Up & Coming – Eidan Alber forges his own path! Israel U20 star returns to Maccabi Tel Aviv

Dov Halickman Photography

Eidan Alber, one of the stars of this past summer’s Israel Under-20 Team that won the European Championship moved up to the top league this season with Ironi Nes Ziona. The 20-year old up and coming talent began to come into his own during the last couple of months before the Israel Basketball League suspended the 2019/20 season, leaving Alber with the thirst for more which he received when the campaign resumed in July. Now Alber, returns to Maccabi Tel Aviv a more mature player and one that will look to make an impact with the Yellow & Blue.

“I’m happy to come back home to the club that I played at since I was a youngster. I used to go to the games with my family as we had season tickets in section 3. This is a dream come true and I am ready for the challenge. I can’t wait to step on the court and play for the club and for the fans”

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Last summer, Alber was part of the Israel Under-20 team that captured the European Championship in Tel Aviv and had a number of fabulous performances including 16 points against Lithuania, 20 points in the semifinal versus France and in the final scored 10 points against powerhouse Spain. While paying tough defense is part of his all around game, Alber scored a number of clutch 3-pointers and helped swing the momentum the blue-and-white’s way. All in all, Alber averaged 9.3 points, 3 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.7 steals a game in close to 19 minutes per contest while posting impressive percentages, 52% from 2, 44% from 3 and 89% from the free throw line.

“Playing with the U20 National Team was incredible. I don’t think there’s been a time where we haven’t looked back at the tournament and remember the incredible atmosphere. I still watch the replay to look back and relish the competition and re-experience the fantastic crowd that cheered us on. When I heard that the tourney was cancelled this summer due to the virus I was disappointed, but like I said earlier, health is above all.”

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Although the competition was held at home in the Drive In Arena, the players still faced pressure, “We definitely felt the pressure, but we really felt that we could win it all. We were able to compete with Lithuania and Spain in the preparation tournament held right before the championship began. But we came into the real tourney ready to go and as one team. We really were able to feed off the fans positive energy and I believe everyone could see that on the court.”

Israel’s coach Ariel Beit Halachmi was very instrumental in the team’s victory, but as Alber explains he wasn’t just a coach but much more than that, “Ariel is above all an incredible human being , he’s just an amazing person. I took a lot of what he was able to convey to us during the tournament and while we were training for a couple of months. He is the highest quality person that I know.”

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Deni Avdija was also part of the title team and will be a lottery pick in the upcoming 2020 NBA Draft, “We also played together with the younger National Teams as well as when we were in High School. I know how hard he works and how much he invests in his game. He’s very serious and puts so much effort into in training and you can see the results. I’m very happy for him.”

Alber grew up in Tel Aviv and went to a number of high schools, the last being Tichon Hadash which puts an emphasis on basketball. His mother Tali works at the Medica Medical Center while his father Eran is a lawyer and the two have spent some time together over the last while due to the lockdown. “We’ve been taking short walks together with our dog and spoke about what kind of amazing childhood I had. I really had many friends and great family support as I grew and matured throughout the years.”

One of Alber’s role models on the court was Kobe Bryant who tragically died in a helicopter crash back in January as well as Israeli stalwart Raviv Limonad whom he had the opportunity to play with this past campaign at Nes Ziona, “Ever since I was little I watched Kobe play and I grew up admiring his game. Like everyone else I’m still stunned and sad that he passed away.

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“But I’ve been very fortunate that I was able to share the court with Raviv who I also grew up watching live on TV. All of a sudden I’m actually playing with him, sharing the same lockerroom and learning basketball from an Israeli legend. He was my mentor this season.”

Alber’s first season as a professional saw him play for Hapoel Kfar Saba in the second Division Leumit League during the 2018/19 campaign and averaged 10.6 points a game in a shade over 26 minutes. “Although we were demoted a league at the end of the season, it was a fantastic year for me. The club did something that few would have done which was to take a group of very young players and gave them the stage and allow them to grow. This was a very important season for me in which gave me plenty of playing time with and against professional and foreign players. There’s no question that this helped me mature and mold me as a player.”

In addition to moving to the pros, Alber joined the Israel Defense Forces and his service is a bit different than the regular citizen that joins the army because he is a professional basketball player, “Since my role in the army isn’t essential I am at home but I’ve been a part of a great program called “Educator Soldiers”. This project allows me to combine basketball and traveling abroad but also work at the Tichon Hadash High School and aid the sport teachers, basketball team and more. So in essence I’m dealing with basketball day in and day out, it’s an incredible privilege to be able to do so.”

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Following last season’s performance Alber joined Nes Ziona and helped the club advance to the State Cup Semifinals while starring in one of the previous rounds where he scored 15 points in a win over Hapoel Hevel Modiin. Alber could have joined a number of other teams for this campaign but is very satisfied with his decision to sign with Nes Ziona where is he averaging a modest 2.3 points in roughly 7 minutes per game, “I’m 100%, actually 300% thrilled to have joined Nes Ziona which has been very warm home for me. I only have good things to say about my time so far with the club and when we went on this break we had won two games in a row and were playing great basketball. Hopefully we will return because I do feel like we may have missed an opportunity, but who knows what will be now with the current situation.”

In addition to playing with Raviv Limonad, Nes Ziona featured a number of former NBA players with a wealth of experience including Daequan Cook and Jeff Withey, “Like I said about Raviv, these were players that I was able to watch on television. To be able to practice with them on a regular basis and learn from them is a privilege. We were a team with a lot of experience and this is one season that I’ll never ever forget.”

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Alber also took part in the Europe Cup competition where Nes Ziona advanced to the second round of play. Although he plays a but under 10 minutes a game, he went off for 17 points on the road in Holland against Dutch powerhouse Zwolle.

“Playing in Europe is incredible for any basketball player as we were able to play yet another game each week which gave me even more experience and in continental play to boot. Playing two games a week really helped us as a team off the court as well as we were able to jell during these journeys abroad. For me personally I was able to gain a tremendous amount in Europe to complement my experiences with the National Team. This was very special.”

The Nes Ziona Coach Nadav Zilberstein influenced Alber’s development as well, “Our relationship has been super from day one that I joined the team. I learnt so much from Coach and he is truly a basketball fountain of knowledge.”

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Just before the league was suspended, Alber had some terrific performances with 9 points at Hapoel Tel Aviv in limited minutes while playing in money time during a win over Hapoel Beer Sheva. Instead of being disappointed that the momentum halted, Alber looked at the bright side, “I saw how I had been building up to this point all season and as to how I found my place within the team, so I’m not disappointed. I’m looking at this as the gas that will push me further and give me the inspiration to work harder as I’ve seen the results on the court.”

Alber was part of the Maccabi Tel Aviv youth program and will now head back to his “home” after being on loan with Nes Ziona. While with Nadav Zilberstein’s team he spoke about the possibility of returning to the Yellow & Blue, “If there is an option in the future and a good situation, then of course I would be interested as I grew up at Maccabi since the age of four when my father took me to my first practice. However, it’s tough to know what will be down the road or what will even be next season. I’m going to just keep working hard and do what I love to do which is to play basketball at the highest level that I can.”

“Right now my hope is that we can all get back to our regular routines and that everyone will be healthy and make it past these challenging times successfully. I can’t wait to see fans in the stands again and that we can all go back to enjoying what we call sports. For me I just want to keep working as hard as I can with professionalism and love of the game and continue to push forward.”

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