Van Vliet begins to find stroke for Herzliya

Jan 3, 2023 | Holyland Hoops

The matchups are now set and the principles are already to battle it out for Israel basketball glory as the State Cup competition is ready to get underway. Bnei Herzliya, last season’s most pleasant surprise and feel good story were the last team to punch their ticket into the quarterfinals and will take on Maccabi Tel Aviv as they will look to repeat the feat so to speak.

Herzliya was able to capture the Cup last year when they defeated Hapoel Tel Aviv in a tight battle at Yad Eliyahu and then advanced all the way to the Israel league finals where their season came to an end when they succumbed to Hapoel Holon. With most of their roster back and intact other than one very important piece in last season’s most valuable player Chinanu Onuaku, Herzliya who had head coach Ofen Aharoni at the helm got off to a brutal start to the new campaign.

Andy Van Vliet – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Losses came down faster than the water at Niagara Falls and nothing seemed to work as the club was not only competing in the Israeli league but also the Basketball Champions League for the first time in franchise history. Pressure was no doubt on the team which included veteran Chris Babb, Andy Van Vliet, Maurice Kemp, Quinton Hooker, Sandy Cohen and Onuaku’s heir in big man Julian Gamble and with that came plenty of frustration as well.

The sign of the times for Herzliya came immediately when they fell in the opener to newly promoted Kiryat Ata which sent a shockwave through the Holy Land hoops world. However, things looked to be on the upside with two straight wins over perennial contenders Hapoel Jerusalem and defending champions Hapoel Holon. But the good feelings would quickly wash away when Aharoni’s team lost point guard Hooker and saw his team fall in five straight games while also struggling in continental play.

Rumours began to swirl that Aharoni was going to step down as head coach and hand in the keys of the car as a revolving door of players came through the roster, but then Hooker returned to action and all of a sudden, Herzliya stunned Maccabi Tel Aviv in overtime on the road and then rattled off another win against Hapoel Gilboa Galil to move their record to 4-6. With one game remaining in the first round, Herzliya knew that they needed to win to get in to the State Cup final 8 to have a chance to make magic once again.

Andy Van Vliet – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

While Aharoni seems to have steadied the ship, one player who had gotten off to a very tough start to the season in forward Andy Van Vliet also finally broke out of a huge slump. After not having dressed for the Maccabi Tel Aviv victory, Van Vliet returned to the lineup and first put up 12 points in the win over Gilboa, but then broke out against Hapoel Tel Aviv with 24 points going 6/8 from downtown in a do or die game against arguably one of the best teams in the league.

Van Vliet hit season highs in multiple categories including minutes with 31, 10 rebounds, 4 assist and an efficiency rating of 31. Add to the fact that his outside shooting skills were finally on display as well, going deep a half a dozen times to move his season totals from 4/20 to 10/28 very quickly, the hope is that Van Vliet has reverted back to the dangerous player he was all of last campaign.

Following the blowout 110-82 win over Hapoel Tel Aviv, Van Vliet opened up to The Sports Rabbi about his season thus far, how he was able to breakout and of course the importance of being able to play once again in the State Cup.

“It was a very big win for us,” a relieved Van Vliet began. “Especially after a very slow start to the season for us, it looks like we are really picking up again. We got ourself a ticket to the State Cup games, so that’s huge that we get to defend our Cup and we’re going to give it our all.”

Andy Van Vliet – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

The game against Hapoel Tel Aviv marked the first time that Onuaku would be playing against his former club and along with a decision that was made not to honor him before the game it would have seemed that emotions would be running high. However, Herzlia came out like a blazing fire and set the tone very early with a huge first quarter that set the stage for the big victory.

“Everybody knows that this game was an important game to get into the Cup and everybody knows that it was against Chinanu. But we didn’t really discuss it or talk about it and everybody knows what’s up as we’re all professionals. We came ready and we came with the energy which gave us an early lead,” Van Vliet explained.

Without Hooker for quite some time, Herzliya tried to find a a suitable substitute, but the likes of Briante Weber did not work out as the team continued to stumble in league play, but once their floor general returned to the fray things started straightening out for the good Van Vliet said.

“We got our point guard back, our leader in Quinton Hooker who has been huge for us. It felt like we really missed him not only as a basketball player but a leader too. He’s an amazing player and an amazing person too. For him to left us up has been huge.”

Andy Van Vliet – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Van Vliet himself did not have a great start to the season which may have also been coupled with the lack of a point guard being able to get him the ball in his sweet spots, but regardless of having Hooker or not, the Belgian forward was well aware that his play had not been up to par.

“It’s been a tough start of season for me. I haven’t been happy with it and the team hasn’t been happy with it. But the only thing I can keep doing is working through it and I just came in with the mindset of just go do it and I’m going to go out there and play. If it happens it happens and of it doesn’t happen it doesn’t happen. I just came with the mindset of I’m going to just play and not think.”

“We had a great season last year and I’m coming into this season and I expect more out of myself and I want to do more. I put more pressure on myself. Obviously we had Basketball Champions League as well which was a tough schedule. It’s been tough and tough mentally too, to stay ready bit I think that I’ve been in worse situations where things like that happen just like anything in life. You just have to keep showing up and keep working.”

Andy Van Vliet – Photo Credit: FIBA

The big question now for Van Vliet is can he keep up his fine play and become a key contributor on a regular basis just as he was doing last year. The forward feels there is no reason for him not to be able to make an impact that is going to be needed for Herzliya to reach the highest of heights this season.

“I hope so, if I keep making my shots like that. I am going to keep the mentality of playing with the just go do it mentality and keep doing that and that’s what I’m going to do for myself and for the team.”

Van Vliet also thinks that there is no reason that Herzliya can’t compete for the State Cup and there is reason to believe that despite their up and down season they can still hoist the trophy by the end of the tournament.

“For sure, why not. Last year nobody believed in us. So this year why not. We won it last year and we’re getting hot in the right time. We’ve got all of our players and everybody is healthy so why not.”

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