(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Hapoel Jerusalem will finally host its first ever game at the new Jerusalem Arena on Tuesday evening, welcoming Hapoel Holon in the quarterfinals of the pre-season Winner Cup.
The game will be preceded by a celebratory ceremony with mayor Nir Barkat before the new-look Jerusalem takes the court for the first time in front of a sold-out arena.
Only six senior players are back from last season, with Jerusalem bringing in three new Americans, including last season’s BSL MVP Donta Smith, and strengthening its Israeli core with the signing of Bar Timor.
Hapoel held a short training camp in Germany last week, playing local powerhouse Alba Berlin twice. Jerusalem lost the first game by 17 points and the second by 18 points.
However, the team was playing without new Americans Tony Gaffney and Joseph Jones, who only arrived in Israel last Wednesday, and new coach Danny Franco was optimistic his side would soon register a significant improvement.
“The goal of the trip was to gel as a team and face a quality opponent,” Franco said.
“We saw what we are good at and what we need to improve on.”
Franco hasn’t got long to get his team firing on all cylinders, with Jerusalem to already face CEZ Nymburk of the Czech Republic in the first round of the Euroleague qualifiers on September 24.
The eight teams in the qualifiers will vie for a single spot in Group A of the regular season with Real Madrid, Efes Istanbul, Zalgiris Kaunas, Nizhny Novgorod and Dinamo Sassari of Italy.
The seven remaining sides will be handed a berth in the Eurocup regular season.
The qualifying tournament will take place in Ostend, Belgium, between September 23 and 26. Should Hapoel beat Nymburk, it will play the winner of the game between Russian powerhouse Unics Kazan and Basket Zielona Gora of Poland in the second of three possible rounds.
First things first, however, with Jerusalem desperate to open its account in the new arena with a victory over Holon on Monday.
Jerusalem’s game will be followed by a duel between Hapoel Tel Aviv and Hapoel Eilat, with the winners of both contests to face-off in the semifinals in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
Two more quarterfinals will take place in Rishon Lezion on Monday, with Maccabi Tel Aviv playing Hapoel Gilboa/Galil and Maccabi Haifa facing Ironi Ness Ziona. The winners will meet in the semis in Jerusalem on Tuesday. The Winner Cup final will be held at the new Jerusalem Arena on Thursday.