This is the greatest service that I can do for my country: Netanel Artzi & the Israel Nat’l Team readies for action

Aug 10, 2023 | Holyland Hoops

The Israel National Team will begin 2024 Paris Olympic Pre-Qualifying on Saturday night as the blue-and-white will tipoff against North Macedonia in Estonia in the first stage of the tournament which includes three round robin group games which also includes Czechia and the host nation.

Should head coach Ariel Beit Halachmi’s squad finish in one of the first two places they will then head to the final four of the competition inn Gliwice which is hosting a group that includes Portugal, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Poland. The last team standing will earn a ticket to the Olympic qualifying tourney itself next summer just ahead of the Paris Games.

Israel will enter the games this weekend with a very young squad and one that has not had much experience with the senior national team, but one that does have a lot of drive, determination and desire. The player that most embodies those attributes is without a doubt Netanel Artzi.

Netanel Artzi – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

For the first time in his career, the 26-year old forward will have a significant and critical role with the blue-and-white as Beit Halachmi will rely on Artzi to provide plenty of energy and grit on the floor. The pair has worked together for a number of years and the trust between the two is unbreakable, making Artzi a key component to the success of squad in the upcoming competition.

Just ahead of the tournament, The Sports Rabbi sat down with Artzi as we discussed his ascent in Israeli basketball, the challenges ahead for the national team, playing against Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and the importance of wearing the blue-and-white.

“It’s very exciting that after many years of being a part of the Israel National Team program that I will have an integral role and that I can give even more than what I had been able to in the previous games that I played in. It’s really a huge opportunity for me to represent the country. Every time that I am called upon whether it’s the 3×3 or anything else I will be there. I’m very proud. This is the greatest service I can do for my country.”

Netanel Artzi – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

The squad will no doubt be tested against some teams that have played together for some time, but the way to win will be by playing their style of game explained the Kiryat Bialik native.

“The staff has tried to implement a certain style of play where we will be the ones who will control the clock, be the first to gain possession of the ball, go for every rebound, all the little things that can help impact the game. I believe that if we come into the tournament with that attitude, focus, energy and fire in our eyes then we can do some very good things. While we are a young team, we have been playing with one another in league play and our communication between us is very good. The one thing that we really made a point of working on is being together, be with each other as much as possible because at the end of the day we want to be a team that will win.”

Heading into the tournament a number of players did not come to camp citing other personal commitments as well as injuries and unfortunately during the lead up to the games the team also lost the captain Tomer Ginat, Nimrod Levi and Will Rayman to injuries as well. With so many players not available, Artzi became one of the veterans along with acting captain Bar Timor and Oz Blayzer.

Netanel Artzi – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“Those that are here are here and we want to accomplish our goal which is very clear, win and trust one another. There are players who are injured and we have to take their energy and bring that to the court. Anytime that we put on the Israel National Team uniform the responsibility always increases and the expectations are very, very high. We understand that as professional players and we have each other here to pick us up and push us as much as we all can. There are some players here who aren’t making their first appearance with the team and they have plenty of experience that can help out the new players and the younger ones.”

“As for Bar and Oz, they bring with a tremendous amount of experience and they have played with some very big players that have been with the national team. They really understand the game, playing in Europe and in these FIBA windows.”

Artzi and the Beit Halachmi have known each other for some time and the relationship between the two has continued to strengthen and evolve over time making the head coach the perfect man in charge for the forward.

Netanel Artzi – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“Ariel and I know each other for many years which began right after I was with the Under-20 team on the Olympic squad where we really connected and that then went to club teams as well. Let’s just say that I would do anything he would ask straight away without thinking twice. If it’s to jump on a ball and not think about a thing because that is the way he wants to do it, that’s his Ani Maamin-I Believe. He gives us all confidence and gets the most out of his players. He cares about getting the maximum out of each one of us. He really believes in each of his players which is very significant for a them and their specific mentality.”

“I am happy that we are here together and what I do have is the experience of playing with him. I know what I need to bring to the table and what to know about his expectations whether it’s on the defensive side or to battle on the floor or not to even think about fouling. His goal is very clear – Win any way that you can.”

Beit Halachmi is known to be able to get much more out of the players than many a coach and his success at the Under-20 included back-to-back European Championship titles in 2018 and 2019.

Ariel Beit Halachmi – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“What Ariel had done with the Under-20 team is incredible, where he was able to get 200% out of each player. The way that he is working with the national team is significant and I believe that things will be fine. I’m very, very excited for him to be in this role and I will do everything in my power to make him happy whether it’s to jump on a ball or make an aggressive foul.”

Artzi has worked hard over the years to get to where he is and now with a chance to make an impact on the team in this tourney he knows full well that this is the chance of a lifetime, “There’s no question that things have changed due to the many injuries. My role will be much more important and I feel that I am ready for this after many years with the national team where I would end up being the 13th player and just miss out on making the squad. I am happy that I was able to learn from so many national team players including some that have retired. I believe that I connected with many players both on and off of the floor including when I mimic some of the players which made people laugh. That also helped me a tremendous amount.”

“Right now I am grabbing this opportunity with both hands just like I do in the league for every team that I have played for and I will do the best that I can. It starts with defense and I have a lot of confidence in my defense, to give energy to the rest of the guys and I believe that will set the tone for the rest of the game. I want to be that ‘Red Bull’ on the court.”

Netanel Artzi – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Before finding his niche as a basketball player, Artzi started out with soccer being his number one sport. However, that changed as he was about to enter his teenage years and got boost when all of a sudden he was paired with the first Israeli in the NBA.

“Before I was a basketball player I played soccer and that was my dream. At the end of 6th grade a good friend of mine said that I should try to play hoops and that is where the story began. I was tall, athletic coming from soccer and I only knew how to dunk. I then took part in the Telma Challenge with Omri Casspi and from there I was just able to chase my dream. I took small steps along the way, one at a time as I was able to keep moving up the ladder and here I am having a significant role with the national team. I am living the dream.”  

As a child stating to play basketball I didn’t know where I was. Without my father I wouldn’t have even gone to the competition. He registered me and I just went. Before that I didn’t even know who LeBron James or Michael Jordan was as I came from the world of soccer. I went from national team to national team and then there I was playing with Omri Casspi which was just incredible. I am now here with the national team and I am so happy to have had all of these experiences even if I didn’t start playing earlier. But that gave me the hunger and the desire for me to be where I am today.”

Netanel Artzi – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

At the end of last season, Artzi moved to Hapoel Holon from Hapoel Eilat which allowed him the opportunity for the first time to play for a real year in and year out contender. While new head coach Amit Sherf’s squad is almost complete, there are some holdovers from last season that Artzi is very happy about.

“The squad is new and young and as for Israeli players, I am happy that Shawn Dawson stayed as did Niv Misgav and that Yotam Hanochi has joined the team as well. I was able to play with all of them and I really believe in the squad that was built and in the staff. I’m very happy for coach Amit Sherf and that it will be a new book that needs to be written, a book that we will have to write right from the beginning. Over the month and a half I spent with the club at the end of last season I was able to see how much the people around the club cares and the level of professionalism which were things that I hadn’t come across before. I am happy to be a part of the team and I will be 200% a part of what we will be doing just like I am here.”

Whether it was Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion or Hapoel Eilat, Artzi has been involved with a number of teams that had to battle against relegation over the past number of seasons. However, he said that this was a learning experience and also gave him the push to make the move to a team that competes at the highest of levels.

Netanel Artzi – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“I feel that over those years I learnt a tremendous amount. When you are at the bottom you can see it all, the bad things and the good things which gave me experience whether it was knowing how to behave in the lockerroom and on the court. But it also was time for me to just say enough, that it was time to start a new stage in my career and move to a big club and battle for titles. I’m at an age where I have to battle for titles and not just to develop. I spoke with the Israeli players and the staff and everyone is burning to do something great. I think it’s going to be an interesting season in the league and for me personally as well as for the team. I am really fired up.”

Many Israeli players have gone on to play in Europe over the last number of seasons and that is also a goal of Artzi’s down the road, “As far as the path that I am taking for sure and I see myself now as a player who will be a part of a team that is playing in Europe and I will know for there. I will also have this type of experience now as well with the national team. The goal is to play in Europe like many other players that have done so and that are doing it. When? I don’t know but I believe in the journey that I am on and the goal is very clear.”

While LeBron James may be Artzi’s favorite player because of his physicality and athleticism along with the fact that he also played against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers back when he was a member of Maccabi Haifa, that doesn’t take away from the fact that it was a pair from his time at Hapoel Gilboa Galil who he considered the greatest he had ever played with.

Kerry Blackshear – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“Jamar Gulley at Gilboa Galil was a player who could score points sitting on the bench! I have never seen anything like it before, he was a point machine. Another player was Kerry Blackshear who was a 4 that was a guard. He simply knew how to manage the game from the paint and hsot the 3 at the highest of levels. That last season with Gilboa was incredible as we made it to the final. We were so close to winning the championship and I could touch it.”

“Now I just need to win it and I am on a team that has a very good chance to win the league title as they have proved in the past few years and over the last decade. That is the reason why I came to this huge club with an amazing fan base who can really push the players and the team as a whole. It gave me tons of energy especially after a season in Eilat where we battled against relegation. To come into this type of situation is just fantastic.”

As for the encounter he had with Kobe Bryant, it was something unforgettable, “I never thought that I would ever be in that position. During warmups and after a layup I put in I was jogging back into line and then all of a sudden Kobe Bryant was standing right there at midcourt chewing on some gum. It was amazing. It was his last year in the NBA and it was really fulfilling a dream. These are things that will never happen again. I am so happy that I was to meet and play against one of the greatest players which is something that I will never forget.”

Guy Pnini – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

The recently retired Guy Pnini also made an impact on his career, “I was able to really connect to Guy who has such an incredible basketball IQ and a great player. In some ways he was the exact opposite of the style of game that I play. His intelligence on the court is just something else. I’m very happy for him and I will miss playing against him and just have on court banter whether it’s something funny in the middle of the game or something serious. I really liked him as a player and of course as a person. I want to wish him the best success in the world as he begins his new career.”

Artzi also spoke about the future of Israeli basketball and how some of the younger players can make an impact around the country, “There is a future for Israeli basketball and you can see that right from the youth national teams. The Israeli player has a lot of basketball but we have to make a point as to how to continue to develop it. Many players at my age like Roi Huber or Tamir Blatt played in the national team system and at the highest levels. But there is also gold that are playing in the leagues and to make the jump from the youth ranks to the pros is a very serious step and what it demands and what one needs to do to be able to take those steps. Our careers are very short and the league will be even better with good Israeli players. I really believe that.”

As for career goals, Artzi has a number that he wants to accomplish, “I want to win a league championship, play in Europe and to maximize the potential of my career. It could be that I will be coach but that is still far off. I still have plenty of time but I want to play until I’m 40.”  

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