1) In what was probably Deni Avdija’s last Eurobasket qualification game due to the fact that the NBA is beckoning when the other two windows are played in November and next February, one can say that the Draft Prospect went out with a bang. I guess 21 points, 8 rebounds and a 25 efficiency rating will do that. The Israeli protégé just keeps getting better whether it’s for Maccabi in Euroleague play or the Israeli league and now he’s done it on the National Team level for his country. Quite amazing. Whether it was using his body to score in the paint or drilling home one of his trio of triples, Avdija was an unstoppable force once again in the 24 minutes of action he received from Head Coach Oded Katash, “Everyone can see what he can do so it’s no surprise. It’s a pleasure to be around him and he brings great energy. He has such a passion and desire to learn and to advance and together with the tools he brings to the game, he’s like a magician.” Avdija’s Israel and Maccabi Tel Aviv teammate Jake Cohen also spoke about what the budding star has to offer, “You know what kind of player Deni is and he’s great. He’s only going to keep getting better.” Finally, a modest Avdija had this to say, “This was a sweet win and I have to give credit to my teammates and staff that prepared us properly for this game. This was an important win for us and it’s always great to represent the Israel National Team. It’s the biggest honor for any player to do so for their country.”
2) Jake Cohen was also magnificent in the 26 minutes he was on the floor, scoring 17 points as the Maccabi captain got the ball rolling for the Blue & White. Cohen has been Mr. Consistent for Israel since joining the National team at the start of World Cup qualifying a couple of years ago when the team began a total turnover over following the Eurobasket 2017 disappointment. The first game was a home tilt against Estonia which Israel won by a large margin. But very quickly Israel fell back down to earth in a road game that took place in Crete against Greece who had a number of Euroleague players featuring for them including Nick Calathes. But that was just the beginning and Jake Cohen has been an integral part of the team ever since averaging 15.6 points per game in the World Cup qualifiers. “I thought we played great as a team and that was really important. Deni and I had 2-3 days of practice to prepare and I thought we did a great job playing as a team. We moved the ball well and offensively we played great. Even though TJ and I are not home grown we played great as a team and I hope people take note of that.” Cohen has been outspoken about the new league rules which will hurt naturalized Israeli players as teams will need to pay a penalty to have them on their roster as well as in certain cases be counted as a foreigner. It’s a topic dear to his heart as mine as we see that people who immigrate to Israel to play basketball won’t be allowed the same opportunities as those who were born in the country. The league is working on ways to make their move legal, however, the situation is still very fuzzy as some players who have been plying their trade in Israel for a number of years may not be able to continue to play in the domestic league. There will be much, much more about this story as the season continues to unfold.
3) The game itself wasn’t well played by both sides as shooting percentages were low especially for the first three quarters. Missed shots, poor passes, errors abound across the court and that was all in front of new FIBA President Hamane Diang. However, Oded Katash’s crew got things going and ended up with a 24-point win, 87-63 as their defense held Romania to only seven 4th quarter points. “Our defense made the difference and we adapted it during halftime,” Katash explained. “I’m happy we executed better in the second half. It’s always a pleasure to be a part of the Israel National and we had a great home atmosphere.” Center Itay Segev also reflected on the win, “We couldn’t kill the game in the first half, but the result showed that we had prepared really well for these two games. I really believe that we can do some very special things and it’s a lot of fun to get together to play these games which you can see on the floor.” Finally, the captain, Gal Mekel who had been superb over the two games had this to say, “If you would have told us before the games that these would have been the results we would have been very content, so we are certainly happy right now after our performance.
Israel defeated Poland in the first game on the road which set the tone for this window. Many didn’t understand the importance of that win, one that was in a huge arena with over 11,000 Polish fans. Poland then traveled to Spain for their second qualifier and did what was seemingly unimaginable, they beat the host on their own turf. The National Team that won the World Cup. Of course, the actual squad was totally different than the one that won in China last September, but the Spaniards can’t be taken for granted on any given day and with any given roster. “I don’t think people understand the magnitude of the win we had over Poland,” said Katash. “They are a good team and much better than we expected but the fact that they beat Spain, yes it was a surprise.”
Has Israel already punched their ticket to the Eurobasket with four qualifying games remaining? Well yes and no. Israel still needs to win some games, which will include home and away against Spain but they couldn’t have gotten off to a better start especially when three of the four teams in the group advance to the tourney which will have group stage games taking place in Italy, Germany, Czech Republic and Georgia. Cohen definitely didn’t want to look to far ahead, “We’ll see and we will take it one day at a time. No matter who I play for I keep my eyes on the next target.”