The BIG Interview – Daniel Ravitz, Hapoel Beer Sheva’s Sports Director on the implications of the new naturalized Israeli rule, player market during COVID-19, the squad in depth & goals for the new season

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Hapoel Beer Sheva has put together a very interesting squad for the 2020/21 season and to take a closer look at it The Sports Rabbi spoke with the club’s Sports Director Daniel Ravitz who will begin his third season with the team. Ravitz, who began as a scout with the southern capital side has also worked for Nes Ziona as a Sports Director in the past as well.

Ahead of the resumption of the previous campaign, Beer Sheva brought in four new foreign players for Rami Hadar’s squad which included Caleb Agada and Amir Bell who will continue with the team which barely missed the playoffs and ended in 9th place. In addition, Spencer Weisz who is one of the league’s top naturalized Israelis will also continue with the club and will help provide high level defense which perfectly fits into Hadar’s system.

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“These players are excellent for the style of play and the spirit of the club along with being intelligent and hard workers,” explained Ravitz about the trio. “This is very important for us as it’s the basis of the team. Spencer will continue as captain this season and he is a person of exceptional character for someone of his age at 25-years old. This is very important as they will lead the backcourt for us this coming season.”

Another player who will continue with the Reds is Amit Suss who was part of the Under-20 team that won the European Championships during the summer of 2019 in Tel Aviv. Suss is considered to be a lock down defender and will be the main Israeli born player for the club but int remains to be seen if he will also receive more responsibility on the offensive side of the court.

In the final game of last season, Suss scored 11 points against Maccabi Haifa as the 2nd year Beer Sheva player showed that he can score if need be.

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“Amit Suss is an incredible guy and someone who loves to work hard with no ego. We believe in Suss who put out a lot of his own money to work with basketball and fitness coaches and slowly but surely he will continue to grow and improve. Don’t forget that he is still only 20 years old and has been thrown into the deep waters of the Premier League with us but we believe that he really fits our system. We can already see that he has built up his body and that his shot is getting better as well in practice. We’re very hopeful that Suss will be an integral part of the team not just on the defensive side of the game but also as time goes on offense as well. He will be staying with us this season because we think that he will be able to help us both in the short term and the long term.”

Beer Sheva has always tried to stay the path since being promoted a couple of seasons ago and one of those players who has been with the team for many years is naturalized Israeli Ben Eisenhardt. The 29-year old center is slated to begin his 5th season with the club but a new rule instituted by the league requiring a certain amount of “Home Grown Players” will in essence limit the amount of naturalized players on each team to 3. This rule could play a factor in in the futures of Eisenhardt and Clarke Rosenberg with the team but as of now the Ravitz wants to keep the squad as is.

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“Ben is very important and is an Israeli and part of the fabric of Beer Sheva in every sense of the word. He is a crucial figure in the lockerroom, who is always pushing forward, practices with everything he’s got, never makes faces and we truly like him a lot. The new rule could ruin this and we still don’t know what will be with our team. At the end of the day this rule hurts a player like Ben Eisenhardt who works as hard as any other native Israeli player, has been in Israel for 7 years and speaks Hebrew. Ben is a great guy, a huge team player and I can’t say a bad word about him. He’s just an incredible person, good player, trains hard, a man’s man and every club would want to have a Ben Eisenhardt on his squad, no joke.”

Ravitz continued discussing the new rule, “However, the rule dictates how many naturalized Israelis we are allowed to have on our team. Are we a team that is based on naturalized Israelis? First of all, that’s a fact. We aren’t embarrassed about that and I won’t go into the names of Israeli players who we spoke to about coming to the team this summer, last and the season we were promoted. But the fact is that there aren’t enough Israeli players who are interested in coming to Beer Sheva. I don’t know why and I am not going to go into it but I also truly don’t care.”

“We want players who sign with Beer Sheva to really want to come and play here. If it’s naturalized Israelis or native born ones, it doesn’t make a difference to me. If a player doesn’t want to come and play we won’t force anybody. This season it ended up being that the three leading Israelis, the main players in terms of salary perhaps are naturalized Israelis as Suss is not there yet as he is at the beginning of his career, but he too will be a main player. However, the basis of the team are naturalized Israelis and we aren’t embarrassed by that.”

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At the end of last season, Beer Sheva was also able to sign Muhammed Abu Arisha who played for Israel’s youth national teams and had recently played in university in the United States. As well, Neta Segal and Tom Maayan also inked deals with the club after playing in the Leumit League last campaign but both have previously featured in the top division.

“There’s not much of a difference as to what the three players will be able to contribute to the team and they will certainly do so. Every player who is with Beer Sheva we believe that they can contribute to this club throughout the course of the season. We need them to do so and we aren’t just hoping. ‘Mochi’ was with us during the end of the season and he was able to get a taste of the league. He’s a great guy, works hard, doesn’t say a word, no excuses and always gives his all. He listens wants to learn and we hope that Mochi along with Tom and Neta will help the club out.”

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Travis Warech returns to the club after a season up north with Nahariya. The 29-year old guard featured for Beer Sheva in 2018/19 and Ravitz is thrilled to have Warech back with the club.
“Travis brings a very high quality shot and is a terrific defender which are both attributes which are very important to our style of play. He’s one of the leading Israeli players and we are very happy that he is with us.”

Perhaps one of the risks that Beer Sheva took this season was signing rookie center 22-year old James Banks who will play outside of the United States for the first time. How long will it take for the big man to acclimate to European basketball? Ravitz admits it will take some time for Banks to get used to playing ball in the Holy Land but the sports director is very optimistic.

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“James has been in the country for a couple of weeks and he doesn’t look like a typical rookie as for his behavior, communication, attention, desire to learn and just very open. He has shown great first signs and there will be an acclimation period but we believe he can reach his potential and he has amazing potential.”

The most interesting new name on the squad is Natan Jurkovitz who signed this summer and will be a naturalized Israeli at 25 years of age. Jurkovitz impressed with Fribourg from Switzerland here he won two league championships and three Cups while being selected as the league’s most valuable player. The forward played in the Champions League and has also featured for the Swiss National Team.

“Natan will bring us versatility on defense and can defend a number of positions. He’s an excellent passer which is very important for a power forward. He’s young, has experienced not only the Swiss league but beyond and is very positive who wants to come in and work. At the end of the day we need these guys to come together as one and win.”

One of the surprise signings of the summer was Rakim Sanders who had played in the Euroleague with Milano and Barcelona, however recently asked to be released due to personal reasons. Sanders had been recovering from injuries over the past few years but he could have been the “steal” of the season. Ravitz expressed his disappointment but was satisfied with signing Eric Griffin as the fourth foreigner who has played in Israel in the past and can play as a PF/C.

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“Of course it was disappointing as we felt that this was an opportunity to help Rakim and resurrect his career to give him a chance to come back and perhaps not like he was before but close to his peak. I am very happy that we were able to bring in Eric Griffin who can play both the power forward and center positions. He brings athleticism, knows how to play in the paint, get to the rim and he can also score from the outside. Eric can play some significant minutes at the 5 and if James has a bit of a rough time at the start, Eric can help out at that position. We are very pleased to have been able to sign a player who was with Gilboa Galil five years ago and has just improved and gained experience. He brings a lot of good things to the table that we were looking for and we’re thrilled to have him.”

The coronavirus pandemic has also been a challenging environment to sign players explained Ravitz, “We were able to continue with two of the players we brought in for the balance of last season and that was a help. Amir and Caleb are both young with a lot of upside. It wasn’t easy to go back into the market after Rakim said he could not come but there were issues of corona, wives and girlfriends and pregnancies which would be easier to deal with during a regular season. James’ name was one of them first to come up when we knew that Steve Zack won’t continue with us and we did all of research quickly and brought him in. The market isn’t great but there are players who are available even at a lower price than in then past. Griffin took a pay cut in order to come and play basketball.”

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As for the club’s advantages this season, Ravitz offered his professional opinion, We are an excellent defensive team, a club with people of the highest caliber and they are all competitive. They love to practice, defend well, tough and the way everyone relates to each other is significant.”

“The relationships are crucial for the club and it’s very important for our coach Rami Hadar. We work together when we build the squad as well as with management and professional staff from A to Z. Hapoel Beer Sheva won’t sign a player who isn’t a quality person.”

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Coach Rami Hadar will continue with the club for the third season in a row. “I am continuing to work with Rami hand in hand. I hope that as long as I am at Beer Sheva so is Rami. I can speak for myself and I am very happy. Rami is an excellent coach but above all as I return to my main point, he’s an excellent person and on a personal level I very much enjoy working with him.”

As for goals this coming season, Ravitz has number of them for the 2020/21 campaign, “First off the goals come about during the course of the season and there is a main goal and a secondary one. The main goal is to remain in the top league and the secondary goal is to make the playoffs. I will be happy if we advance to the post season and we aren’t afraid to place that as a secondary goal. If we move up to a higher place on the table then that’s great. We are still a team with one of the lowest budgets in the league and we don’t want to look too far ahead of ourselves. We have build this team throughly and professionally and not just for the moment.”

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