The Lead Point: “This would be the most rewarding title in my career” – Tony Gaffney exclusively talks to The Sports Rabbi about Nahariya’s State Cup Semifinal win & much more!

The Lead Point
Nahariya Captain Tony Gaffney has been through it all. The Boston University and UMASS product is playing in Israel for the third time, all under Danny Franco and has already won the Israel League title back in 2015 with the coach. When Franco built his team over the summer he wanted to make sure there were foreigners that had played in Israel and had many years of European experience in to take his club to the heights to which he aspired to be at.

With stops in Turkey, Japan, Italy, Germany and Spain, I’d be surprised if there is any other player with the vast experience that Gaffney has and that can covert that success on the court with an Israeli side that was built pretty much from scratch. Add to the fact that Gaffney has played for NBA teams in the preseason and summer league, the veteran can offer oodles and oodles of experience to his teammates at the highest levels of play.

Dov Halickman Photography

When Gaffney got the call from Franco it was a no brainer for the Boston native and back to Israel he came. The Sports Rabbi caught up with the 6”9 big man right after the win over Nes Ziona and he expressed that the team’s mission was to go as far as they could and not just be satisfied with a Final 4 appearance in the tourney, “It’s a goal of our team. People thought are goal was final four and that we’d be content with that, but you’ve known me long enough, our long term goal was to hoist that trophy and we are one game away.”

Of course the key against Nes Ziona was to follow the directions that Coach Franco laid out prior to the clash and follow they did. “We executed Danny’s game to a ‘T’ in that first quarter. But Nes Ziona are really good and Daequan Cook is one of the best shooters the league has ever had. They are not an easy team to guard but we focused and focused. We let two 15 point leads fall away but we held on for the win. It shows a lot of character about our team. We just continue to stay together and focus and it’s a testament to our team.”

Dov Halickman Photography

Dominic Waters is a gamer and Nahariya wouldn’t have been able to get off to such a strong start without the guard’s early dominance explained the Boston native, “He’s a gamer Waters and he can talk to refs the right way. You have Nes Ziona guys that tried to get into his head and I was not ok with players like Tal Dunne continuing to bug him. The only chance they had was to get under his skin. He’s a gamer and a killer.” Gaffney also spoke about the importance of another veteran guard in Jerel McNeal who was ejected near the end of the game due to his frustration with Tal Dunne, “McNeal is someone I want to go to the den with.”

With a number of awards under his belt, the State Cup would be a new addition to his trophy cabinet and one that would be won as the captain of the team, When you are the captain you have responsibility and we have guys who won titles in their day. I have never had a losing season in my career. And here we are. This is the one I haven’t won yet.”

Dov Halickman Photography

How special would the title be for Gaffney? “I think it would be the most rewarding title in my 11 year career. With the flooding in the city of Nahariya, the loss of lives and to see the fans crying it’s really special. If we can somehow bring back the State Cup it would be rewarding.”

Dov Halickman Photography

2) Got to give Nahariya a TON of credit for their win over Nes Ziona to advance to the Israel State Cup Final on Thursday night. Coach Danny Franco has one helluva team that just plays hard ball, aggressive ball and doesn’t give an inch on the court. Of course there are good and bad that comes out of that. The good is that Nahariya was able to out boss Nes Ziona who has one of the biggest bosses on the floor in Tal Dunne. The bad is that Dunne can get under any players’ skin and cause them to just lose it sometimes as we saw with Jerel McNeal when he came to the aid of his teammate Dominic Waters and shoved Dunne to the ground. Not got. Now Nahariya has to see how the Israel Basketball Association will rule on the case on Wednesday morning with a chance that McNeal will be suspended for the final. “There have been times this season where teams have tried to take us to places that aren’t the best to be in and unfortunately an opposing player was able to do that to us,” said Franco.

Dov Halickman Photography

3) Nes Ziona didn’t give up and thanks to Daequan Cook’s 35 points, they stayed in the game all the way to the end. It was a game of runs for both teams but in the end, strong team play from Nahariya won the game for the northeners. “At the end of the day the team that made the final run won the game,” explained Nahariya center Itay Segev who has already won 3 Cups with Maccabi Tel Aviv. “This was a fun game to be a part of, to fight for the club, the city and for ourselves for the win.” Cook looked back as to why his squad came up short, “Nahariya just executed better. We didn’t defend well enough to stop them and they hit big shots. They had momentum the game through.”

Dov Halickman Photography

Does Nahariya have a chance? Well, if history has anything to say the chances of an underdog winning the Cup is very, very, very slim. The first time the two sides tipped off, Jerusalem slaughtered Nahariya 85-55 in a game that was never close. However, the second time they played up in Nahariya, Franco’s squad was very close to pulling off the upset win, losing 88-82 as the Reds had a great fourth quarter to snatch the victory. Changes have been made to both rosters with Nahariya replacing Jeff Adrien with Diamon Simpson while John Holland was just making his debut for Oded Katash’s team. While many will be already writing this game off and etching Jerusalem’s name on the trophy, Segev had this to say, “It’s not secret that Jerusalem has a bigger budget than ours, but in games like this money doesn’t talk. This is a 40 minute game, we will come into it focused and ready to go.”

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