Shai Segalovich looks to guide Nahariya back to Promised Land

Oct 19, 2021 | Holyland Hoops

The Leumit League, Israel’s second division began play this past week with a number of fantastic storylines that will ensure for an exciting season ahead. With many former Premier League veterans both on the court as well as on the sidelines, along with up and coming stars who are honing their trade for that eventual leap, basketball teams around the country from Ashkelon to Kiryat Ata are busy looking to reach the promised land of promotion to the top division.

One of the most enticing and interesting stories coming out of the Leumit this campaign is that of Nahariya who dropped down from the Premier League after a rough season that saw the club win only 3 games.

The team’s current head coach Shai Segalovich took over the reins midway through the year after veteran Israeli coach Danny Franco left the club due to its poor results. Segalovich, who has moved up the coaching ladder over the past decade took on the challenge, his first in the top league as he looked to not only try to right the ship during a disappointing season but also set the club up for success and a quick return back up a league this campaign.

Just as the 2021/22 season begins, Segalovich sat down to talk to The Jerusalem Post about his rise though the ranks, his philosophy and understanding of the game as well as his mentor coach Arik Alfasi who recently passed away.

“Arik and I knew each other for about 20 years and he was my coach when I was a youth player with Netanya. From then on we stayed in touch and never parted ways. Even when we weren’t working together we were still friends outside of basketball as our families became very close. I’m still trying to wrap my head around what had happened but it’s good that there is basketball so I can keep my mind on that because at the right after he passed away it was very tough. But that is how life is and he will always be a part of me.”

One of the challenges the exciting challenges that Segalovich has in front of him is not only that of trying to earn promotion but also participating in the Balkan League which allows the team to play in Europe as well as in the domestic competition.

“I’m very excited to begin the season and if I wasn’t then I would have to stop working in this profession. How can’t you be excited? This season will be a test for me and I will have to prove myself because this team was built to be promoted to the Premier League. We were able to bring in a number of experienced players because we are playing in the Balkan League but the main concern is really the Leumit. We have to prove the entire season that we are worthy to be at the top and make sure that when we get to playoff time we are playing are best basketball in order for us to go up a league.”

Segalovich made it very clear that while the team will indeed play in two different competitions, the goal is very straightforward for his squad, “Our goal is to go up a league. The club was built with no other goal in mind. I wanted to take this job in the middle of last season with the knowledge that if we were relegated that management would want to go right back up. Even though I had good years at Yavne, it was still not easy to try and move up a league with the budget and situation. I knew I had to make the move because you never know when you’ll have another chance to advance.”

One of the advantages of playing in Europe allowed Segalovich the ability to bring in high quality players and ones that will be able to lead the team when the going gets tough against the other Leumit clubs that are trying to move up a league as well.

“We built a deep roster that will be able to handle play in two different competitions. The squad’s depth will allow us to make sure ten legitimate Leumit players have a spot plus you never know when there will be an unexpected situations. It was very important for me to have an Israeli point guard that has played at the highest of levels as well as two Israeli big men in Alex Chubrevich and Yonatan Atias. I wasn’t looking for stars but players who will work hard with each one having their role.”

One of the biggest names Segalovich has on his roster is Yogev Ohayon who has played at the highest of levels in Israel, having won the Euroleague with Maccabi Tel Aviv back in 2014. Ohayon’s veteran presence and savvy brings a huge level of legitimacy to what Segalovich wants to accomplish this season and a a massive boost to the club’s fan base in the city of Nahariya as well.

“Yogev Ohayon has root outside of basketball in this city as his wife is from here and he also played here as well. In our first conversation he said that his goal was to succeed and move up a league and knowing Yogev when he gives his word, he gives his word. I understood right away his passion for the game and the desire that he be able to succeed and that was the first thing I needed to hear. Being able to work together with veterans and youngsters was the key in order to be able to bring this together. When he signed that was statement that we are serious to be promoted in one season.”

Segalovich began playing the game as child and worked his way up the youth ranks, however, he knew fairly early on that his calling in the sport was not going to be on the court but one the sidelines, “I played basketball as a youngster and I understood very quickly that I wasn’t going to be a player even in the Leumit league so I started to coach children while I played. People would say that I was a smart player but not one with the greatest of talents. Arik Alfasi called me and asked that I come and work with him. I have stayed in the coaching loop which has been very advantageous as well since.”

In conjunction with beginning his way as an assistant coach under the late Arik Alfasi with Netanya back in 2010, Segalovich also served as a scout for the Israel National Team under the then head coach Arik Shivek.

“The relationship with Shivek started thanks to coach Dan Shamir when he gave me a call and said that the Israel National Team was looking for a scout. I also worked under Erez Edelstein when he took over the blue-and-white. It was a lot of fun and challenging as it was also during my first years of marriage but it opened a lot of doors and connections with people from Europe.”

Segalovich served as an assistant coach throughout the decade with Netanya along with Hapoel Gilboa Galil and Nahariya until he made the plunge into the head coaching world when he became the bench boss at Yavne in the Leumit League back in 2018. Segalovich had much success with Yavne and was named the coach of the year for the 2019/20 campaign but came up short in the goal of earning promotion with the club due to COVID-19.

“I could have had the opportunity to become a head coach earlier on but it had to be right situation in the Leumit with a club that was going forward and that had a plan in place. One that wanted to succeed in the long term. It was important for me that I would be an assistant coach in a number of places beforehand and take the various things from the head coaches I worked with when I would finally make the jump. Everything has its time. Over the last year I had many talks with Arik Alfasi and he told me that I should look for a head coaching job and that I had done what I needed to do as an assistant.”

“The 2019/20 season was a missed opportunity as we all felt that this was going to be our season if it would have ended it on the court as we would have been promoted. We had a great lockerroom and we knew that with the positive situation we had we needed to do the best on the floor itself. When they ended the season early due to the coronavirus the top two teams went up, but I am sure that if it would have continued the season we would have gone up a league.”

Segalovich began last season in charge of Yavne but was very close to moving to Nahariya over the summer, however, at the last moment it didn’t come to fruition he explained, “After the 19/20 season there was talk I would go to Nahariya and it was almost a done deal. I even signed the contract but the late chairman Nissim Alfasi called me and said that there was a last minute decision that Danny Franco would continue. I was disappointed but when things didn’t go well with Franco I received a call and the club asked if it was still relevant. I spoke to Yavne who gave me the approval to leave and I became Nahariya’s coach.”

With his arrival up north, Segalovich saw right away that while the team perhaps had the potential to remain in the Premier League out was still going to be an uphill battle while also having to deal with strong personalties including former NBA first round draft pick Joe Alexander. However, he put his foot down and put his mark on what was going to be his team and one that would play with his values culled from many years of experience and working with some of the best coaches in the country.

“When I first started at Nahariya we had a vibe that we could stay up but we didn’t have a strong enough squad. I felt that the Israeli players needed to be dominant and the team wasn’t built in the best possible way. We made some changes but we had to begin to think of the future.”

“As for Joe Alexander, Nahariya isn’t just any type of club and when I saw that a player thought that he was above the club, he had crossed my red line and I cut him. No one can feel that they were above the team. We made the cut and that also impacted our ability to stay in the league. I really believe in a strong lockerroom and character with the Israeli players.”

One of the advantages of working in the Leumit League is the ability to see some of the up and coming Israeli players who have recently played in the youth national team system, “We are seeing them become much more significant and there are a number of solid Israelis on every team that are getting minutes. The Leumit league is a good stepping stone to the top division and there is now a much better infrastructure for the younger players. We have a population large enough in this country to develop solid players. The players will need to know where they can get playing time and now we also have size instead of just guards.”

Segalovich is well aware of the fact that earning promotion will not be as simple as 1-2-3 and his squad will need to have to battle game in and game out in order to find their way back in the top league.

“We are always concerned about not succeeding in our goal and there is stress that exists. But the self confidence is there. We are one of the 3-4 teams who invested funds to attempt promotion and on paper we have the quality but nothing is easy in this league. The smaller teams could determine the outcome of the league. Having no mercy in the Leumit League is an understatement. Younger players will come in and try to show that they are better we will have to translate what is on paper onto the court.”

As for his own personal dreams, Segalovich isn’t shy with wanting to reach the highest of heights in the continent while he also knows how he will need to maneuver his way through the path of success, “I want to coach in the Euroleague. It’s something special to be part of a club that is in that league and this is something that I have been dreaming of. But you’ve got to be part of the right clubs in order to succeed.”

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