1) At the pregame press gathering, I asked Israel coach Oded Katash how Yovel Zoosman can help and he responded, “Yovel can be a big help at any time and he has to take a step up as we are missing some players.” Well step up he certainly did. “Zoos” played superb ball scoring 14 points in a shade over 30 minutes while picking up 5 boards and 5 assists against Georgia. When you see #50 play, you just know that Israel has an extra special player on their hands. Whether it’s his maturity or his ever rising confidence, there’s no question that the Maccabi Tel Aviv youngster has a very bright future ahead of him. Following the contest, I followed up on my question and following the game I asked Katash where he sees Zoosman going forward after passing his test with flying colors, “I had the privilege to coach Yovel last year at the Under-20’s and now with the senior team. He’s a special player and the sky’s the limit. I don’t know if people really understand what his upside is, but it’s much higher than most believe. He made decisions on the court, some were successful some not. He is one who takes responsibility, just as we saw earlier in the press conference when he explained about his play on the defensive end and what he could have done better. He’s a special boy. I define his success by the fact that he when he was out of the court he took his opportunity while he also understood the importance of the moment. There’s no question that Israeli basketball has a player who will be a top European player and a National Team player for years to come.”
2) Sitting in the Yad Eliyahu Arena one could sense the positive play from the Blue & White and the hope for the future of Israeli basketball. Katash’s team played upbeat, positive and entraining basketball against a very tough Georgian side with arguably one of the best players in Europe in Tornike Shengelia. At the end of day, the visitor’s quality rose to the top as they were able to escape with the win after Tamir Blatt turned over the ball at midcourt with 7 seconds remaining in the game. Was the turnover the be all and end all of this game? Definitely not. Katash’s ultimate goal is the next European Championships and the more experience his young squad can get, the better. And that’s why is was so important to make it to this round which gives the coach a chance to continue molding his team into an experienced well oiled machine, ready for the next steps. Whether it’s Tamir Blatt, Yovel Zoosman, Jake Cohen, Adam Ariel, Nimrod Levi, Itay Segev, the players who are with the Blue & White not only want to be with the team but are also happy to be there. It’s one for all and all for one.
3) “I’m disappointed with the result but I am proud as to the way we played by adapting in the second half,” Oded Katash began his postgame press conference. “The first half was a combination of us not being aggressive enough and their high percentage from 3, over 60%. We played much more aggressively in they second half and we had a very good third quarter and we ran the floor the way we should. By the 4th quarter some of the players were really exhausted.” Exhausted I think was the key word. Israel just ran out of steam especially after a dominant 3rd quarter but was still able to stay in the ball game as the clock neared 0:00. Georgia did a masterful job of cleaning up the boards, especially the offensive variety where they had a 17-9 advantage which resulted in 26 second chance points for the visitors.
It’s always great when various National Teams come to town as it gives basketball fans the chance to see numerous players of interest and almost every squad has at least one of them. In Georgia’s win Tornike “Toko” Shengelia was the main man and The Sports Rabbi spoke exclusively with the star following the game. “It was a great game and a team win,” began the Baskonia forward. “Goga (Bitazde) did an amazing job both defensively and offensively, Giorgi (Shermadini) was great inside, Matt (Janning) and Duda (Sanadze) knocked down some important shots. The bench came up strong and solid, it was a team win.”
Shengelia also looked ahead to their next contest against Greece, “We will go into the next game with the same mentality and we want to win at home. We have to defend our home court. Greece is an amazing team and one of the best there is. We will do our best and fight until the end.”
It’s fantastic that Georgia can count on a such a star to lead his National Team. Last year when Georgia visited Israel in the Eurobasket, Zaza Pachulia was a part of their squad while Omri Casspi was with Israel. How times have changed. However, I’m curious to find out why Egor Koulechov, another youngster who played at the University of Florida last season isn’t part of the Israel roster for these games. The Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion player was with the Blue & White for the start of training camp and then was released. Should he not have been called in? Couldn’t he have made a difference especially after dropping 31 points the previous evening. Katash’s answer to the question, “We’re there players not with the squad that could have made a difference” was along the lines of, “by asking and answering that question means I don’t value the players that I have with me on the current squad,” which is legitimate. However, when Isreal is in dire need of a 3-point threat and struggling with injuries, it’s still a valid question to ask.