Hapoel Jerusalem held their season opening press conference ahead of their Winner Cup quarterfinal matchup against Hapoel Beer Sheva on Saturday night (21:00) at the Drive In Arena in Tel Aviv. The Reds are looking to make waves this coming campaign as they fine tuned their roster to make a run at both the Basketball Champions League title after losing in the final last year as well as in the domestic league where they were eliminated in the semifinals by Hapoel Tel Aviv.
With the desire to go all the way, Head coach Aleksandar Dzikic spoke about his goals for the upcoming season, “We put a team together that we believe that will let us continue with something we started with last year. There were complaints last year about having signed no names so to speak, but this is a team sport that we have to work together and we will look to achieve results in order to not disappoint our fans.”
“We want to try and do one more step in every competition that we are competing in and that won’t be easy, last season in my opinion we did pretty well. Some won’t agree with that. But we will keep on the path that we have begun. Will it be enough, we will have to evaluate that later on.”
In order to take those next steps, Sports Director Yonatan Alon was tasked with finding the right mix of players that can take the club to the promised land and while that was no doubt a challenge, he feels that with the new management along with head coach Dzikic they were able to get the players that they wanted.
“We made plenty of changes over the course of the summer as we kept the roster together and we strengthened in certain areas in order to play well this season. I can’t wait to get started.” Alon began.
“Our first thoughts going into the summer was how the coach wanted to play and what type of players we would need to bring in. There was a methodology as to how we built the team and the decision was that the coach would run the show and we are happy about that. We will try our best and we are very content with the way the team looks.”
Forward Levi Randolph will fill the role of captain after the departure of Itay Segev and the veteran feels that he can bring the right mix of leadership and experience to the table for the Reds, “I feel at home after one season and my goal was to embrace the culture and do what the coach asks. This season it’s an honor to be the captain. I know what coach wants and my goal is to lead and serve the team to the best of my abilities.”
“I’m coming in the same role ok the court as last season and I’m a veteran. There isn’t much that I haven’t seen on the court. I was a captain of my team in college and naturally I’m a leader and oldest of three brothers so I have always been in that position, I don’t feel any different bring my energy and effort. We will try to work hard and play hard.”
There was much fanfare over the summer with the signing of Yovel Zoosman who has played in Germany with Alba Berlin over the past couple of seasons. In addition to his overseas exploits, the swingman was also an integral part of Maccabi Tel Aviv beforehand and is excited about what he has seen thus far as the team continues to jell and mesh together.
“We are coming together slowly but surely and now that we are home we will get to know one another even more as we continue to get onto the same page. I believe in the team and I am sure we will reach some solid results. The two years in Germany did a lot for me as I experienced some many different things. I’m happy to be here and build with the club as we look to do something big with it.”
One of the most interesting storylines for Jerusalem coming into the season is the Israeli citizenship status of Khadeen Carrington. The Israel Basketball Association had tried to move along the guard’s application in order to have him available for the National Team Olympic Pre-Qualifiers this past summer but to date its still stuck in the realm of bureaucracy.
With that being the case, Jerusalem still doesn’t know if he will be registered to play this season as an Israeli or a foreigner as both Alon and Dzikic discussed.
“The request was from the IBBA and not from us,” Alon explained. “We are just the beneficiary of that process. We will need to wait and see and we will wait right until the last minute that we can. If we can’t wait any longer than we will register him as a foreigner.”
Dzikic spoke about how having six imports rather than five impacted his coaching last season, “We have been trying to avoid to have 6 foreigners and the hardest part for me was to keep one guy out. I didn’t adjust to that all season and this season we are trying to do something else but we will protect the interests of the club.”
While the head coach wants to take the next step, he will need to also learn from last season when the team didn’t look as fresh as they did earlier on in the year but it wasn’t due to exhaustion Dzikic explained.
“They weren’t tired, they were empty emotionally after playing in the BCL finals. Also, our health report wasn’t the way we wanted it to be. Simply we played Bnei Herzliya and Hapoel Tel Aviv and they were the better opponent, you can’t be somebody who is underestimating Hapoel Tel Aviv. Every year the most important thing is the schedule and how deep you go. Sometimes you are on the good end and it’s true as everyone in pro sports will understand that.”
Finally, the newly minted captain had a message to the club’s supporters as the season gets going, “In pro sports it’s always the same approach. We put in the hard work everyday, continue to get better and in the long run make the gains. Coach hasn’t changed, so the mentality hasn’t changed. We will continue to work hard and the rest will be the finished product. As for the fans, my message to them is to come out and we will bring the same energy as in the past. We look forward to seeing them in the arena.”