The Israel basketball season has been over for a few weeks but Lior Carreira spork to The Sports rabbi about his career to date after having a successful showing for Nes Ziona following the coronavirus break. This was Carreira’s first season in the top division that also saw him participate in the Europe Cup as well as the quarterfinals of the Israeli league where they fell to Hapoel Jerusalem.
“This season was the achievement of a dream for me. I had a long journey to get to the best league in Israel with many ups and downs along the way and I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to finally realize this dream. This season had ups and downs from acclimating to a new place but the team were very supportive both the players and management and I really enjoyed it. We did the best we could after the break and I am very content with the season as a whole and I can’t wait for the next one to already start.”
Under coach Nadav Zilberstein, Nes Ziona finished in 7th place in the regular season after having to almost completely rebuild the foreigner component of his squad. “I really enjoyed playing under Coach Zilberstein and I was able to relate to his style of play while also demanding a tremendous amount from us because he wanted us to reach out potential and play the best that we could in order to succeed. Although there were plenty of emotions during the course of a game, we all wanted to win and that was the goal of everyone associated with the club.
Nes Ziona had plenty of quality players and wily veterans from Raviv Limonad and Daequan Cook to Jeff Withey, JP Tokoto and Cameron Oliver from whom Carreira was able to learn from. “Every experience that I am having as a player is helping me learn more and more. I was able to play with so many talented players this season from the ones that had played in the NBA to top Israeli players. It was like a dream and I am enjoying every moment and I just want to continue to learn as much as I can.”
“In fact, Cook was toughest player that I had to face in practice. He was super tough but I learnt so much form him, both on defense and on offense as well as from his style as to how to defend better.”
Nes Ziona has been participating in FIBA’s Europe Cup for a number of seasons and that is always a help for younger players as they get to not only enjoy featuring in the Israeli league but also have the chance to play aboard. “I was able to play a lot of minutes in the Israeli league which was great experience but playing in Europe also gave me a chance to see aa different type of game. It’s a terrific opportunity and I am so happy that in my first season I was able to play in two competitions.”
Carreira played in the club’s first 6 games of the season but then was out injured returning to play just before the coronavirus break. The forward scored 3.3 points in 7 games but after the break, his averages jumped to 8.4 points, shooting 59% from 2 and 36% from 3 while pulling down 3.1 rebounds in a shade under 19 minutes per game.
“The break gave me the chance to work on myself both on and off of the court, physically and mentally. I had a tear in my meniscus muscle and had surgery on it which kept me away from the game for a number of months. I was able to train under the Ministry of Health restrictions when the season stopped and when we came back to play I just felt great. I hope that when the next setons begins there will be fans in the stands because we really missed them.”
As a child, Carreira was always taller than his friends and he connected very quickly to the game of basketball, “For as long as I remember, I always had a ball in my hands.”
One of the Kfar Saba native’s role models was Kobe Bryant who tragically passed away in a helicopter accident in January, “I couldn’t believe it and I just didn’t understand what had happened. I am sure that everyone associated with the game of basketball was in shock and it’s something that has affected many, many people and will for many years down the road.”
In 2015, Carreira was part of the Under-18 Israel National Team that advanced to Division A after winning the Silver medal in Division B and averaged 5.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Although the team fell to Sweden in the final, Carreira was able to play with TJ Leaf who currently plays in the NBA with the Indiana Pacers, as well as Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Yovel Zoosman and Jerusalem’s Tamir Blatt.
“What a great feeling. Any opportunity to represent the country is special and to be able to succeed in not only taking home a medal but advancing to the top division should never be taken for granted. Not only did I get to play with Leaf but we were also roommates which was a privilege in itself to be able to learn from him. We got along great and it’s amazing to see how he was able to get to the NBA.”
“As for Yovel and Tamir, it’s wonderful to see Israeli born younger players at my age group being able to reach the heights thanks to hard work and you can see the results.”
Carreira grew up in the Maccabi Raanana youth department and played for their senior team from 2015-2018 but missed out on the 2016/17 campaign due to an injury. But he came back strong and had a fantastic 2017/18 season with 9.6 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.
“It was very special to be a part of Raanana’s system. I grew up there and worked with so many coaches who were able to influence my game. We were able to win a number of awards in the youth department and I was able to accomplish the goal of making it to the top team where I was able to be a main part of the squad. This really helped me become a better player.”
While being out injured for an extended period of time, Carreira did a bit of soul searching, “You have to be very strong and really love the game. There were times which were very difficult for me and I said to myself ‘why am I doing this and is it worth it’, but at the end of the day my passion for the game kept me strong and I made sure to be around the team at all times which made me feel that I wasn’t alone. That really strengthened my resolve.”
The injury forced Carrreira to miss out on two National team campaigns with the Under-20 squad in both 2016 and 2017 when Israel captured the silver medal, “Missing out was one of the biggest disappointments that I had especially being able to come into the training sessions the first year in which I could have been a very important player. The following year the guys did a great job to get to the final and I was really happy for them but I was also sad that I couldn’t be a part of it.”
In 2018/19 Carreira moved to Hapoel Galil Elyon and out up excellent numbers, 11.7 points and 5.8 rebounds in 34 minutes per game and helped the team advance to the playoffs where they fell to Maccabi Haifa 3 games to 1. In the second game of the series, Carreira scored 26 points in the team’s only win.
“I had a great time both on and off of the court. We had a lot of young players on the team an we had a great arena and exercise room. We were constantly around the game of basketball and that season once again really helped me improve as a player. I enjoyed every single minute I was there.”
Carreira was part of the Under-25 2019 Universiade Games in Napoli, Italy where he played under Hapoel Jerusalem Coach Oded Katash and finished in 4th place, “Like I said earlier, any time that I can play for my country, Israel, it’s an honor and the time was no exception. Not many people get a chance to take part in this type of tournament and we had a good showing. We may not have won a medal but we ended in a respectable 4th place. I was able to take a lot from Katash whether it was on defense or offense and I played with a lot of confidence and quiet which Oded gives to his players. It was a very special experience and if I continue to work hard I believe that one day I will be able to play for the senior national team as well.”
This coming season, Carreira will play under Nes Ziona’s new head coach Brad Greenberg who is a veteran in Israeli basketball and has the ability to get the most out of his players while helping them improve.
“I’m really excited and I can’t wait to work with someone new. This will give me the opportunity to learn as much as I can once again. We had a short conversation to get to know one another and I am sure we will be speaking again soon.”
As for the future, Carreira was modest in his goals, “I hope to succeed as much as possible in my basketball career and I want to go as far as I can and reach the highest level in Europe. I hope that I can remain healthy, do my best and give 100% of myself all of the time.”