Stay tuned: Hapoel Tel Aviv looks to shock the world with 1 down and 3 to go

Apr 13, 2023 | Holyland Hoops

Hapoel Tel Aviv continued to make waves in their debut campaign in the EuroCup competition as they eliminated Reyer Venezia in their one game winner move on Round of 16 clash. The Reds came out on fire in front of their home fans and rattled off an 18-0 run as everyone who stepped on the floor made an impact for Danny Franco’s team in a 90-80 win at the Drive In Arena.

Up next for Hapoel will be a date at Joventut Badalona which is just next to Barcelona win what will yet another one game contest for the right to move into the semifinals. The ACB team has plenty of quality and the matchup will be no walk in the park for the Israeli club, but with this Reds team anything and everything seems to be possible.

There is no reason to think that Hapoel can’t win the entire tournament whose playoffs are designed just like the NCAA’s March Madness and there are numerous reasons as to why they have been able to produce such a fine season in the continent’s second best competition.

Hapoel Tel Aviv – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

First off, Hapoel’s roster is one of the best in Europe. With a number of top of the line veteran players who have won at the highest level, the experience factor that runs throughout the squad is second to none. That includes both Israeli players and foreigners who have been a part of winning teams at various levels along with also having been stars in their own right whether it has been in Israel or beyond.

Franco’s Sabra contingent includes the cream of the crop beginning with Tomer Ginat who spurned an offer from Maccabi over the summer to come back home so to speak after a couple of seasons in France. Captain Bar Timor has won Israeli league and Israel State cup titles before with Hapoel Jerusalem while Idan Zalmanson is arguably the country’s best big man and guard Gil Beni can change up as game with a single shot as he has done so many times including nailing a triple at the end of the first quarter against Venezia.

As for the imports, J’Covan Brown has seen it all and has played in Israel for many seasons while also having won a State Cup with Jerusalem. Jordan McRae had a solid NBA career that included playing with LeBron James with the Cleveland Cavaliers along with winning the league championship that same season. Xavier Munford has played for various clubs in the NBA, G-League and across the globe and center Chinanu Onuaku was the Israeli League MVP last season when he helped capture the State Cup with Bnei Herzliya as well as taking them to the league finals.

J’Covan Brown – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Jaylen Hoard who hails from France has also played in the NBA and is a force in the paint while JP Tokoto is a long time Israeli league veteran who has seen a couple of things during his time in the Holy Land.

With a collection of players like Hapoel has there is no reason to think that they can’t make some serious noise in the playoffs after finishing the regular season with a 13-5 record which was good for third place in their group.

“We have a deep squad with a lot of tools and we were able to really play so well with the crowd. This was a good win for us,” Tomer Ginat said following the game that saw 6 players in double digits and 8 players with over 6 points each.

Franco also spoke about the depth of his squad, “A lot of guys contributing, coming off the bench, it was really a team effort. In an atmosphere like that, I am really proud of my team. So many guys involved in the game, the stat sheet says it all and as a coach you can only be proud.”

Xavier Munford – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Munford chimed in as well about Hapoel’s performance as a team, “In practice as well as in games recently we emphasized moving the ball more and that what happens when you do this. We just want to keep playing well and we need to carry it over to the next game.”

Another reason for Hapoel’s sweet success has been the fact that their fans are an integral part of the team and for the game against Venezia were in the stands hours prior to tip-off getting the atmosphere heated up appropriately.

The red loyalists not only help their heroes to a true home advantage, they also travel in support of their team which was highlighted by over a thousand fans in a regular season game in London. The players know full well how home court advantage is something that helps them against any opponent.

“The atmosphere here was amazing, we are happy for them and they deserved it more than anything,” Idan Zalmanson said.

Gil Beni and Idan Zalmanson – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Gil Beni was enthralled by the fan support, “It was amazing here and I never felt this in my life. So much energy and I’m happy we won.”

“I’ve played here for many years and I never have felt this type of atmosphere for a game,” Ginat explained. “The fans are here two hours before and we are fortunate that we have been able to bring so many fans both with us on the road.”

J’Covan Brown also spoke about the effect that the fans have on the team especially when Hapoel needed to hang in tight late in the fourth quarter, “We knew it would be tough. But once we get in front of the crowd we are very dangerous. It’s tough to beat us here and we played hard tonight. We want to do it for the fans.”

Hapoel also has a tremendous amount of resolve and while the may have cracked a bit when Venezia pulled to within 80-75 late in the final frame. There were some nervous moments for Reds fans when they saw a 21-point lead being sliced and diced right in front of their very eyes. However, the veteran leadership wasn’t going to allow that to happen as Onuaku put down a pair of big time dunks to settle the waters and help his team polish off the win.

“We felt the pressure,” Beni said. “We could have finished it off earlier but it’s knockout game and I’m happy we won. What’s special about this team is that we have a lot of players who can take the last ball which gives us peace of mind in those critical moments.”

Danny Franco – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Coach Franco also spoke about how his team needs to be a bit more focused down the stretch because against a team like Badalona on the road, Hapoel may not be able to maintain the lead and pull out the win.

“It’s good that what occurred to us at the end of this game happened now in this one as we can learn from this. In today’s game no lead is safe and any team can come back from 20 points down and win.”

Badalona, who advanced to the quarterfinals with a 89-78 win over the upstart London Lions sit in 6th place in the Spanish ACB League with a 17-10 record and finished their EuroCup group with a 13-5 record will be serious opponent for Hapoel Tel Aviv to face away from the friendly confines of the Drive In.

The Reds will not have the home court advantage in this game and won’t have the seat allocation that they would so desperately want to have which could spell trouble for Franco and his charges. But nonetheless, they will work on learning their opponent just as they have all season long which has led them to the success that they have experienced so far this season.

“I’ve seen them play, Spanish teams are always difficult and in their arena it will be tough,” Franco said. “We will prepare for this game well and the goal is to win. Hopefully we can come back here and play another home game.”

Xavier Munford – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

The always cool, calm and collected Munford is looming forward to the challenge, “Our coaching staff will study the scouting reports and we will go out there, play our basketball and try to win. It’s there for us to grab. We had the same goal from the start. We will play our style, lock in and go there and win.”

Finally, J’Covan Brown had the most appropriate two words about the upcoming game as to what Hapoel’s plans will be to take the win, “stay tuned.”

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