Israel is going to their 14th straight EuroBasket tournament a streak that began in 1993 and that is some accomplishment. Perhaps not that they are heading to the competition is much of a surprise but it’s how they accomplished the feat; going 4-0 thus far with two games to spare in February of 2021.
The Blue & White went into the Valencia bubble with high expectations after winning their first two games against Poland on the road and Romania at home. In what should have been two more home clashes, Coach Oded Katash had to pack his team up and head to Spain in order to face Spain and Poland yet again. There was some concern and a bit of melancholy that the hosts would not be able to play in front of a partisan crowd, but they met the expectations that were set out from the outset, punch their ticket to EuroBasket 2022.
One of the best things about this version of the Israeli team is that it’s a terrific mix of veterans and youngsters along with versatile players who can feature in a number of positions. But above all this team LOVES to play with each other. They genuinely enjoy each others company as Tomer Ginat who is playing in France this season explained, “It’s a great feeling and we are a very special team. We really enjoy playing with each other and to be able to advance to the EuroBasket with a 4-0 record is really something else.”
It’s not easy to play as a team, one for all and all for one, just look at the Israel national soccer team. it’s to throw together a group of guys, wave a magic wand and say “Abra Cadabra”, but in the case of this squad that’s all that Oded Katash has to do said Gal Mekel, “We’re very proud of what we achieved and remain unbeaten. The strength of this team is that we’re a team, a family, great chemistry with lots of young and promising talent.”
“It’s fun to be in the National Team and with a lot of young players,” an upbeat Guy Pnini said. “I want to try to help them as much as I can both on and off of the court, for me it’s an opportunity to enjoy basketball. I am happy to be here and it’s fun.”
One of the keys to the success of this team is that the veteran players, Guy Pnini who is 37 years old and Gal Mekel who has played in the NBA and in Europe for many years are a guiding light to the younger guys. Without having those two players perhaps the team would be a lot different and Katash knows it.
“Huge credit to Guy and Gal. They are leaders for the younger players but it’s also their abilities on and off of the court. The young guys will continue to gain experience as we still have time until the EuroBasket and we want to continue this process in the next window of games.”
The vets in Pnini and Mekel certainly showed their abilities as to what they can do on the court. Pnini who will be 39 years old when the EuroBasket kicks off in September of 2022 knows that playing in that tournament will be in the hands of a higher authority, “You never know but if my body feels good we will see. But for me my goal was to get Israel to the EuroBasket. God will decide what will be in 2022.”
Katash would be more than happy to welcome Pnini to any National Team that he is in charge of especially after the 2014 Euroleague champion continues to hit big shot, after big shots after big shot. His big time triple with 46 seconds left to put Israel up 76-72 was a beauty, “Everybody knows he was going to take the shot and nobody can stop it, that’s why he is so great. If it is my decision Guy will always be on the national team.”
Pnini didn’t want to collect the accolades following the game, “We knew Poland is a great team and it was very important for us to finish the job today and to advance to the EuroBasket.”
Although the EuroBasket is a ways away, Mekel is certain that Israel will battle to make sure the disappointment of 2017 will be far far away and in the rear view mirror, “For sure we will fight for every game in order to reach deep in the tournament.”
However, as deep as Mekel wants to go, Katash is already setting a target for his team, “We want to get better. It’s a process we began three years ago and we just want to keep improving. We have time until the EuroBasket but we can dream of the quarterfinals and it would be great if we can accomplish that.”
Ben Carter made his Israel National Team debut and scored a lone free throw in 10 minutes, but Oded Katash had tons of confidence in his abilities as he was out on the court in crunch time at the end of the game. he also led the Blue & White in +/- with a plus 15.
Both teams couldn’t hit the back of the barn in the early going from deep, but finally put it together as the two squads went an identical 7/24 from long distance.
Talk about making their shots from the charity stripe, Israel missed a total of 4 free throws in 40 attempts.
Iftach Ziv was phenomenal in ten minutes with 9 points and a ton of energy.