Saraf, Season ahead, Israeli basketball – Kiryat Ata coach Sharon Avrahami in a no holds barred interview

Sep 14, 2023 | Holyland Hoops

Sharon Avrahami is Ironi Kiryat Ata and Ironi Kiryat Ata is Sharon Avrahami. The 49-year old head coach is preparing to begin yet another season in charge of a top league team after a busy summer that saw him take the Israel Under-18 team to a 6th place finish at the European Championship without up and coming star guard Ben Saraf. However, not to worry, Saraf will be a main piece of his Kiryat Ata puzzle as he prepares for the upcoming campaign.

Just ahead of the new season, Avrahami sat down with The Sports Rabbi to look ahead to what 2023/24 has in store for his squad, but began with his time with the young blue-and-white.

“I’m very proud and I believe that we had a very good campaign,” Avrahami began. “I’m proud as to how we accomplished the result as we had to deal with numerous difficulties and injuries along the way. I believe that we peaked just at the right time and we played solid basketball.

The big name that is being talked about at Kiryat Ata is without a doubt Ben Saraf and while Avrahami didn’t have the 17-year old guard available in Nis, Serbia for the Israel national team, he will have him up north as the new season begins.

Ben Saraf – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“I believe that every single player that I sign is a good signing. Of course, this on made quite some noise but at the end of the day the burden of proof is on both Ben and ourselves. It’s great that we signed him as well as that he’s young but we have to win games and help him continue to improve.”

Avrahami, who is not afraid of making a big splash did exactly that near the end of the 2015/16 season when he added NBA guard Nate Robinson to his Hapoel Tel Aviv squad in a shocking move that almost saw the reds make it out of their tough playoff series with Hapoel Jerusalem.

“Nate Robinson happened so quickly as it was during the season and I hope that Ben will reach the level of play that Nate was able to produce over the course of his career.

Sharon Avrahami – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

While Avrahami wants to help Saraf develop and mature as a professional player, there is no plan yet to have him feature in the starting lineup, “There isn’t any plan as of yet and even if he doesn’t start, it’s not always the best players that do. There is no guarantee for anyone if they will be starting or not. He may start, he may not or perhaps some games he will and others he won’t. There are no guarantees.”

Other than Saraf, there are plenty of other players that will make their mark with Kiryat Ata this coming campaign including Amin Stephens who returns for yet another campaign with the club, but there is not star per se.

“Amin Stephens will begin his third season with the team and he was a very prominent player for us as he was a leader. We may not have one star but we have a team that should they play well, the guys will have played well and if the team isn’t it will be because they weren’t good enough. That way should the team be good then everyone will standout in its success.”

Greg Whittington – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

One of the new imports that Kiryat Ata brought on board is Greg Whittington who played with Hapoel Beer Sheva last season. When the big man played for Hapoel Gilboa Galil in 2018/19 he was one of the standout players in the league and Avrahami is hoping that he can catch some of that magic in the bottle.

“That’s the idea. There is no question that Greg has a tremendous amount of talent and that he has been great so far. The key will be how he will integrate within the team and the chemistry that can be created which will end up being the answer to the question as to if he will have a better season than he did last year. That is undoubtedly the goal.”

One of the other returnees this coming campaign is naturalized Israeli JJ Kaplan who had the opportunity to train with Klay Thompson this summer.

JJ Kaplan – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“JJ was the second player we signed immediately after Amin and he is someone that we really believe in. He’s going to surprise some this season and he’s beginning his third year with us. I’m hoping that some of Klay’s shooting rubbed off on him after the sessions he had with him!”

One person who will not be continuing the coming season is the CEO Tali Haim who was an important personality around the club over the past couple of seasons.

“Tali’s departure is very significant as she was not just here as a sponsor but also as the CEO. She really contributed a tremendous amount to the club. On a personal level I am very sad to see her go and that she will not be here this coming season. Liad Netzer will take over the role as CEO and there are also a number of very good people that are a part of the operation so I am hopeful things will continue to as they should.”

Basketball for Avrahami is 24/7 and it’s always been a part of his life. While coaching the senior Israel National Team would be a dream and something that he would love to accomplish one day as he also sees a bright future for the state of the game in this country.

Sharon Avrahami – Photo Credit: FIBA

“I think that Israeli basketball is doing well and you can see that from the success that national teams had this summer. I know all pretty much all of the players as I coached them and if everything can come together as they should we should reach some solid accomplishments, some that people never thought that Israeli basketball could reach.”

As for goals for the upcoming season with Kiryat Ata, Avrahami is trying to keep it simple, “We want to play quality basketball, the best that we can while reaching our potential as a team. Our first goal is to stay in the league and I’m not taking for granted the fact that we did that with five gamedays left last season. Personally, I am always trying to go as high as we can but we have to be very modest. So if we can battle for a playoff spot which we did last season but just missed out, then for sure that is something that we will do.”

However, Kiryat Ata won’t have an easy time, especially with a very tough slate of games at the start of the season including the league champions and runner-ups Maccabi Tel Aviv on the road and Hapoel Tel Aviv at home respectively. After that it’s a date with Nes Ziona which could put pressure on the coach to perhaps not play Saraf who is about to start his first season in the top division.

Sharon Avrahami – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“It’s easy schedule without a doubt,” Avrahami jokingly said. “We had no influence in the schedule and we are certainly not going to think if we will lose then what will be. We will put our focus on one game at a time and we certainly know we can’t win all of our first three but I have no intent on making any rash changes. Historically at Kiryat Ata we don’t make many changes and last season we didn’t replace any import players. This is the way the club operates and I hope that this is how it will continue.”

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