Israel captured the FIBA Under-20 European Championship as they defeated Spain 92-84 to hoist the trophy for the second year in a row. In a tight contest that went down to the wire, Ariel Beit Halachmi’s blue-and-white sent the home crowd into delirium as the fans shouted EL, EL Israel to their heart’s content as they serenaded the team led by NBA draft prospect Deni Avdija who picked up the Most Valuable Player award. Avdija scored 23 points and dished out 7 assists, while Yam Madar added 17 points and 8 assists in the victory.
With a sold out crowd on hand and electricity flowing throughout the Shlomo Group Arena in north Tel Aviv, Israel won the tip and Yam Madar immediately was fouled as he hit an off balanced jumper to open the scoring. The blue-and-white ran out to an 18-10 lead midway through the first quarter as Deni Avdija and Amit Suss did most of the damage while Miguel Gonzalez countered for Spain. However, the visitor’s didn’t capitulate as Arnau Parrado and Adams Sola helped tie up the game at 24-24 after ten minutes of action.
Spain continued their momentum into the second quarter as Sergi Martinez and Alejandro Galan got into the action with a pair of buckets each to grab a 34-29 advantage with five minutes remaining in the half. But when Israel needed Avdija most, he once again stepped up with a big triple to quell the Spain charge as Raz Adam, Tomer Porat and Madar sent the blue-and-white into halftime all knotted up at 42-42.
Porat opened the third quarter with an acrobatic bucket from behind the basket to get Israel off and running as Adam and Avidja helped the hosts to a 53-50 lead midway through the frame. But Ignacio Rosa and Josep Puerto along with Carlos Alocen gave immediately fought back to put Spain ahead 58-56 with three minutes to go in the quarter.
With the visitor’s pushing Israel, the dynamic duo of Avidja and Madar took control of the play while Eidan Alber hit a 3-pointer from way, way downtown to send the blue-and-white into the fourth quarter with a 66-59 lead.
Avdija and Madar took flight to begin the final frame to give Israel a 75-63 lead halfway through the quarter and bust the game open. Adam and Alber continued the attack as Avdija put the finishing touches on the Junior blue-and-white’s second straight championship.
1) AMAZING! UNBELIEVABLE! FANTASTIC! SPECTACULAR! What other adjectives can I come up with to describe the Israel Under-20 team’s accomplishment. As the great New York Yankees announcer John Sterling likes to say, Back to Back and Belly to Belly! Two championships in a row for the Blue & White and Coach Ariel Beit Halachmi. The atmosphere was incredible at the Drive In throughout the competition which saw one sell out after another as Israeli basketball fans celebrated to the delight of the team. Deni Avdija, one of the players who played on both this year and last year’s championship squads was asked which one of the titles was sweeter, “Winning a European championship is always sweet and I can tell you that it’s even more sweeter at home with the crowd, in your own country and being able to sing together your own national anthem, it is just very exciting.”
2) What is the definition of a winner? It’s clear that the Under-20 team has the special ingredient of what it means to be a winner and I asked Deni Avdija just that following the championship contest, “To be a winner means to give everything and I can tell you that all of my teammates here are winners. You can look at their faces and see that they’re the biggest winners in the world and I’m so proud of them.”
3) Avdija who won the MVP award has said the whole way through that there is no single MVP but the whole team is one big national team, one unit. “I can tell you that I’m very happy and proud of my teammates who did a great job. We’re a national team and one that is very fun to play for. There is no MVP on this national team. Each player came each night and fought, defended, and scored, I can tell you that there are some people that have more points than others but it doesn’t really matter, everything turns us into a national team on both offense also in defense.”
The second half of the dynamic due, Yam Madar was thrilled to have been a part of the team and he will most probably be back at this competition next year. Madar turned the heads of many of the scouts that came to see Deni Avdija play and hopefully that will help him out as he continues his career. I caught up with him on the court as he was draped in an Israeli flag and taking selfies with the dozens of youngsters who made their way onto the parquet following the game, “It’s amazing. I have no words. It was like a war and you can’t imagine what it was like. We thought we could win the title and go as far as we possibly could. We imagined winning it all, but doing it this way was just crazy. We defended hard and we scored the basketball.”
They said it…
Raz Adam – It’s a great feeling really and it’s impossible to imagine what we are experiencing. I alway believed in the team even after winning it all last year and thought that it was possible to win it again.We showed a lot of courage and that did the job for us.”
Yair Kravits – “In order to win, we had to play like a team because Spain is very good, I think our defense and playing together made the difference. It’s crazy to be the champions and I haven’t digested that I’ve now won twice in a row.”