Israel coach Erez Edelstein will allow his fringe players to prove their worth against Bulgaria in Larnaca, Cyprus on Wednesday night, with the blue-and-white having already secured its progress to the European Championships.
The national team will cap an impressive qualifying campaign with the meaningless game against Bulgaria after already wrapping up first place in Group B on Sunday.
Israel booked its 12th-consecutive appearance in the European Championships by crushing the Netherlands 83-60 in Nicosia, Cyprus, outscoring the Dutch 26-5 in the first quarter and never looking back.
Since dropping to an overtime defeat to Montenegro in its qualifying opener, Israel recorded a significant improvement with every game, winning its last four contests by an average 15.8 points.
The national team, which will finish a qualifying campaign in first place for the first time since 2001, hasn’t missed the European Championships since 1991.
A defeat on Wednesday could still see Israel end the group tied at 4-2 with the Netherlands or Montenegro. However, the blueand- white will still own a headto- head advantage over both the Netherlands and Montenegro, ensuring Edelstein’s team will finish in first place regardless.
Israel will be without star forward Omri Casspi and starting center D’or Fischer on Wednesday, with the two being allowed to return home due to personal reasons.
“I can’t remember us ever progressing to the European Championships with a game to spare,” said guard Yotam Halperin. “It usually takes a lot more effort.
We are delighted because we worked very hard for this. Erez deserves massive credit. If people knew what he did here beyond his basketball duties they would give him a lot more respect.
“We will play like pros in the final game and try to win.”
After last year’s disappointing showing in the European Championships in which the blue-and-white finished bottom of its group with a 1-4 record, Casspi is hoping that this summer’s displays will prove to be a sign of things to come in Euro- Basket 2015.
“We experienced a great campaign,” said Casspi. “I really enjoyed how we improved with every game. We are a different team to the one which lost to Montenegro. We have matured both on and off the floor and we need to build on that ahead of next year.”