Kiryat Ata and Maccabi Tel Aviv will do battle in Winner Cup quarterfinal action on Tuesday (5:30pm) at the Drive In Arena as each team will look to take the final spot in the Final Four of the preseason tournament. One semifinal is set with Hapoel Jerusalem taking on Hapoel Holon on Wednesday (9:15pm) while Hapoel Tel Aviv will be waiting for the northerners or the yellow-and-blue in the second semifinal slated for Thursday (9pm).
Kiryat Ata is entering their second season in the top league under the tutelage of veteran head coach Sharon Avrahami and will know doubt be a team to watch with up and coming star Ben Saraf as well as forwards Amin Stevens and Greg Whittington who will be anchoring the squad.
However, one player who has already proven to be worth the price of admission is guard James Batemon who is making his Israeli league debut this season. The 26-year old attended North Dakota State College of Science before transferring over to Loyola Marymount for his Junior and Senior years.
The 26-year old made his professional start in Latvia at Ogre and has since played in France, Greece and Germany before arriving in the Holy Land. Last season which was split between Crailsheim and Karditsa, Batemon averaged 14.2 points, 2.8 assists and 2 rebounds while shooting 38.4% from beyond the arc.
Just ahead of the Kiryat Ata and Maccabi Tel Aviv game, The Sports Rabbi spoke with Batemon about a myriad of topics from arriving in Israel, what he has to offer, working with coach Avrahami as well as looking back at their Winner Cup quarterfinal win at Hapoel Haifa.
“I felt that we played very good offensively, defensively though we were pretty slow,” Batemon said about the victory over Haifa. “It starts at the head of the snake, me personally I was a little slow on defense because I picked up 3 fouls in the first half and there were two offensive fouls that I didn’t agree with but I couldn’t be as aggressive as I wanted defensively and I felt that kind of rubbed off on the team and so our defense was a little shaky. We gave up 80 something points, that’s too many but we got the win so that’s good.”
As for the what can be improved upon from their win, Batemon outlined a number of areas, “I felt that when we are locked in, engaged and can increase the pressure, we can be really good at times. But when we get relaxed offensively we are still clicking, but defensively you can see early in the season the mistakes we make, the little small errors, communication errors. These are things we will focus on as we have a full week of practice and we should have that fixed up before the next cup game but if not before the official season starts.”
There is no question that James Batemon has plenty to offer as the 6”1 floor general knows how to take the bull by the horns and lead the club to success this coming campaign, “I would hope so, that’s what I came to do. I came to be the head of the snake, lead this team to hopefully the playoffs and in order to do that I need to perform and be at the top of my game every night. I feel that this is the James Batemon that I have always been and now I am getting the opportunity to do it on a bigger stage with more responsibility. It’s kind of normal to me, come out and play the game the right way and everything will fall into place.”
Kiryat Ata began training camp in August and there are a number of new players on the team who will all need to adjust to coach Avrahami and that of course includes Batemon as well, “We are still learning each other. Some things he doesn’t agree with and some things I don’t agree with but that is normal in the preseason. We have a good relationship so far and we are able to talk to each other which is the most important thing. So as long as the communication is good, I’m going to see things differently than him and that’s ok as long as we are on the same page at the end of the day and we can come talk to each other and communicate with each other we will be fine.”
So far, the Milwaukee, Wisconsin native is enjoying his time in Israel as he adjusts to a new country, “I like it. For me so it’s different and feels like a more Middle Eastern country rather than European. But when I go to some of the bigger cities that are close like Haifa and Tel Aviv, it gets more Americanized and Europeanized. It feels like Europe or just back home so the adaptation has been easy. It’s basketball, same European game, not too much different.”
“I’m loving it, the weather, it’s warm everyday. I’m wearing a sweatsuit and I start sweating because the weather is to hot for it. I love wearing sweatsuits and hoodies. The food has been amazing it’s not much of an adaption, it’s more so playing for a new team and adjusting with the guys, that’s harder than everyday living. That’s easy.”
Being in a new country also means that Batemon is getting used to a new league with new teams as well as new officiating crews. However, while everything may be new, basketball is a sport that is played around the globe and Batemon will make the adjustments needed in order to succeed.
“Everybody plays on a high level, but when you come to a team where guys have been in the same league for multiple years and they understand what is going on in the league they can help you out immensely. Just give me little pointers and tips about how teams like to defend, how teams like to play, the style of play, it’s a little different from each country you go to but the guys having had experience in the league really helps me. I feel like I have played on a high level before in Germany in the BBL, but like I said it’s always different basketball when you go to another country and while it may be the same there are also some tweaks to the game.”
One of the most intriguing storylines this season not only at Kiryat Ata but in Israeli basketball as a whole will be the development of Ben Saraf who will be playing in the first division after a year in the Leumit League. Batemon already can see why the 17-year old is being viewed as a the next potential Israeli in the NBA, “His confidence is the biggest thing and he feels like he is the best player on the court when he is out there. That was a shocking point coming in because the young guys will shy away from the moment but he is confident, he stays aggressive he got a lot of work to do, but he is very talented and has a tremendous future ahead of him. So if he can keep that confidence all the way through the sky’s the limit for him.”
After downing Hapoel Haifa, it’s onto Maccabi Tel Aviv and a chance for Batemon and his teammates to face Israel’s representative in the Euroleague which will no doubt be a good test to see how Kiryat Ata matches up against the defending league champion, “I’m glad we got the opportunity for all of us to get rhythm and play a Euroleague team. I’ve played multiple Euroleague teams in my career so that experience isn’t too much exciting but the exiting part is getting to play with the new group that I am with against a Euroleague team. We are battle tested, so now we get to see where we rank against the best, so it’s good to get an early game in between the first league game and now.”