Hapoel J’lem captain Yotam Halperin.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Jerusalem’s fans, players and management celebrated long into the night after winning the club’s first Israeli championship on Thursday. However, while the collective hangover has yet to subside, the club has already turned its focus to next season and building on the breakthrough accomplishment.
Jerusalem is awaiting to hear whether it will be handed a wild card to the Euroleague regular season before assembling its roster for 2015/16. Only four players currently seem guaranteed to continue for another season, Israelis Lior Eliyahu, Yotam Halperin and Bar Timor and American Donta Smith. Tony Gaffney is also likely to be back for another year, while the status of both Bracey Wright and Deon Thompson remains up in the air.
Derwin Kitchen, Joseph Jones and Tywain McKee will all leave, with coach Danny Franco to remain at the helm after joining Pini Gershon as the only coaches in the past 50 years to win both a championship and a State Cup at teams not named Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Israeli guard Gal Mekel and Maccabi center Alex Tyus are two of the names high on Jerusalem’s wish list for next season, but Hapoel’s chances of acquiring their services will largely depend on whether it plays in the Euroleague.
Maccabi Tel Aviv is currently the only Israeli club guaranteed a place in the Euroleague regular season as one of 11 teams with an A licence.
Since the takeover of Hapoel Jerusalem by the ownership group led by Ori Allon, and in particular after moving in to its new arena last year, the club has been in talks with the Euroleague with the hope of one day becoming a permanent member.
Hapoel was handed a wild-card entry into the qualifiers for 2014/15, but it failed to progress.
Nevertheless, Jerusalem has its sights set on receiving one of the four new wild-card entries for the 2015/16 regular season.
Apart from the 11 A licence clubs and Eurocup winner Khimki Moscow, eight B licences will be awarded directly through domestic league qualification to teams from the Adriatic League (2), France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia and Spain.
Four temporary one-year B licences will be assigned as wild cards, with priority given to suitable clubs in France, Germany, Turkey and the United Kingdom due to their status as strategic markets for the competition.
Jerusalem is hoping its BSL triumph will help persuade the Euroleague chiefs that it deserves one of the wild cards, with the BSL also lending a helping hand.
“Israel is the only country among the members of the Euroleague whose national champion does not take part in the Euroleague,” read a letter from BSL chairman Shmuel Frenkel to Euroleague CEO Jordi Bertomeu.
“The BSL has been a loyal member of the Euroleague for the past 10 years and we think that as part of the strong and warm relationship between the bodies, it is appropriate and indispensable that an Israeli team that won the National Championship in a sporting manner should represent our League and play in the Euroleague [in addition to Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv].”