1) Earlier in the day Amare Stoudemire posted on Instagram a message to the Hapoel Jerusalem fans that this may be his last home game for the club which raised eyebrows throughout the Israeli Basketball world. What was the post about? Is he retiring? Is he going to another team? Will he go and learn Torah full time? Who knew! The Sports Rabbi had to find out and find out we did as we were able to speak to STAT following the game beneath the PAIS Arena stands. “It is what it is. Whatever I posted that’s what I was thinking. I was just reflecting on the great times I’ve had here in Jerusalem and I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to get a deal done with this team. But I’ll be playing for sure next year.” Would Amare like to potentially play in the Euroleague? “It’s always about competing at a high level. There’s always minicamps in the NBA and there’s always Euroleague teams, there’s always high level basketball and to challenge myself to play at a high level is always the goal.”
2) Amare also spoke about the focus that he and the team will now be putting on the Final Four and the championship, We’ll see how it goes. Obviously right now we are focused on winning the championship so I can’t look too far in advance right now we got out shift our focus back to the final four. But I think now the focus is to really get through the next round and get to the championship game. We got to refocus on that.” How does he feel physically and mentally? “I feel great and I’m at a high level right now playing basketball and the game is so easy out there for me. Train and really keep myself in great shape. Playing one game a week is like eating cereal for breakfast man. It’s an easy deal for me. For the team we’re playing well we still have room to improve but right now we’re doing a good job.”
3) So what’s behind Amare’s situation? Is it money? Is it the level of competition and the desire to play at the highest level possible ? Is it missing his family in the United States? Well, it’s probably a combination of all of the above. There’s no question that an athlete wants to make as much money as possible, but I don’t believe that this is the reason behind the contract impasse with Hapoel Jerusalem. I think it’s more the issue of challenging himself to play at the best level he can while he certainly misses his family. Every basketball player wants to play in the NBA and the find NBA All Star would definitely want to play in the best league in the world if he could. The Euroleague is also a possibility and it’s at a much higher level than the EuroCup and Champions League there’s no arguing that fact. Can you imagine Amare lacing up his shoes with Maccabi Tel AvIv anyone? What would the Jerusalem fans think? And as a reminder he did attend a Maccabi Euroleague game this season and sat court-side. I’m sure he enjoyed what he saw.
What does James Feldeine think of the Amare situation? “Hopefully he stays. It’s a decision he has to make and I’m sure the club wants him to stay. I’m going to be here next season and I want to play another year with him. Everybody knows we want him back but he’s a little older and it’s not easy to be without his family here. And now he is Israeli so he can help us out in both leagues.”
Hapoel Jerusalem defeated Hapoel Beer Sheva 95-77 to sweep their quarterfinal series 3-0 to become the first team to advance to the Israel Basketball Winner League Final Four. But the big story was that Amare Stoudemire and Hapoel Jerusalem are at a contract impasse for next season. But more on that a bit later on.
Rami Hadar’s Southern Capital squad played tough over the course of the 40 minutes but it wasn’t enough to take out the capital city side in a foul filled game. Oded Katash’s team went to the free throw line 36 times making 29 of their charity line shots in a game that featured 54 fouls. Tashawn Thomas led Jerusalem in scoring with 17 points while Amare Stoudemire and James Feldeine each dropped 15 points a piece in the win. Jordan Swing scored 18 points and Kerron Johnson added 16 points for the losing side.
Jerusalem took control of game 3 early on as Feldeine, Thomas and Da’Sean Butler all contributed for the Reds while Taylor Braun making his return from an injury and Jakim Donaldson countered for Beer Sheva. However, Johnson and Chanan Colman helped the visitor’s draw even after ten minutes, 24-24.
Bar Timor had the hot hand from the outside while Thomas pounded the ball inside to give Jerusalem a 40-31 lead. Johnson and Swing tried to keep it close but Stoudemire and Feldeine kept Beer Sheva at bay as the hosts took a 49-42 advantage into halftime.
Feldeine came out of the break on fire and Stoudemire put down a thunderous dunk to increase the Jerusalem lead to 62-48 with 5:11 left in the third quarter. The game got chippy near the end of the frame as a number of hard fouls were called while Oded Katash received a technical. But that didn’t stop Chris Johnson from drilling home a triple at the buzzer to end the frame up 73-59.
Swing, Braun and Colman came out of the gate hitting their long distance shots to cut the Jerusalem lead to 7 points, 70-63 midway through the fourth quarter. A foul fest then ensued over the final five minutes of the contest as Jerusalem hit free throw after free throw to advance to the Final Four with a 95-77 win.
A) There was also a game to look back on and Feldeine spoke about advancing to the Final Four and what it meant to him personally to do so, “It was one of our goals for the season to make the Final 4 and it’s definitely big for the club. It’s my first year here so I wanted to make the Final 4.” As well, he looked back on the series with Beer Sheva, “We were the better team this series. We knew they were a good team with a couple of injuries and tried to finish this series today.” What’s the team’s status health wise? “We are good. Everyone came back. Josh got to get back a little healthy. Coach needs to make a decision when everybody is healthy because one has to sit out. We got two weeks to prepare. We need to do some different things to be prepared.”
B) Tashawn Thomas who almost collected yet another double double commented on the rough and tumble game that was, “This was a huge win for us and I think that the team played very well today and I’m proud of the guys. This was a very aggressive game and it was like that the whole series with a lot of fouls, so there weren’t any surprises today.”
C) Chris Johnson came back from injury and played almost 17 minutes. Katash was very happy that his forward returned and looked like the Johnson of old diving for balls and running all over the court. He even took a fall or two but he got up and continued on. “I’m very happy that Chris returned Nd that he plays with energy and intensity. I can’t really think about who will dress for the Final Four and I hope that everyone will be healthy so I’ll have the problem of who to play.” He also spoke about the difference between this year and last, “It’s a heaven and earth difference between the players that we have this year and last. The fans can also feel it as well.”
D) I asked Rami Hadar if his team could have done any more than they did in the series sweep, “I felt that we could feel a difference with Taylor Braun being back despite the result which was similar in all three games. We were more competitive but I believe that we could have done a bit more.” All in all it was a good season for Hapoel Beer Sheva who were playing their first ever season in the top league.