Hapoel Tel Aviv will take on Maccabi Ramat Gan in Winner Cup quarterfinal action on Friday afternoon (15:00) at the Drive In Arena and there is no doubt that JP Tokoto circled this game on his calendar. The former Reds forward signed with Ramat Gan over the summer after spending three years with Hapoel Tel Aviv and just after recently celebrating his 30th birthday, the Israeli league veteran spoke with the Sports Rabbi about the upcoming season.
“I’d have to say this place is special for me, because it’s very close-knit,” Tokoto said of his initial impressions of his new team. “It’s family-oriented, I can just tell by my conversations with Shmulik [Brenner, head coach] in the summer. Then getting around the coaching staff, Nomi [Kolodny, assistant coach], they’ve all been great. Adam [Kaplan, assistant coach] has been great as well. Our staff is amazing. I was literally in the hospital checking out stuff on my leg with Yoav [Avni], our physio. So it’s just top to bottom, even my teammates, down to the youngest guy, everybody gets along, takes care of each other, there’s no drama, there’s no in-team hate, hatred or anything like that. So it’s really refreshing to be part of another organization that really takes care of its players, its staff and most-likely its fans as well.”
As a newly-promoted team, Tokoto is just one of many new players who have joined the club over the summer. One of those new players is the newly-appointed captain, Adam Ariel, who played with Tokoto at Hapoel Tel Aviv last season.
“It’s great to have a familiar face, someone that I’ve been playing with, leading into the season, because chemistry can take any team to where they want to be and also lack of chemistry can take them down,” Tokoto said of the advantage of him and Ariel already having played together.
“So having someone that I’ve that played with and played against through the years, so I know him very well, has definitely helped us on the court in the preseason games, in practices, in the locker room. Us joking around, making everyone part of our conversations, our jokes and our stories. I think it helps to unite the young guys with the older guys, just meshing well, so when it comes to the court, so if you watch one of our practices going up and down the court, it’s like we’ve been together for a season now and we haven’t. So it’s really helpful and hopefully we can use that to our advantage.
“Year in and year out, teams are bringing in new guys and trying to figure things out and sometimes it takes teams longer, probably halfway through the season for guys to get used to each other playing like this, playing like that, whereas we are getting pretty comfortable right away, just gelling, getting things together. If we can translate that to the start of regular season then we’ll have an advantage over most teams.”
It comes as no surprise that Tokoto is looking forward to the games against Hapoel Tel Aviv more than any other in the upcoming season. He’ll get his chance against his former team in the regular at the Zisman Arena on November 18, 2023 and a the Drive In on the weekend of March 31, 2024 – and even earlier in the Winner Cup after Ramat Gan defeated Herzliya. Which game against Hapoel in the Winner League is he looking forward to the most?
“There, at the Drive In, it’s special. Also, there’s no ill-feeling against Hapoel Tel Aviv, but that’s been my home for the last three years, so going back there will be nostalgic for me, it’ll be very nice. The fans – I’ve been around the city for three weeks now, in Ramat Gan and in Tel Aviv and it’s the same as if I was back with Hapoel Tel Aviv. I just had a fan yesterday stop and say, ‘JP, we love you, Hapoel!’ So it was nice to have that warm welcoming as if I’m still with them. So going back to the gym, I expect nothing less than positivity and ‘we miss you, we love you’ and all that. But then when the game starts, it’s different, it’s all respect! It’s great and I’m looking forward to it.”
After the Winner Cup, Tokoto and Ramat Gan will kick off the regular season at home against Hapoel Be’er Sheva / Dimona on Saturday October 7 at 19:50.