Trial by fire: Ilias Kantzouris readies for first Jerusalem BCL test at Spanoulis’s Peristeri

Jan 23, 2024 | Holyland Hoops

There is no question that Hapoel Jerusalem’s new head coach Ilias Kantzouris is being thrown right into the fire so to speak as the club will begin their Basketball Champions League Round of 16 group stage when they visit Peristeri in Athens on Wednesday at 19:30 Israel time. The Reds are in a Top 16 group along with not only legendary Vassilis Spanoulis’s squad but also Tenerife and Pinar Karsiyaka as they look to win the competition after falling in last season’s final to Bonn.
While Jerusalem’s roster is similar to that of last year, the man on the bench has changed from Serbian Aleksandar Dzikic to the Greek maestro Ilias Kantzouris. With just a pair of Israeli league games under, wins against Hapoel Eilat and Nes Ziona, Kantzouris is still getting his feet wet with the team that has plenty of expectations and desire to win every title available to them.
It’s fairly clear that Kantzouris is not going to reinvent the wheel and is going to go with what has been successful and what has worked so far for this group. The truth is that it’s actually fine, that what the team needs right now which is stability and someone who can manage the squad that had already been built long ago and one that has been running together for quite some time.

Ilias Kantzouris – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

With the upcoming Round of 16 opener on tap, Kantzouris enters the competition with BCL experience after having coached AEK last season to the quarterfinals where they fell to the team he is now in charge of, Hapoel Jerusalem. There is familiarity and a sense of know how and that’s what will be key for the Reds success going forward.

“I have no problem to be thrown into the fire,” Kantzouris told The Sports Rabbi. “I’m used to it all these years. I’m happy to coach these players and be in the same lockerroom as them and there is a lot of potential, a lot of talent and good character. There are no personal agendas and I feel that there is a lot of room for improvement, this is our job to make this team play even better individually and as team which is the most important thing. But we have to keep on working as they are doing in practice, they are at a really high level. If we want good, then good things will happen.”

Good things is the goal no doubt for Jerusalem especially after having defeated Nes Ziona 77-74 thanks to a game winning triple by captain Levi Randolph with less than a couple of seconds left on the clock. It was a rough and tumble game and one that was pretty tough on both sides of the court but the Reds came away with the win and that’s the name of the game.

With Jerusalem having had some continental time off this past month it’s back to the grindstone which doesn’t seem to be a problem for Randolph and company.

Ilias Kantzouris – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“We have a big game but we have been playing basketball and have been fortunate to be able to build on the season with the games we have in the domestic league. I’m looking forward to Wednesday and we have two days to prepare. We are playing a very good team, so mentally we have to stay focused and do the things coach asks us to do to be able to win that game.”
Kantzouris is new for almost everybody at Jerusalem save for guard Brynton Lemar who played for the bench boss at AEK last season but Randolph and the rest of the crew are learning their new coach as they all aim for a common goal.

“We are getting to know him and vice verse, it’s a learning process and we are trying to be sponges and soak up as much knowledge from him to keep the train going and continue to fight and push.”

One of the players that Vassilis Spanoulis has at his disposal is former Holon star guard Joe Ragland but that’s not the only player that Jerusalem will need to keep an eye on as the team is littered with plenty of savvy veterans.

Levi Randolph – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“He’s having a great season,” Randolph said. “ I don’t know the secret to stop him, I’ve played with Joe before in my rookie year and watched him his whole career. He’s a friend I’m looking forward to seeing him.”

Kantzouris also spoke about the Greek club that he will face this week, “I’ve seen almost all of the Peristeri games and they are very well coached and it’s obvious there is talent and for sure that there is hierarchy. But if you make the mistake of facing this team as individuals and not as a team, it will be a very long night.”

“Our game plan will exist for not only Ragland but we respect everybody and we don’t underestimate anybody as we will be repaired for a very hard and difficult game. We will go there and impose our basketball which is most important for me.”

With one of the all-time great guards in charge on the sidelines for Peristeri in Spanoulis, Kantzouris understands that the team has been molded in his image and that they are not going to be an easy opponent as they can compete with the big boys in Greece.

Vassilis Spanoulis – Photo credit: BCL

“If you see their games, I believe you will understand very quickly that this team has the ID and character of Vassilis Spanoulis. He’s having another great season even better than last with good results. He brings together with him a personality, basketball knowledge but also he has a very good touch with the players and they are in a very good momentum.”

“They competed and are wining most of their games as they are in the third position in the Greek League and played great against Olympiacos and Panathinaikos of the Euroleague and we have to underrated what kind of game we need to have and what kind of approach we need to go there with and try and win the game.”

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