Nes Ziona are European Champions. Yes, you read correctly. Nes Ziona have captured a continental title after winning the FIBA Europe Cup over Arged BMSLAM Stal from Poland earlier this week in front of over 5,000 delirious fans in Tel Aviv.
Who would have ever thought way back in September when the league’s training camps were ramping up for the 2020/21 season, that the most successful team in Europe thus far would be from the small city of 50,000 residents just outside of Tel Aviv.
How in the world is it possible that Nes Ziona who only began play in Israel’s top division back in 2013/14 and started to take part in European competitions in 2017/18 were able to make such a large leap in such a short period of time?
The answer is quite simple; heart and soul led by their captain Tal Dunne who played his formative years with the club and is a battle tested warrior while being a symbol of true resilience. The perfect role model of what hard work, drive and desire can accomplish.
The big man played the entire Final Four with a partial cast to protect a hand injury and then had to wear a wrap around his head after having incurred a laceration just minutes into the semifinal. The captain made sure that nothing would stand in his way to hoist the championship trophy high in the air to the delight of the fans.
“I can’t describe the emotional feelings that are going through me,” he said immediately after the victory. “It’s an unbelievable feeling, it’s insane. We did it for the club, we did it for the fans wee did it for the city. I am so proud.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think that one day we would win a European Championship in Tel Aviv in front of 5,000 fans from Nes Ziona.”
Dunne was born in Wales and at the age of three moved with his family to Rishon Le’Zion. Very quickly the 6’6 power forward joined the Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion youth teams but then moved to Nes Ziona in 2008 and helped the club move up to the first division just a few years after.
Together with head coach Nadav Zilberstein, Dunne was surrounded by the late Tyler Honeycutt, Cory Carr and Preston Knowles in the club’s first year in the Premier League while former NBA 3-point Champion Daequan Cook was the team’s anchor during the first few campaigns in the FIBA Europe Cup.
After more than half a decade in charge of Nes Ziona, Zilberstein was replaced on the sidelines by Brad Greenberg who along with general manager Meir Tapiro, put together a team for this campaign that looked like it could do some damage on paper. However, in reality they had a miserable start going 1-5 out of the gate in the Israeli domestic league which meant changes needed to be made and made swiftly.
Out went three of the four foreigners and in came Braian Angola, Jerome Meyinsse and Wayne Selden in their places right around the international break in November. The trio joined the stalwart captain Dunne, Patrick Miller the only holdover from the new signings over the summer along with Nimrod Levi who rejoined coach Greenberg after playing for him on a number of occasions and up and coming forward Lior Carreira.
As the team began to jell together during the winter months, Nes Ziona headed to Poland for the group stage of the Europe Cup where they quickly found their footing and advanced to the Round of 16 with a 2-1 record with their only blemish coming to their final rivals Arged BMSLAM Stal.
It was then on to Holland where Greenberg, who had been an assistant coach for the Knicks and the Clippers in the NBA plus was the general manager who drafted Allen Iverson with the Philadelphia 76ers, continued to masterfully navigate the European landscape and disposed of Kyiv and Iraklis to help the club make their way to the Final Four.
VTB side Parma was up next in the semifinals where Nes Ziona needed a game winning 3-pointer from former NBA swingman Wayne Selden to send the team into the championship game.
Dunne, who despite not scoring led by example by grabbing the game’s first rebound, dribbled up the floor and then collected the first assist to Jerome Meyinsse who dunked the ball with authority to get Nes Ziona off and running.
This is just the first step explained Dunne, “We will keep moving forward and we want to achieve more. We started from the bottom but we want to achieve greatness.”
The trophy that Dunne lifted was the same that Maccabi Tel Aviv had dome the same with back in 1977 when the yellow-and-blue won their first European title. Other than the color now being silver instead of gold, Nes Ziona has they first piece of hardware for their trophy case. Perhaps this is a sign to come for the club.
However, right now Dunne will head for surgery as his domestic season will come to an end. But as modest as ever, he didn’t want to be seen as a hero, “I played injured and after this game my season is over as I will have surgery. I received permission from the doctor to play and there was no way I was going to sit on the sidelines in jeans and clap my hands. This in my mind was never an option.
“I wanted to show the children of Nes Ziona that they should be proud, but I am no hero. Everyone called me a hero but I am just a basketball player. The real hero is this child who helped me lift the trophy. He had a deadly form of cancer a year ago and he is the true winner after being cured. My message to everyone out there is: Never give up, follow your dreams and do everything to make it happen.”