Hapoel Tel Aviv tipoff against Bakken Bears in Champions League group stage qualification playoff action in Nicosia on Wednesday afternoon at 16:30. Setup as a mini-Final Four tournament, should the Reds get past the Bears they will then take on the winner of the other semifinal between Anwil Wloclawek/Belfius Mons-Hainaut for a place in the 2020/21 Champions League competition.
Coach Ioannis Kastritis will attempt to guide the Reds to the promised land in the tournament with a number of new players, “It’s a new season with a new squad but it’s actually very similar to the end of last season in terms of preparation. We had one month until our first official game against Bakken Bears. We had to work with players who were in quarantine and it’s only been the last few days that we have been able to work with a full squad. We are satisfied until now and the guys are giving their best every day and are working hard with great motivation for the Champions League qualification round and the entire season. So far so good.”
Captain Yam Madar who just returned from the United States as he readied for the 2020 NBA Draft understands the importance of advancing to Europe for both the club and also in order to play twice a week, “The team has been saying how crucial it is for us to play in Europe and to play twice a week which is very important for a big club like Hapoel Tel Aviv who haven’t played at this level in many years. We have to work as hard as we can to be as prepared as possible for the game and we have challenges that we have to stand up to as athletes.”
“Playing twice a week would also make the season much more interesting with many more challenges and more games and less practices. I would be really happy to get there and we have two games to reach this goal and we will do everything that we can to do so.”
One of the things that Kastritis took into account when building the team was making sure that the club had a sharp shooter from 3-point land. Hapoel signed Daequan Cook but due to various passport issues because of COVID-19, they needed to find a last minute replacement and they did so in Jon Diebler who has been arguably one of the best long distance maestros over the past decade in European play.
“It’s crucial and it’s been proven for our team and in modern basketball it’s really important. That’s why we insisted so much on a player that would be a specialist on this factor of the game. We had some issues with Cook but we are happy and lucky to have Jon with us. I am sure he will contribute in the best possible way in every aspect of our game.”
Once Diebler arrived he went to work right away knowing how critical his arrival was for the team’s chances in continental play, “Hopefully I can come in and help the team win. I got here a little later than everyone else but it’s a good challenge and we’re excited. It’s one game at a time. We have to win the first one and hopefully if we win that we can win the second one and qualify for the Champions League which would be a big step for the club and the team just to play in a great organization. We are focusing on getting better each day as it’s coming up quick. For me I just want to be the best version that I can be.”
Another new addition to the club over the offseason was former Jerusalem captain Bar Timor who comes into Hapoel with tons of European experience during his time in the capital city, “It will give us a lot as a club should we be successful and pass the test. It’s new for me to be in a Final 4 right at the start of the season, but if we can succeed this will be a huge for us to be able to play in two different competitions. We will do the best we can to make that happen.”
Coach Kastritis knows that Bakken Bears is a tough test but also sees his team’s preparation as being most important in trying to qualify, “We don’t know the teams and everyone is in the same situation. We know the Bakken Bears is a traditionally good basketball team in Europe and European competitions as they participate every year. They have experience and kept the same squad and coach for many years. We have a very tough opponent in front of us, but most importantly is our team. We have to prepare in the best possible way and give 100% on the court to do our best.”