“We got to come out hungry, hungry to immediately hit” Zach Hankins & Hapoel Jerusalem wrap up gritty BCL win

Oct 4, 2022 | Holyland Hoops

It’s not you start the game but how you finish it.

There perhaps are no truer words to describe Hapoel Jerusalem’s 69-67 win over Darussafaka to officially cut the ribbon on the 2022/23 season. The Reds couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start falling quickly falling behind 11-0 before the fans even got settled into their seats.

One miss, two, three, four, five, six, seven was what Aleksandar Dzikic’s squad came out of the gate with as nothing seemed to find the bottom of the basket as they finally hit their forts field goal with 4:52 left in the first quarter when Or Cornelius lined up for a 3-pointer.

Hapoel Jerusalem celebrates – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

However, from that point on the capital city crew began to find their way to the basket and cut down the lead to just a pair of points by the midway point of the game and eventually used their guy, grit and guile to pull ahead and chalk up the victory.

Was it first game jitters, was it still learning one another, was it the opponent causing Jerusalem trouble? It seemed to be all three but a they say, a win is a win and in order to make sure Levi Randolph and Khadeen Carrington celebrated their birthdays in style it was certainly a better option to get a W than an L.

“We believe that wins and losses shouldn’t determine our approach as to what we are doing,” Dzikic said following the game. “If someone believes that a season with problems and obstacles don’t exist I don’t believe that.”

Of course there will be problems, issues, obstacles and more but if Jerusalem can get their base settled sooner rather than later they will be in a much better position than if it takes mire time than expected.

Zach Hankins – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“We are still trying to figure each other out a lot,” big man Zach Hankins said. “We got to come out hungry, hungry to immediately hit. We talked about it but we really have to do it. In the second half we kind of got that ready to hit first and kind of test the refs too and see how physical we can be right away and set the tone. Not be afraid of fouls or any of that, set the tone right off the bat and I feel that we are getting closer and closer.”

“When you are used to playing a certain offense and defense, in practice each person is used to something else,” Dzikic continued. “They have to spend time together. Will we play better? I believe so but when we will be at our peak? I don’t know the answer. We are healthy and the guys who aren’t agree to play with pain and handle it. As a coach I can’t be happier. You got to respect that.”

Whether it was diving on the floor, going for 50/50 balls, just leaving it all out on the court, Dzikic’s charges will do all of that and some. Should a player not, well then he’s going to be in trouble and perhaps on the next ride out of here. You’ve got to be part and parcel of what the coach is trying to do and what he would want to do should he be able to check himself in as Zach Hankins said.

Aleksandar Dzikic – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“He brings so much energy and some people can look at that and say it’s negative energy, for us he is gritty. He wishes I guarantee you that if he could be on the floor and elbow somebody in the face for a loose ball he would do that and that’s another thing we struggled with today was the loose balls. He can amplify for us with his own energy and it can really translate. He is brilliantly smart in basketball but that added edge he brings is huge for us.”

One of the players that was key in hustling who being able to do a number of things on the court, some of which show up on the stat sheet and some things that don’t. For Mareks Mejeris that meant 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 points and knowing his role on the court, “I just play how I play,” he told The Sports Rabbi “That is why coached signed me and how he wants me to play. We have scoring guys and we have to put them in position to score. In basketball there are five guys and not all of them are going to score 20 points. Some guys have to do the other things than making the baskets.”

Levi Randolph who scored a team high 15 points along with Khadeen Carrington sees the Reds looking like their coach on the court as well, “We kind of take on coach’s identity and he’s a fighter and if you get to know coach he is very passionate about the game and very aggressive as we want to wear our opponents down. We wanted to play that way the full game and down the stretch we capitalized.”

Levi Randolph – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Jerusalem was able to not only capitalize on being able to play a full 40 minutes in a game that saw Darussafaka run down by midway through the fourth quarter but it was also the contribution of the over 5,500 fans in attendance, the entire game production, the new music and good vibes throughout the Arena.

“This was really important for us,” Mejeris said. “Home game and the opening Champions League game so it’s always tougher and has extra pressure playing in front of our fans but at the same time it’s great to have the feeling playing here. It was a tough game and maybe we didn’t start the way we wanted we kept fighting and at the end with the energy from the crowd we could break the game.”

Hankins for one is someone who definitely fed off of the energy of the fans as he provided a dominant fourth quarter which was one of the reasons Jerusalem ended up winning this game.

Oz Blazer and Zach Hankins – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“So much fun and I consider myself an energy guy,” Hankins continued. “I have played in the arena a couple of times before and never had that. It was amazing to see and so much fun to be a part of. Hopefully we can have more games where we can energize the crowd and they can energize us back.”

During the preseason, Hankins and Randolph could have done better, no doubt about that and had subpar performances but the latter looked at this ball game as the opener and whatever happened before was already ancient history.

“This is our first ball game and we know what everyone can do and we are confident. Zach has been playing very well we are getting to know each other, basketball is more than the box score. Zach does a lot of things that don’t show up and I think he has been playing great up until this point. We will continue to grow and he’s a guy that wants to continue to get better and so do I.”

Mareks Mejeris – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Mejeris spoke about the pair as well, “They are really great players and everyone can have a bad stretch at one point it’s going to end and they found their rhythm at the end of the game and they were really great and helped us a lot. Levi is one of the main scores on this team and that is how it should be. We have to deliver Zach more balls and that is up to the team we have to help him, he can help us even more and we can help him to score too.”

While the players can rest up for a few days, the domestic season is about to begin and for Hapoel Jerusalem a road tilt at Hapoel Holon on Friday afternoon at 1:30pm is on tap. The purples came away with a gutsy win of their own, 84-81 in overtime at Legia Warsaw in Poland in a game that saw just how much Joe Ragland can control the offense and make the big plays at the right time.

Zach Hankins – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“I just watched them in the Champions League and Hayden Dalton my buddy from our first year,” Hankins said. “I am looking forward to it. I have heard about their guard who can fill up the stat sheet and hit some crazy shots, he hit some in overtime and the fourth quarter. The pick and roll defense will be a real challenge to take on and make him give up the ball. We want to show that we are Hapoel Jerusalem and that we can take on Holon.”

“I have heard a lot about their crowd and their crowd doesn’t like them sometimes,” Hankins jokingly continued. “That’s going to be fun and I like to thrive off of hate and the other crowd hate me. That is going to be fun for me, maybe I’ll give them a couple of looks.”

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