The Lead Point
“This is my final season,” Tony Gaffney told me at 1:46am via text following Nahariya’s State Cuo defeat. Gaffney is the consummate professional who has been through it all and for that, all basketball fans in Israel should be thankful that such a person has played in the Holy Land for three teams over the course of his career. From NBA training camps to playing in a number of countries, he loves living here in Israel and loves playing under Coach Danny Franco. Together with Franco, the duo won Hapoel Jerusalem’s first ever League Championship and almost duplicated the feat with Nahariya in the Israel State Cup, oh how close they were. “I’m so disappointed right now and I don’t think I’ve ever had a loss like this,” said Gaffney. “We put everything we possibly had into this game both mentally and emotionally. I’m so proud to be a vet and a leader on this team. Like I said budget can buy a roster but can’t buy heart and we showed so much heart. You’re not always in this position to win a title and it stings.”
Nahariya was actually up at in the third quarter and put the pressure in Jerusalem, but the Reds made a run. Gaffney spoke about what that was like for the team in the second half, “You have to think play by play and you can’t be scoreboard watching. They went up big and we came back just as we’ve done all year. We don’t let leads effect how we play as a team and we don’t panic. We had to stay the course, stay focused and know we’re going to make plays to. We were in position, but they have a lot of firepower and you have to take your hats off to them and they made a few more plays than us.”
Finally, you’ve got to give Gaffney a hand as to how much honor and respect he gave to Jerusalem following the win. For someone who is retiring at the end of the season he could have every reason to be upset and distraught, but no, not Gaffney, he took the high road, the only road that he knows how to take, “I’m extremely happy for Jerusalem and that city. They have a lot of good guys on that team and as much as it hurts I’m happy for them.”
Tony, keep playing your heart and soul out. “Tomorrow’s a new day,” I told him. He responded, “That it is, that is is.” There’s still plenty of basketball to be played by Gaffney and Nahariya this season.
2) There’s no question that Danny Franco is one helluva coach. He’s been able to take Nahariya with a thin squad but one with a lot of veteran presence and heart to the grand stage. His team fought and fought and fought all the way to the end and even had a chance to take a late lead to send the Cup north, but his side just came up a hair short in a thrilling final. “All the players brought everything they could today,” explained Franco. “It’s very hard as I’ve been on both sides. It came down to one shot and we had it with Jerel McNeal’s opportunity. I have to take off my hat to these battlers.” Itay Segev said he had mixed feelings following the contest, “I feel both disappointed and proud. Today we proved to everyone what we are worth and no one can say anything bad about us. We put on a show for our city that has had a tough time and for that we are very happy.”
3) Nahariya will be back and are aiming for the league Final Four in what may be the city’s last time in a while where thy will have a one and done chance to surprise the league and win the championship. With the move to series next season, the smaller teams will have much less of chance to defeat the likes of Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem who have much deeper squads and who play in Europe will have a marked advantage. But there’s still plenty left in this campaign to do something special said Franco, “I told the players that they got a taste of what we could do this season and we get back to work this weekend.” I’ll let McNeal have the final word here as we put the State Cup Final to bed, “I told the guys that this is a mid season championship and that was message I had for them, after I pulled myself together. We will be back and I want to play in another Final Four in June. We’ve got a lot more basketball left to play so we have to keep it moving.”