Hapoel Tel Aviv’s 70-64 loss to Buducnost was a weird one to say the least. The Reds were playing with only 8 players which put them at a massive disadvantage out of the gate. Star guard J’Covan Brown was out sick, Jaylen Hoard was unavailable due to an ankle sprain, center Chris Horton couldn’t play as he was about to sign a contract with Lokomotiv Kuban in Russia and even youngster Ilay Dolinski was wasn’t with the team.
With a short rotation, head coach Danny Franco did an admirable job of managing his lineup and getting the most of what he had to work with.
Sure Hapoel has now lost two in a row in EuroCup play and their record is even at 3-3, but the Reds will be fine.
How do I know that? Because the players were not happy with the defeat despite the fact that they could have used the lack of manpower as an excuse. Franco must have been very, very content hearing that from his team.
“It was a rough game for everybody and we got to player better,” veteran Jordan McRae said in the lockerroom. “We are professionals so we will not go on and pass on the effort to play hard, that’s our job.”
That attitude is just what the doctor ordered and if that is the mindset of his players, Hapoel Tel Aviv will have a very good season ahead.
Franco himself wasn’t looking for any accolades and also wouldn’t give the team any outs on this night, “I don’t think that the players were that tired and I didn’t try to split up the minutes. I can say that we didn’t have enough players for this game and I can say that we were tired, but it’s just an excuse. Exhaustion is part of the game and we have to know how to deal with that.”
The bench boss, dug a little deeper into which absence was more critical for his team in the defeat, “We all know J’Covan and Jaylen’s absences left us with the issue of having very similar players and lineups. But Hoard could have really made a difference as he adds speed and athleticism and I would put my finger on him. Maybe we could have gone to a quicker lineup because Buducnost controlled the tempo, but regardless we didn’t have it on the court in this game.”
McRae also looked back at the loss and at what could have been the difference maker for the Reds, “I don’t really know. I feel we were out of rhythm and we played slow, we need to fix that as we can be the most talented team in the world. We knew this was important for us. We just had one of those days for me and the guys.”
“It was tough and we came out ready to play buy we got into a hole,” Hapoel’s high scorer with 21 points Xavier Munford said about having gone down by a dozen points after the first quarter. “We came back but a team like that who are well coached and patient are tough. When guys are missing everybody got to be aggressive to make up for that.”
Buducnost who are now 4-2 in the young season and its head coach Vladimir Jovanovic said that his team was in the same situation as Hapoel with a short roster and tough travel schedule, “We didn’t have a lot of players and we had the same problem. As Hapoel and we had two players that had injuries and a virus, we were not fresh for sure. When we were plus two 55-53, we believed and we stopped them and started to play slow pace with pick and rolls as we tried to find the right situation. We were so focused at the end of the game.”
Franco saw how the game came to its end just as his counterpart described it but also saw some of the positives that could be taken from the game, “We couldn’t find our rhythm in the last few minutes and Buducnost slowed the pace. We had some good minutes and every time we came close it wasn’t enough. We really wanted to protect home court for our fans but it didn’t happen today, we will get better the next game.”
“We were patient, we moved the ball around and had good shots. Gil Beni had some good minutes on the defensive side and contributed. Even though we had to play their style of game and we gave up 26 points in the first quarter of their 70 total points we were able to stop them over the last three periods. But we still need to be able to handle the physicality of the teams in this competition.”
Fortunately, Hapoel will need to have a massive collapse not to make it to the one game knockout playoff round as the top eight of ten teams in their group advance and the two last place teams, Slask and Trento are both 0-5.
Obviously, the Reds won’t want to back into the post season and it’s somewhat ludicrous that it’s even being broached at this point. But the campaign is a third of the way through and for Hapoel to be 3-3 in their first year in Europe with a new recruit in last year’s Israeli League MVP in Chinanu Onuaku on the team, Franco’s squad is in good shape.
While Onuaku is in, Chris Horton is out as he signed with Kuban in Russia. The big man who really became part of the team very quickly will be missed by the team as Munford said while he also looked ahead to the club’s game at Hapoel Holon on Friday, “Chris is a good player but it’s the business. Holon will be a good game for us and we will come ready to play on Friday.”