Hapoel Jerusalem begins their third Champions League campaign on Tuesday night with a clash against Turk Telekom in Ankara as the Reds will look to reach the top of the mountain in their 20/21 continental campaign.
Coach Oded Katash’s squad is a bit different than in years past with a number of wholesale changes to the composition of this year’s version of the team.
Big men Tashawn Thomas, Suleiman Braimoh and Idan Zalmanson all remain with the team while guards Tamir Blatt (the son of David Blatt) and J’Covan Brown will still feature in the capital city, however, Brown is injured and will be out for the near future. Swingman Deividis Sirvydis who joined the squad for the end of the 2019/20 also stays with the team or the upcoming campaign but has been used sparingly thus far in Balkan League play.
Guards Tarik Phillip, Chris Kramer and Adi Cohen Saban all join the team with Phillip having played inTurkey, Kramer in the Euroleague and Cohen Saban with Beer Sheva last season. Malcolm Hill comes over from Astana while Adam Ariel and Niv Balul move from Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion to Malha for the upcoming campaign.
Jerusalem began training in early September and ended the 19/20 Champions League Final 8 with a disappointing ouster against eventual champion San Pablo Burgos but Thomas says that the defeat in Athens has been out to rest as they embark on the new season, “We’ve forgotten about what happened in Greece and we feel good as we begin the new Champions League season. I’m excited to get the new campaign underway.”
Ariel who played in the EuroCup with Rishon Le’Zion last season also looked forward to turning the page, “We’re excited as a club to get this tournament going again and we are playing a very high quality team in Turk Telekom. They have many scorers and we have to come into the game focussed and ready to go and follow the game plan in order to win.”
“There are positive feelings and we are happy that the Champions League season is about to begin,” said Coach Katash. “I would have liked another two weeks as we have a couple of small injuries with Ariel and Zalmanson but we will be ready for a very intense game against a team with many good players and that invested a lot of money to succeed.”
Telekom has a number of stars beginning with Canadian international Kyle Wiltjer who joined The Sports Rabbi on Holy Land Hoops plus Tyler Ennis and Sam Dekker and Jerusalem knows that with fewer games in this year’s competition each matchup will be much more important than in the prior two campaigns.
“We can’t lose as there are fewer games,” said Thomas. “But in my two years in Jerusalem we haven’t lost much and we will be ready as coach did a good job preparing us for this.”
Ariel echoed his teammate’s thoughts, “Every game is critical due to having only 6 regular season games instead of 14. But the entire world has to adapt to the new reality we are in due to the Coronavirus and every game will be important. We have to take responsibility to win every game there’s no other choice.”
“We want to get good results in our group of 4 teams,” explained Katash. “This makes every game much more crucial and decisive in how we will do this season. We begin on the road and if we allow Telekom to play their game we will have a very tough time. We have to be aggressive beginning on defense. That will be the key for us.”