Time will Tell: Welcome to Jerusalem Fotios Katsikaris

Fotios Katsikaris the new Hapoel Jerusalem Head Coach was introduced this past week as the Greek will have some fairly large shoes to fill in Simone Pianigiani. Katsikaris comes to Israel’s capital with plenty of basketball experience in some of the best leagues in the world including the Spanish and Russian circuits plus he has also been the Greece National Team coach.

I met Katsikaris last year when he was in Israel to face Hapoel while with Kuban and the impression I had then of him hasn’t changed one bit. The guy’s cool, calm and collected and a seasoned veteran. He’s friendly, straight forward and no-nonsense but also has a good sense of humor and enjoys talking to the press, well at least for now.

Katsikaris has a number of issues that he will have to deal with coming into a team that just wrapped up the Israeli League championship and clearly he will be counting on his guards and ball distribution as the main element of his game.

He discussed the importance he is placing on making sure that his players are on the court for quality minutes and not just quantity meaning he will use the full breadth of his roster, “I want to have quality minutes for each player and I don’t want to overuse the players for nothing. That’s why we made a huge effort to bring Ohayon to the team because I believe that the guards decide the games. I don’t want to overuse players as it’s a long season with a lot of games between the league and EuroCup. I believe that we are covered with a long rotation and I really want to make sure they play quality minutes and not quantity minutes, that’s a message that the players will hear from the first day and I want everyone to give 100% and if they do it will it will be easier for everybody. I don’t want guys to play 30-35 minutes., if we get quality minutes from everybody we will be in good shape.”

All true, which means he has specific needs for his roster and will make sure to fill the remaining positions with not just any old role player but guys who will be counted on game in and game out to put in a quality performance.

Katsikaris has plenty of options from the number 1 & 2 positions in Curtis Jerrells, Jerome Dyson, Tarrence Kinsey, Yotam Halperin, Yogev Ohayon and the player who almost got away in Bar Timor. Many were wondering how crucial Timor would be and thought that he had perhaps made a big mistake by not going to Maccabi Tel Aviv. But if what we heard at the press conference becomes reality then the guards will get plenty of playing time, even with 6 players between those two positions since he may opt to play three at a time as well.

Dov Halickman Photography

The Amare Stoudemire situation is also still unresolved. Will he stay or if he will go? On one hand, he loved his time in Israel that’s for certain. On the other hand, Father Time is ticking away and he would love to take a run at at NBA title especially after finally winning a league championship in Israel.

Next up is the forwards. Jerusalem has two players signed, Lior Eliyahu and Richard Howell so there will be further additions in the small forward, power forward and center positions. Katsikaris will be looking to bring in guys that will want to play and play hard for him, however with just a little over a month until training camp, Hapoel will need to fill 3-4 slots quickly.

When a team wins a league title, it’s always more difficult to win it a second time in a row. Players may get complacent and think to themselves that if we won last year we can win this year with little effort. But what has been tried and true is the fact that if the team does take its foot off of the pedal then the will falter. This is where Katsikaris will have to pay very special attention. He knows that not only did Jerusalem make it to the EuroCup semifinals and will want to at least match that effort, make it to the State Cup Final and will want to win that and of course take home the domestic championship for a second season in a row and will be under pressure to do so. He will have to navigate a long season and it will certainly be interesting to see how he handles that along with the tough moments that he will certainly have to face.

There are plenty of challenges that lie ahead but I believe that the Hapoel Jerusalem brain trust in Owner Ori Allon and GM/CEO Guy Harel chose the right man for the job. Katsikaris’s characteristics as a cool and collected cat will go a long way in what will be year one of a 3-year contract. Jerusalem is continuing to build a brand and Fotios seems to be the right man to be at the helm. Hopefully he will also be able to take home his first title. But of course as the old adage goes, time will tell.

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