With the Israeli basketball League getting back to action, Adam Ariel, Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion’s long distance sharpshooter is certainly excited to get back on the court with his teammates. Ariel is considered one the veteran Sabras at only 25 years of age and has played for a number of clubs around the country as well as abroad.
“I’m super excited to get back to business. It’s been a long time since we played and there had been a lot of doubt if we would be able to continue the season. So it’s great that we can now resume the campaign and we have a chance to do something special.”
The Israel basketball League has been on hiatus since the coronavirus outbreak in early March, but, Ariel was able to make good use of the time off, “I was able to put together a strict schedule for myself that included training exercises which I did on my 20 meter roof. I missed the basketball side of things but I was able to take advantage of my time by doing other things that I usually can’t do during the busy season.”
Just like many others across the globe, Ariel enjoyed watching The Last Dance Michael Jordan documentary and noted some interesting facts that he saw, “I could see that the mental side of things were so different than today with a lot of ego and the competition between teams was huge which today you don’t see as much. It was just great to see Jordan now because I was so young when he last played I wasn’t really able to watch him perform. Now I truly understand what type of competitor he was and the mentality he had.”
Unlike many of the Israeli teams, Rishon was able to keep the majority of their squad together especially the foreign players with a core of Alex Hamilton, Darryl Monroe and D’Angelo Harrison with the only new player being Zach Hankins who replaced James Kelly.
“It was fantastic that we were able to keep our team together and I believe that we also brought in a really quality big man to help out in Hankins. I really am confident in the team.”
Ariel grew up in Jerusalem and in fact is one of the few players that has come out of the Hapoel Jerusalem youth system who has had a successful career.
“I always wanted to be a basketball player and I was very active when I was younger. I tried swimming, tennis and soccer but I always loved basketball which just stuck with me and that’s what I concentrated on. I saw that as each year went by I continued to improve and I also had a number of quality people around me that believed in me which was super important.”
“Hapoel Jerusalem invested a lot into me and the coaches took me on as a project that they kept pushing me along. I owe them a lot and I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Jerusalem.”
Ariel didn’t have a role model per say that he patterned his game after per say, but watched Doron Sheffer when he helped the Reds win the 2004 ULEB Cup, “I can’t say that I had a true role model, but as I was growing up in Jerusalem I always loved watching Doron Sheffer shoot the basketball. Today I enjoy watching the great shooters o the game so that I can continue to learn and improve my now game.”
Sharon Drucker was Ariel’s first coach with Hapoel Jerusalem’s senior squad in 2012/13 and played very sparingly. The following season, Brad Greenberg took over on the bench after having won the league title the season before with Maccabi Haifa. Greenberg gave Ariel his first real chance as a professional and scored 3.4 points in close to 9 minutes a game while in the playoffs his stats dipped ever so slightly to 2.3 points on 8 minutes. Ariel would hook up again with Greenberg in Ashdod just a few years ago as well where he took on a much bigger role for the port city side.
“I very much enjoyed playing under Brad and I also have to say that the assistant coach at the time was Oren Amiel (who is now the head coach in the Czech Republic for Nymburk) is still one of my mentors today. I was able to really expand my game and begin to see what my career was going to look like. I have to give a tremendous amount of thanks to Brad who never looked at just the names on our jerseys, but who we were and what we could contribute and continued my development as much as he could. I owe my entire career to Oren as he was the one who really helped me become the player I am today and helped work on things that needed improvement.”
In 2014/15 Ariel played under Danny Franco who led Jerusalem to its first ever league championship thanks in large part to Donta Smith who became the first foreign player to win two championships on teams other than Maccabi Tel Aviv. That season saw Ariel score 3.4 points and pull down 1.6 rebounds in 12.6 minutes per game and was used sparsely in Europe.
“It was a great feeling to win the title with Jerusalem after having grown up a fan of the team. As a child I used to watch the games in the stands and of course I was part of the youth department. This was a very special season for me and I’m happy that I had the privilege to be a part of it. Danny and I had a great relationship that season and as a young player I tried to take the opportunity he gave me with two hands and continue to improve and earn game time.”
Donta Smith was a major part in Jerusalem’s title run and had been a superstar in the league for a number of years prior to joining the Reds. “When we split up into teams in practice I always had to guard Donta and he always was pretty physical with me. As a young player I was able to learn so much from him including toughness. He was a very special person with incredible abilities. It was just amazing to play with such a player and learn from him by his side.”
Germany was the next stop for a young Ariel and signed with Eisbären Bremerhaven where he played under Moli Katzurin who had coached Maccabi Tel Aviv and the Israel National Team in the past. However, his time outside of Israel was not easy for Ariel who picked up an injury in the preseason and when the team didn’t reach early expectations, Katzurin was let go. After recording only 1.7 points in 7 games, Ariel returned to Israel and was loaned by Jerusalem to Hapoel Holon where he ha the opportunity to play under Dan Shamir.
“I arrived in Germany with a tremendous amount of expectations to succeed, but I injured my knee soon after the start of the preseason and I was never really able to get into sync the way I wanted to. Then the team changed coaches and I just missed my chance but there’s nothing you can do and that’s part of sports and part of the career of a basketball player. You’ve got to live with it.”
“Each player is different and perhaps for another youngster it would have been a better situation and for another one that wasn’t great. But I do believe that it was an experience and one that I learnt a lot from and one that I enjoyed being a part of of. To live outside of Israel by myself and to manage such a situation at a young age was very challenging for me. So I’d say that if you’re a young player and are in the right situation to do something similar, then go for it.”
Once back in Israel at Holon, Ariel who averaged 2.8 points in just a shade under 15 minutes was able to play with Will Clyburn who today plays for CSKA Moscow and was the Most Valuable Player in the 2019 Final Four.
“I could see Clyburn’s potential the minute I arrived but I never believed that he would be at the level he is today. Will is a great guy and a terrific teammate while also being my best friend in the lockerroom. I’m so happy that he has been able to reach the heights that he is at now. He worked very, very hard and he continued to improve, so I knew he would be able to go far, but I don’t realize just how far.”
During the summer of 2016, Ariel moved to Maccabi Ashdod and played under one of the all-time Israeli greats, Meir Tapiro whim he played with at Hapoel Jerusalem at the beginning of his career. Ariel blossomed into a true captain with Tapiro on the sidelines and helped defeat Hapoel Jerusalem and Amare Stoudemire but ended his season early due to an injury. With 6.4 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 22 minutes per game, Ariel began coming into his own, game in and game out on the floor while also playing with Jake Cohen who is currently one of Maccabi Tel Aviv’s most veteran players.
Back on the floor in 2017/18, Tapiro moved on and was replaced by Brad Greenberg, a coach that Ariel was already intimately familiar with as he notched 7.1 points and 2.9 boards while shooting 45% from 3-point range.
“Playing under the tutelage of Tapiro my first season in Ashdod was very special and everyone made sure that we would do our best for the team to succeed. I think he did a great job and it’s just unfortunate that the results don’t really reflect the job that he did because we had a really good team and perhaps we could have done a bit better. But in reference to Meir, I like him a lot and we are still in touch.”
“As for Jake, we are good friends and still get together and go out to eat. He’s a very smart basketball player and has also improved over the years. He’s been able to show Maccabi that he deserves to be in the position that he’s in. He’s just great.”
After a couple of very good years in Ashdod, Ariel was on the move once again in 2018 and signed with Maccabi Rishon LeZion, where of course he plays still to this day. Under coach Tzvika Sherf, Rishon had a brilliant beginning to the season by capturing the preseason tournament. But after a less than stellar start to the campaign, Guy Goodes replaced Sherf and took the squad to the State Cup Final where they fell to Jerusalem and to the League final where they lost to Maccabi Tel Aviv. Ariel was a big part to the puzzle and dropped 7.5 points per game in 21.5 minutes while also scoring 7.2 points and grabbing 3 rebounds in 26 minutes during the playoffs.
“Last season we were able to succeed with a team that didn’t necessarily believe in being able to reach the heights that we did in making it to three finals. We played solid ball and showed a ton of character in do or die games. It’s great that we were able to advance to three championship contests and perhaps you could say that the season that Rishon won the league championship was better, but I believe that last year was the greatest in the club’s history. We brought honor to both the team and the city. It was just an incredible season.”
“I really enjoy playing for Guy who himself was a former player. He understands the players mentality and he just has tons and tons of basketball knowledge. He knows how to connect to players and he’s a coach who you would always go to war for.”
Playing against Hapoel Jerusalem in the State Cup Final and then the League semifinal always brings emotions to the forefront after being an integral part of their youth system. While Ariel had extra motivation in those types of games the first couple times, he now understands that he just wants to win each and every game no matter who the opponent is. “I no longer have extra motivation, but it’s always fun to play against Jerusalem. Of course, a game against Jerusalem means more for me personally, but I always want to play well and I always want to win. Today, Jerusalem is a big club and you always want to play well against them, but I guess any time I play the Reds it will be something special for me.”
This season, Ariel is having the best of his career. Not only is he a senior player on the club he also featured in the EuroCup which was the first time Rishon participated in the competition. Despite a 2-8 record, Ariel was able to earn more experience on a continental level and had the opportunity to play against the likes of Milos Tedosic who was playing with Virtus Bologna from Italy as well as potential 2020 NBA Draft Lottery pick Killian Hayes from Germany.
Ariel scored 7.6 points in 22 minutes per game and hit 41% of his shots from beyond the arc but only scored 59% of his free throws. His best game was in fact against Ulm with 18 points including five 3-pointers, one of which sent the game into overtime at home which Rishon eventually won on the extra session. In Israeli league action, Ariel put in 8.8 points and added 2.5 rebounds in 20 minutes going 53% from the field, 34% from long distance and 80% from the charity stripe. Rishon made it to the State Cup semifinals but were knocked out of the competition once again by eventual winners Hapoel Jerusalem.
“Playing in the EuroCup was amazing and the level of play was extremely high which allowed up to prepare very well for the Israeli league. I believe we gave a good performance in Europe and we kept games close all the way until the end, perhaps we may have been able to record even better results. Having to play twice a week against such incredible competition and very physical top notch teams was different than the Israeli league. This forced us to really raise our level and raise the bar in order to compete. For a club like Rishon Le’Zion and for its players it was really something special to play in the EuroCup.”
“As for playing against someone like Teodosic, I never believed something like that could have happened. To play in the EuroCup and to see our home content packed to watch us face Bologna and Teodosic was something else. You really feel that you are playing against one of basketball’s greats, you can see how he reads plays before they even happen. It was exciting and truly an honor.”
Rishon Le’Zion has an up and coming player in 17-year old Noam Dovrat who not only helped the Under-18 Israel National Team move back up to the top level after winning the B Division but also earned the MVP award as well. “He’s a great kid and works super duper hard. He has real potential and I think he’s going to have a great career if he keeps working hard and he is serious while also believing in himself. If so, the the skies the limit for Noam.”
When it comes to clutch shots, Ariel is one of the best in the business. Last season he drilled home the winning triple against Hapoel Beer Sheva and in the playoffs he also nailed a laser beam from deep to send game two of their quarterfinal series with Holon into overtime where Rishon eventually took the victory. In addition to his performance against Ulm, Ariel helped Rishon to a massive comeback against Hapoel Tel Aviv on the road where he scored five money time three pointers including one at the buzzer to give his team the win. Although his 3-point percentages may not show it, when Rishon needs clutch shooting they know exactly where they can turn to as he’s won many a game thanks to his guile from downtown in the closing minutes.
“Truthfully, I’m very comfortable taking those types of shots and I’m operating on automatic. I don’t feel the pressure at all if it’s in the closing seconds, the middle of the game or in the second quarter. For me it’s the same shot time and time again and it’s just a blast because this is why you play the game for these moments. It’s a lot of hard work and belief in my ability to hit those shots and that’s why it’s like I’m on automatic during those opportunities.”
Ariel is in essence a swingman who can play as a small forward but doesn’t believe he takes to many 3-pointers, “I trust my weapon but I also know that I have to and want to improve other elements of my game. But my shooting is a a tool that I have and I’m always going to use it when I need to.”
There have been a number of great players who have played in Israel and Ariel has had the opportunity to guard some of the best in the business. “The toughest player to guard had to be Donta Smith and I can tell you just from the practices we had in Jerusalem together. He’s just a fabulous player with tons of abilities to beat you. I couldn’t figure out how to stop him. Really, he’s got to be the most talented player that I ever had to defend. Perhaps Glen Rice Jr. as well who was with Hapoel Holon as well.”
The Rishon star has made several appearances for the Israel National Team and will be counted on for years to come and as the blue-and-white look to qualify for Eurobasket 2022. “Playing for the National Team has been a dream of mine ever since I was a child. It’s a huge honor and hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to contribute and represent the country for years to come.”
As for goals down the road, Ariel like any other basketball player in the continent is always looking to reach the top level of his sport, “I want to play in the Euroleague and for a top level club whether it’s in Spain or another country, that’s my dream.”