Over the last two days, two teams moved on in the Israeli League Basketball Playoffs while two teams went home. Hapoel Holon ousted Hapoel Galil Elyon in a sweep and Hapoel Tel Aviv did the same to Nes Ziona as the reds sent them packing as well.
While both series ended in 3-0 washouts, the two could have not been any more different.
Barak Peleg and Galil Elyon lacked top level talent, only had four imports instead of five which most teams have and also play many young inexperienced Israelis. However, that didn’t stop the Galilee team from putting the pedal to the metal and playing their hearts out especially in games two and three.
On the flipside, Nes Ziona who features five foreigners with talent oozing from them looks like a shell of the team that began the season so well as they were embarrassingly demolished game after game. Most of the players looked as if they had checked out and were ready to go back home and begin their summers while looking ahead to their next contract in greener pastures.
There is no question that Galil Elyon has a limited budget, are located far away from any of the major cities and are not going to be a title threat year in and year out, but they also have a ton going for them.
From a pastoral setting, incredible staff, management and coaches they have made it known that they are a team whose mission is to work with up and coming Israeli players, giving them a chance to grow, develop and feature for a first division club. Itay Moskovitz had a wonderful season and had the chance to play game in and game out as did many other youngsters like Lotan Amsalem and Yahel Melamed.
Along with solid imports like Deishuan Booker, Bryce Washington, Devyn Marble and Wayne Langston, they left it all on the court. Add in a solid Israeli mix with Nimrod Levi and Roi Huber and you’ve got a team that finished in 5th place. In fact, they are also talking about the possibility of playing in the Basketball Champions League which could be a bit of a stretch, but nonetheless the idea that they are considering such a move deserves a lot of credit, kudos and respect.
“If you look at the numbers we didn’t bring players with big stats but guys that were able to help us come together and were of the right character,” Peleg said following game three. “There is no secret that we needed more players that could help us. But a lot of players want to come to the Galil and be a part of what we are building. This is a team with the lowest budget in the league and we are in the periphery and we aren’t going to change player after player. The Israelis are crucial for us and we all want to succeed but we have a different DNA and we are proud as to what we do in the Galilee.”
Nimrod Levi who surprisingly finished his second season with the team after having played with the likes of Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem in the past spoke about the uniqueness of the club while also looking at his own future.
“I think what they are building here is special. Of course, when you play the big teams you have a lack of experience, but what we have done with the Israelis there is nothing else like that in the county and it’s important. I hope that the team can continue to grow. As for my future, it’s hard for me to look ahead but I want to rest and relax. I want to be in a place that wants to win titles and that’s how I feel inside, but I want to first sit back and chill.”
While Galil Elyon can look back and be happy with how they continue to strive ahead, Nes Ziona had a tough, tough season despite having decent results.
With players in stars like DJ Cooper and Tyler Bey who could both be considered MVP candidates to solid veterans Jerome Meyinsse, Ronnie Harrel and first year overseas player Shaq Buchanan, Nes Ziona and head coach Elad Hasin had a squad that could on paper compete for the league title.
However, things began to go south when some players received offers for more money and stature with other clubs and Hasin needed to play more psychiatrist than coach as he explained after getting swept by Hapoel Tel Aviv.
“Some players received huge offers and some accepted the situation to continue here and some didn’t. But we still made it to the top 6 with 12 teams in the league. I learnt a lesson this season as well. I don’t know how many coaches that would have given up on some of their best players. We tried to keep things together and I felt I had to keep putting out fires all season long and I was dealing with personnel management and not coaching. It was not easy to make the decisions that we did and it’s easy for others to judge things from the side.”
There is no question Hasin accomplished a tremendous amount this season, but there is always going to be those what ifs as well. This was a team that could have gone much, much deeper into the postseason and ended up lying down and playing dead against the opposition especially in their final game of the season.
“I went into every practice as if it was my last” Hasin said. “We had discussions, video work everything from morning to night. I didn’t have an easy season and I worked hard on the mental side of things where sometimes things worked and sometimes not. But I’m happy that Israelis Raz Adam and Tomer Levinson made progress and continued to develop.”
As for next year, Hasin will most probably continue on the bench but will need to start from zero, “We don’t know how the team will look next season and we will have to rebuild the team from scratch with the DNA that we will be a fit for our club.”
One player who surely would fit the DNA of the club is Jerome Meyinsse who also spoke about the possibility of continuing with the team next season, “Year two season at Nes Ziona and it’s a place where I have enjoyed playing. I’ve enjoyed my time in Israel and in the country and the league in the short time I’ve been here, I had a lot of so special moments. I would love to come back but I understand it’s a business, it’s year 14 for me and if it’s works out on paper I’d love to be back.”
The Virgina product was a key player on the Europe Cup winning team under coach Brad Greenberg back in 2021 with Nes Ziona and the 34-year old would no doubt like to replicate that success in the future.
It’s clear that Hasin learned some lessons this season, the question is will he be able to implement what he did get out of the campaign as he begins to build the team up once again.