Spencer Weisz leads Afula, Maccabi TLV keeps winning, Shachar Amir makes impact with Holon, Mike James #1

Mar 8, 2024 | Holyland Hoops

Spencer Weisz – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

1) Spencer Weisz leads Hapoel Afula
Maccabi Ramat Gan has been a terrific addition to Israel’s top basketball league, but they aren’t the one ones who have made an impact coming up from the country’s second division. Hapoel Afula has also played admirably since joining the Premier League under the tutelage of head coach Roie Perel as they sport a respectable 8-9 record good for 8th place overall in league play.

Many times when a newly promoted team begins their way in the first division they have issues which can range from attracting proper personnel that can keep them afloat to also convincing both Israelis and imports that this is the right place for them to also farther their careers. In many cases these teams are also in tough areas of the nation that some may not want to move to bit so far Perel has been able to find just the right mix of veterans and youngsters, Israelis and foreigners to make Afula their home away from home.

Roi Perel – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Another challenge that Afula and other teams had to deal with was the war. Perel and his squad opened the season on October 6th at Nes Ziona as the team was still on the midst of coming together as one unit, with top level imports side as Casey Sheperd and Yanick Morreira on the roster. However, as soon as all hell broke loose on October 7th, Afula saw some of their top players head home and new ones would be recruited once it was decided to get back to playing.

There’s no question that Marcellus Earlington and Cameron Shelton have made their mark but a number of their Israeli players also have helped the team as they strive to find a way into the playoffs. One of those players is Israeli league veteran Spencer Weisz who is now in his 7th season in the Holy Land.

Weisz, who was a star for Princeton and was one of the top players in the Ivy League when he graduated back in 2017 has plied his trade for a number of clubs including Hapoel Gilboa Galil, Hapoel Beer Sheva, Maccabi Ashdod, Hapoel Haifa and now Afula where his is having arguably his best season yet. Averaging 11 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.9 assists a game has placed Weisz in the upper echelon of Israeli players the league is featuring this season.

After Afula’s most recent win a 94-79 conquest over Hapoel Galil Elyon, Weisz who came close to a triple-double with 16 points, 9 boards and 7 assists spoke about the win and his season to date.

Spencer Weisz – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“Just proud of our effort. We started out slow and wasn’t showing our best, but slowly we go into our game on the defensive end which is what we do best. Everyone was touching the ball and that gets all of the guys engaged. We have been together on and off the court for quite some time now and we hold each other accountable while we push each other at practice.”

“This was a big win but we have another big game coming up against Holon. In the past I was showing my abilities but maybe not translating that to my game, but this year I have been able to show what I have been doing in practice. As for making the postseason, that is the goal and the expectations from the outside weren’t great but we aren’t paying attention to them. We put our head down and we are working hard to do just that.”

Spencer Weisz is no doubt a gamer and a winner and a player that any and every coach should want on their team.

Loreno Brown and James Webb – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

2) Maccabi Tel Aviv keeps on winning
Maccabi Tel Aviv have now gone 2 for 2 in Euroleague play since returning from the international break thanks to a 83-76 win over Zalgiris at their home away from home in Belgrade. The win moves the yellow-and-blue to 15-13 which is good for 8th place as they eye the 6th spot which would be an automatic place in the quarterfinals. While 8th place would be good enough for a Play In spot and a chance to advance to the quarterfinals, they would no doubt be very content o be able to skip that part of the postseason.

With six game remaining in their continental slate, Maccabi is still two games off of 7th place where there are 4 teams sitting at 17-11 including Panathinaikos, Fenerbahce, Bologna and Olympiacos. While a two game gap with six to go seems like a tough road, it’s not an impossible one as all of the four teams listed above have to yet play some tough games against a number of teams over .500 and are top level opponents. As for Oded Katash and his team, they have only one game in that category which is at Barcelona in their second to last game of the season.

Every team is going to lose and some of the four teams are playing head to head which makes Maccabi Tel Aviv’s situation a bit more favorable, however, an unexpected loss to the likes of Villeurbanne, Milan or Valencia may cost them dearly in their postseason hunt.

Should Maccabi go 5-1 and finish at 20-14, that should be good enough to end the campaign in 6th place, a 4-2 record for 19-15 will be close but probably not good enough to get them back to where they were last season. In reality, it’s quite amazing that Maccabi can even be having these thoughts with what they have gone through this year between the war and being displaced to Belgrade, but yet here they are.

Katash deserves a massive ton of credit to where Maccabi is right now as he looks to finish off strong.

Shahar Amir – Photo Credit: Basket.co.il

3) Shachar Amir Up & Coming
Shachar Amir is a fun, fun player to watch with Hapoel Holon as he continues to hone his skills and raises the level of his game. Amir has given head coach Amit Sherf yet another serious option to use on a game in game out basis and so much so he even had him start against Nes Ziona. The almost 24-year old as his birthday comes up on March 11th, had been given very post minutes last season and perhaps to some it was a surprise to see him back with Holon this season but Amir stayed and has been rewarded.

With only 7 players available against Nes Ziona, Amir was given the start and he shot lights out rewarding his coach’s faith in him with 10 first half points as his season average went up to 5.4 points per game.

Shachar Amir – Photo credit: Winner League

Amir, who as part of the Israel Under-20 team that won the 2019 European Championship was not one of the well known players on that team which included Deni Avdija and Yam Madar and only featured in 3 games. But hard work pays off as Amir has put the pedal to the metal and is now a trusted member of the Holon squad.

Between Yotam Hanochi who was Amir’s teammate at the 2019 European Championship, Niv Misgav and Amir himself the trip put together 40 points of the team’s 81 which is just a click under 50%. Those are some impressive numbers even if the purples were playing with a very short roster.

“Niv and Hanochi and I have a very good connection together both on flights and at practice,” Amir said. “We are always going through changes in the roster due to injuries and the like. So we have to really be ready for everything. As for getting the start, I feel a lot of comfortable, it doesn’t matter if I start or come off the bench. I can influence the game and be proactive either way, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands.”

And-1: MiKe James #1
Love him or hate him, Mike James is #1! Monaco’s superstar guard moved into first place in the Euroleague all-time scoring list passing Vassilis Spanoulis with a second quarter step back jumper in typical James style.

The 33-year old Portland native has played for a number of Euroleague clubs including Milan, CSKA, Panathinaikos, Baskonia and Monaco since 2021. James has also made stops in the NBA with the Brooklyn Nets, New Orleans Pelicans and phoenix Suns and is still in search of his first league title.

There’s no question that James has played the part of villain to perfection numerous times throughout his career which makes him that lightening rod and attracts so much attention, but with that he is a player that everyone would want on their team any day of the week. He has guts, savvy, suave and a smoothness to his play that brings out that killer instinct and winner within which Maccabi Tel Aviv saw up close and personal during their best of 5 game quarterfinal series last season that Monaco took in the 5th and deciding game to punch their ticket to the Final Four.

In that game 5 James was knocked up a bit and while his shooting from deep wasn’t much to write home about going 2/10, it was his desire, his will and his drive that saw him play 33 minutes and still score 21 points as he hobbled and wobbled at times.

Mike James – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“I was just so focused on making sure we won because I didn’t want to break the record and then we lose, then it’s kind of a weird feeling,” James commented. “It’s like, ‘Can he really be happy?’ So I was just more focused on the win, to be honest. I was trying to make sure the attention on me breaking the record didn’t distract us from focusing on what really mattered. Just happy we got the win and now we can go and celebrate.”

As for the team’s goals coming up, James said, “Clinching the playoffs and then, you know, trying to get to the Final Four and trying to win a championship. That’s been our goal all year. We went to the Final Four and didn’t get a chance to compete for a championship. I think we all want a shot at it.”

If he keeps it up there’s no question that James and Monaco will head right back to the playoffs and then it’s all open to finding a way to win that elusive title.

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