes. I’m very happy and I was well aware as to how the media reacted around the world but our goal at the end of the day is to come together as one and to achieve positive results.”

Thon Maker – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Thon Maker was selected 10th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2016 NBA draft and after playing a couple of season with the club was traded to the Detroit Pistons where he spent a season and a half while last year he had a very short stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Maker’s statistics throughout his time in the NBA didn’t see an upward trend, but Halperin see this as an opportunity for the dynamic forward.

“We watched a lot of Thon’s highlights and we discussed adding him to the squad for quite some time. We certainly understand that this is a player who has yet to play in Europe and is still young who is in a situation that is different than the NBA. But we will all be there to help Thon along the way slowly but surely and we are well aware that this will be a process.”

It’s never simple to land players with big names but also those who have had a number of years of NBA experience under their belt, but that was the case with Maker and Anthony Bennett. However, both are still a bit of a risk especially Bennet who hasn’t played on a regular basis over the last couple of seasons.

Anthony Bennett – Photo Credit: FIBA

“I very much believe that they will succeed and if I didn’t then we wouldn’t have made the signings. Anthony really wants to return to play basketball at the highest of levels and the talent along with the ability is there. We will have to take what we have and leverage that to where we believe we want to take it. Of course this won’t happen in one day or in one week, this will be a process that we will have to do together.”

Bennett who was the first overall pick in the 2013 draft by the Cavaliers also played for the Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors and Minnesota Timberwolves along with accumulating some European experience with Fenerbahce. This past summer the big man was part of the Canadian National team as they attempted to qualify for the Olympics but were upended in their home group by the Czech Republic and its Israeli coach Ronen Ginzburg.

“I was able to talk to some people in the Canadian camp,” Halperin said. “In general all of the feedback was positive and there wasn’t one person who said that he couldn’t play at the highest of levels. We are aware that bringing in Bennett isn’t signing a player who has been in Europe for a decade but we will get the maximum out of him with us.”

Oren Amiel – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Jerusalem is extremely hopeful that all of the club’s players will work out under head coach Oren Amiel this season from the Israeli contingent in Adam Ariel, Amit Gershon, Itay Segev, Willy Workman and Yuval Schneiderman to their imports including Retin Obasohan and Jalen Adams who were signed prior to that one night in August. The club is also confident in their squad but Haleprin will always keep his finger on the pulse.

“We haven’t looked at a plan B, C or D but we know who is here and with that we will do the best that we can. Of course, one of my jobs is to always be ready for any scenario that may present itself not just in the case of Thon and Anthony but also in case of injuries, players not in shape or God forbid anything out of the ordinary that has to be dealt with. We have to always be ready.”

Halperin himself was a star player for both Hapoel Jerusalem as well as for Maccabi Tel Aviv and was selected in the second round of the 2006 NBA draft by the Seattle Supersonics. Although he never played in the NBA he did experience the NBA Summer League which is something he looks back on in his new role, but may not necessarily be relevant in terms of his current role.

Yotam Halperin – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“I was at the Summer League as a player which is totally different than when you are in a front office role. But it was an incredible experience and I can remember every day, every minute an every second that I was there, not just the draft itself. Today when I go to the Summer League and I see the players I am a bit jealous,” Halperin said with a chuckle.

While the roles have changed, Halperin is still committed to the process as he has seen take place throughout his tenure with Jerusalem, “Commitment is what creates the process and when you go through a positive process you can make correct decisions which eventually takes you to the end goal and gets you to where you want to be. You might not always make the correct decisions and you may not be right all of the time but the process is the commitment of the club and of the players and that is what is most crucial.”

Yotam Halperin – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“Over the past nine seasons, the club has gone through a process where it is always improving. While there have been better seasons than others, we are constantly trying to continue to improve and upgrade ourselves and when the results will come then I will be very satisfied.”

Ultimately, how Jerusalem will perform over the long term will be part of the tradition that is currently being built and Halperin brings it back to being part of that process where it may not be the next game that will make the difference down the road but looking at the bigger picture.

“The club’s ambition is to always look ahead, not to the next game which is obviously different than how a coach or player sees things, but as a club our goal is to look ahead as to how to continue to improve the club which could be something for tomorrow or something that will impact Jerusalem five years from now.”

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