Emek Hefer cruised to an 81-60 victory over Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion to capture the Youth Israel State Cup as the club added their second title in a week after having won the Youth League Title to complete a double.
Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion jumped out to a 23-12 lead after ten minutes as Yogev Ovadia led the way but Emek Hefer came roaring back with a 31-9 second period thanks to strong play by Yoav Veshler and Ariel Aizik to grab a 43-32 halftime advantage.
Shoham Gatt and Aizik continued to pour on the offense in the third quarter to bump up Emek Hefer’s lead to 67-48 and while Tal Peled tried to get Rishon back into the game, budding star Noam Yaacov, Veshler and Aizik would have none of that as Yehu Orland’s squad wrapped up the title.
Over the past couple of years Orland, who played in the Israeli league between 1999-2016, has been able to help Emek Hefer develop into a top notch youth system where up and coming Israeli hoopsters come to hone their skills and find a warm home and support system around them.
Noam Yaacov who is 16.5 years old is one of those players and has earned headlines around the country with his fearless play after moving to Israel by himself a few years ago from his native Denmark. Born just outside of Copenhagen to an Israeli father, Yonatan and a Danish mother Sidsel, Noam showed both courage, maturity and determination by deciding to take his talents to the Holy Land and make Aliyah by himself as a 14-year old to continue to work on his trade.
In the league final last week against the same Rishon Le’Zion, Yaacov led the way for his team on the scoreboard with 27 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists as Emek Hefer came back to take the championship 97-92 after trailing heading into the fourth quarter.
With the potential of completing a double and taking both titles, Yaacov took a bit of a step back from scoring which he did aplenty in the previous State Cup game with 38 points. This time around he played facilitator, showing off his all-around skills, flexibility and diversity on the court making his teammates better while flirting with a triple-double, scoring 10 points, grabbing 10 boards and dishing out 7 assists in the victory.
“It’s a great feeling,” Yaacov exclaimed. “This was our goal from the start of the season and we won both of these titles against a terrific team in Rishon Le’Zion. It was tough but we did it.”
Yaacov’s modesty combined with his tenacity has earned much praise by his teammates and coach Orland, “I believe that what is unique about Noam as well as the entire team is that we take what the game gives us. Noam was forced to score a lot of points over the past two games, so that’s what he did, he scored a lot of points. Today, he didn’t need to score that many points and contributed to the game in many other ways.”
When Orland and Yaacov saw early on in the first quarter that the game at hand was going to be a different type of challenge than the club’s previous meetings, the bench boss gave Noam a breather early on to recalibrate to the task at hand as Rishon Le’Zion has jumped out to an early lead.
“The truth is that Noam is so mature, I let him get some air as he worked so hard for this team less than a week ago. I didn’t say anything about the game itself and he went right back in. He’s so tough, focused and talented.”
Yaacov praised his coach “Yehu is a great coach. As a former player he understands us much more than just a regular coach. I enjoyed this season so much with him and Ramon Wolfson. They are just fantastic coaches.”
The game’s most valuable player Ariel Aizik also praised Yaacov’s contribution along with his tremendous ability to lead the way for the club, “Absolutely amazing. He’s the best guard in the country by far. Everything that is being said about Noam is totally justified. He’s an incredible player. He’s unstoppable.”
Yaacov understands that as he continues to improve and make headlines the expectations and pressure will also increase, “It’s tough but when I step on the court I just forget all about it and play basketball. I do what I love to do.”
This summer, Yaacov’s talents will be on full display as he will be playing with the Under-18 Israel National Team in the FIBA Youth European Challengers which will be taking place in Tel Aviv. This will give the entire country the opportunity to see the budding talent in person against the likes of France, Greece, Lithuania, Estonia and Portugal between August 3-8.
As for next season, Yaacov is still undecided as to where he will be playing. “I still don’t know for sure where I will be, most probably I won’t be playing at the youth level in Israel. I have some big decisions to make and soon enough I will know.”
Regardless of his impending decision, Israeli hoops fans around the country and across the globe will be excited to know that Noam Yaacov is shooting for the stars.
“My main goal is naturally to go as far as I can. I don’t want to say where I want to get to. I just want to continue to work as hard as I can and I’ll get to where I can get to.”