“We will always be the underdog but I believe in our abilities” Avdija and Israel continue to ready for Eurobasket

Aug 20, 2022 | Holyland Hoops

The Israel National Team is no question a work in progress. Even with a pair of World Cup qualifiers coming up on Thursday at Finland and then at home against Sweden, the blue-and-white have plenty to work on as they ready for Eurobasket 2022 which opens up just over a week from now in Prague on Friday September 2nd.

Preparation for Guy Goodes’s squad has not been ideal to say the least with not all of the players starting training camp on the same day along with Israel’s only NBA player Deni Avdija having been out of action due to COVID-19 for three of the exhibition games. Add to that the fact that two of the games were against a very weak Romania team and the reining Israeli champion bench boss has his work cut out for him as he readies to play the likes of Serbia, Czechia, Poland, Finland and Holland in group stage play.

Despite not having what would be considered the best prep possible, Goodes doesn’t seemed outwardly too concerned about his squad and having Avdija find the best way to influence the team. Would he have liked to have had the Wizards forward available, yes. Is it the end of the world, no.

Deni Avdija – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“It’s unfortunate that he couldn’t fly with us to Georgia but there’s nothing we could do, that is the situation with Corona. We would have been able to integrate him more into the team but there’s not much we could do. He played his minutes in this game and he still needs to get into shape and find a way to really connect with the rest of the team (the second Romania game) and vice-versa but this game was really the beginning. Our success will be as to how we can find a way to combine his talents and skills with the team and if we are able to do so then I believe that we can do a lot of good things together.”

Goodes continued to make the point that his team needs to play as a team and not look to rely on Avdija to lead the way. The truth is that this could end up happening by osmosis, but it’s definitely not the plan.

“There is something very special about this national team as many of the guys grew up together and they all have the same desire and support one another. It’s just great to see and not just for the coach but also the fans as well. We have to keep working on improving ourselves and being tough. There isn’t much difference between the starters from the players coming off of the bench which is a huge advantage. Some National teams need their dominant player to play for 35-37 minutes in order for them to win. But that’s not the case with us as we don’t have a superstar. Deni is coming from the NBA but it’s not Luka Doncic who is a superstar. Our strength is to play as a team and that is what will help us win games.”

Roman Sorkin, who has been brilliant at times with the squad during their 5-0 exhibition slate also looked at the situation that the team is with Avdija and what he can do to help the squad.

Deni Avdija and Bruce Pearl – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“Deni brings a tremendous amount and we don’t have to explain as to who he is. It’s great to have him here and he not only plays in the best league in the world but also can play the 1-5. We are bigger with him and I don’t believe that we ever had a player of his caliber. He can run the point as a 6”9 point guard which makes him into a devastating force. We only played two games together so this one was good to get him into the groove.”

Goodes has stated that the majority of his squad is signed, sealed and delivered to the tune of 90% leaving only 10% as the open spots where he is still unsure of which 1-2 players will be the final cuts ahead of the Eurobasket. Right now the coach has 14 players at his disposal which is the amount he can take to the World Cup qualifiers, but that number needs to be down to 12 for the European Championships.

With that in mind, he needs to get his team now totally focused on the Eurobasket and not concentrate too much on the WCQ results as the chances are slim regardless of the situation that Israel will qualify. Does the blue-and-white want to win? Certainly. But they’ve got to get into the best shape and peak as they head into the week just ahead of the European Championships. Goodes is well aware that he isn’t going to show Finland, whose star Lauri Markannen scored 42 points in their last game as well as being their chief rival, his cards in the qualifier as they need to play them again a week later in Prague.

“We still have plenty to work on like going back on defense, focus and toughness as the next game against Finland who are very talented with the ability to hit the three at a very high level. They finished their group in first place and have an NBA player that scores 15-16 points per game which will give us a big headache in order to stop him. But it’s not just Markannen as they have a number of talented Euroleague players. We have another week ahead of the Finland and Sweden games and then the real thing (the Eurobasket) gets underway with Finland.”

Nimrod Levi and Yam Madar – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Nimrod Levi also chimed in on how the team is getting ready, “It’s great that Deni returned to the lineup as our interaction between players is important as is playing with each other. We are preparing for a tough game and we will do our utmost. They have some very good players and they are a strong National Team. We are going into this game to win but we also know that it will be tough.”

“We are working hard in practice in order for all of us to know how to play with each other,” Rafi Menco commented, “Especially Deni who was not in the previous windows. When that happens we will be there. It won’t be the same when we play Finland. Up until now we have focussed on ourselves and worked on our game play in order to go there and come back with a good result.”

Tamir Blatt was short, sweet and to the point, “Deni and I played together 3 years ago and he’s a great guy first and foremost. It’s great to have him here.”

Yovel Zoosman – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Goodes barely played Avdija together with Zoosman in the second Romania game and you’ve got to figure that the reason behind it is, he didn’t want other teams to scout what the pair would do together. However, when asked, Goodes looked back to the two players having combined forces in the past, “We weren’t able to as Zoosman also played a lot of minutes, but they have played together in the younger national teams and we will count on that as we are with Yam.”

Avdija himself brought up the the Under=20 teams that he was a part of and also won back to back European Championships, “When we were on the Under-20 no one believed before the campaign that we would win. Just as I told the guys, before the first U20 European Championships no one believed in us and now that is the case as no one believes as well. We will always be the underdog but I believe in our abilities. This national team is a group of guys who have played together at the highest of levels. There is experience here as we have had teams and players who grew up here and now we have to just go out and do it.”

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