Forward Omri Casspi is the undoubted star of the Israel national team and will have to be at his best for the blue-and-white to realize its goals in EuroBasket 2017, starting with a win in tonight’s opener against Italy at Yad Eliyahu Arena in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
The moment the Israel national team has been waiting for since December 2015 finally arrives on Thursday night when the blue-and-white hosts Italy in its EuroBasket opener at Yad Eliyahu Arena in Tel Aviv.
Israel was chosen 18 months ago to co-host the tournament for the first time, with other group action also taking place in Helsinki (Finland) Cluj, (Romania) and Istanbul (Turkey).
The knockout rounds will be played in Istanbul between September 9 and 17.
Israel’s last game at the previous European Championships two years ago was also against Italy and ended in a 30-point drubbing in the last 16. The national team has a chance to avenge that loss and also get the tournament off on the right foot on Thursday, which could prove to be especially significant considering the hectic schedule that will see each team play its five group games over seven days.
Israel won’t play on Friday, but will be back in action on Saturday when it hosts Group B favorite Lithuania.
The blue-and-white faces Germany on Sunday, comes up against Georgia on Tuesday and wraps up its group games against Ukraine on Wednesday.
The top four teams from each of the four groups will progress to the knockout rounds.
In other group action in Tel Aviv on Thursday, Germany plays Ukraine and Lithuania faces Georgia.
Seven of the 12 players on Israel’s roster were also part of the team that lost 82-52 to Italy in EuroBasket 2015. But they will be facing a very different Italy side at Yad Eliyahu. Andrea Bargnani and Alessandro Gentile both chose to skip the tournament coming off disappointing seasons, while Danilo Gallinari of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, who was meant to be the star of the side, fractured his thumb last month after punching Jito Kok of the Netherlands during a tune-up game.
“They are absolutely the favorites,” said Italy forward Nicolo Melli about Israel. “We are not the big Italy. We don’t have any kind of pressure on our shoulders. We have to play as underdogs with no pressure and try to surprise as many teams as possible.”
With Gallinari out injured, Atlanta Hawks guard Marco Belinelli is expected to be the focal point of Italy’s offense.
“I think it is good for us that Israel is the favorite,” said Belinelli. “Last summer we played in front of our fans and it isn’t always easy to play on home court.”
Italy’s biggest star is arguably its coach, with San Antonio Spurs assistant coach and four-time Euroleague winner Ettore Messina guiding the side.
He presents a tough match-up for Israel coach Erez Edelstein, who at least has a full roster at his disposal, although many of his players are coming off mediocre campaigns. Omri Casspi will be counted upon to carry the team on both ends of the floor, but he will need plenty of help if Israel is to achieve its goals in the tournament, starting with a win against Italy.
“We need to prove on the court that we are the favorites,” said Edelstein.
“We respect Italy and we will be playing against a tough team with a decorated coach. There are no favorites in a game like this.”
Edelstein is confident his players are ready to grasp the moment.
“There will be a lot of excitement.
People have been waiting for this for a long time,” noted the coach. “Past national team players would have given everything to be in our place.
We are blessed to be in this position and we face a huge challenge.”