Maccabi Tel Aviv’s mission to reclaim the national hoops championship is clearly
the main storyline ahead of the tip-off to the Basketball Super League season on
Sunday. Hapoel Gilboa/Galil’s victory over the yellow-and-blue in the title game
last season meant that for the first time since the 1960s Maccabi dropped the
league title twice in three seasons.
Nevertheless, Tel Aviv will once
more be the firm favorite to claim BSL glory in the coming campaign, although if
the last few seasons have taught us anything it is that the Final Four format
gives every team at least a glimmer of hope of going all the way.
Sports Editor Allon Sinai takes stock of the 10 teams battling for BSL supremacy
in 2010/11. (teams listed in order of finish from last season)
Not much remains from the team that made history in May. Coach Oded
Katash left for Jerusalem and only four players survive from last season’s
Last season’s MVP, Elishay Kadir, left for Maccabi Tel Aviv, with
Brian Randle and Dion Dowell moving with Katash to the capital.
Lubin, Katash’s assistant from last season, was handed the reins, and despite
falling to Serbia’s Hemofarm Stada Vrsac in the first qualifying round of the
Euroleague two weeks ago, Gilboa’s young roster has shown plenty of
Gal Mekel should continue his progress alongside Jack
McClinton, while Leo Lyons and Warren Carter will benefit from the presence of
Ido Kozikaro under the baskets.
Gilboa’s roster is young, but it has
depth and quality and it could well be another exciting season at Gan
Player to watch out for: Tyler Wilkerson. After four seasons at
Marshall University the 22-year-old big-man is ready to begin his pro career
after leading MU with 14.0 points and 7.2 rebounds per game last
Last season: BSL champion, 14-8 in the regular season, beat Ironi
Ashkelon 3-0 in the playoffs.
Best case scenario: Lubin follows on from
where Katash left off and guides the team to a fourth Final Four in five
Worst case scenario: The inexperience of Lubin and his young
roster prove to be insurmountable and Gilboa loses in the
Maccabi Tel Aviv
If losing the championships twice in three
years is nothing short of disastrous at Maccabi, then dropping the title for a
second straight season is truly unthinkable. Tel Aviv lost just one regular
season game last season, but showed its frailty by barely edging Bnei Hasharon
3-2 in the playoffs before being outplayed by Gilboa in the final.
yellow-and-blue’s budget yet again dwarfs the finances of the rest of the clubs
in the league, but the last few seasons have proven how vulnerable Maccabi is
under the Final Four format.
Tel Aviv hasn’t done itself any favors by
going through a complete off-season overhaul for a fifth straight year, bringing
in seven new players and signing its sixth coach in just four
David Blatt returns to Maccabi after six years on the continent
and will be happy for a repeat of his two previous seasons as head coach at the
Nokia Arena, when he went 51-3 in the regular season and guided the team to the
league and cup double twice in a row (2001/02 and 2002/03).
neglecting to boost its Israeli core last year, Maccabi brought in the best
local talent available, adding Lior Eliyahu, Tal Burstein and Elishay Kadir to a
roster which already included David Bluthenthal, Guy Pnini, Yaniv Green and
Greek giant Sofoklis Schortsanitis will be an unstoppable
force in the BSL and with Chuck Eidson, Jeremy Pargo and Doron Perkins all
gaining valuable BSL experience last season, Maccabi once more has a team which
can settle for nothing less than another league title.
Player to watch
out for: Sofoklis Schortsanitis. It is difficult to miss the 25-year-old center,
and it will be interesting to see what the rest of the BSL can do to slow down
the gargantuan Greek international.
Last season: 2nd place, 21-1 in the
regular season, beat Bnei Hasharon 3-2 in the playoffs.
scenario: After a six-season hiatus, Blatt wins his sixth straight championship
Worst case scenario: A second straight loss in the final
means Blatt joins Pini Gershon and Tzvika Sherf on the ever-growing list of Tel
Aviv coaches to drop a championship.
After failing to
reach the Final Four title game for a third straight year last season, Jerusalem
has rebuilt the team yet again, starting with the coach’s position. Oded Katash
joins Hapoel after leading Gilboa to the championship and brought Brian Randle
and Dion Dowell with him.
Israelis Yuval Naimi, Yogev Ohayon and Uri
Kukia are the only significant survivors from last season’s roster, with
Katash’s main local addition being Moshe Mizrahi.
Hapoel will be looking
to make up for the relative weakness of its Israelis with quality foreigners
with previous BSL experience. Besides Randle and Dowell, Jason Rich joins after
showing his potential at Maccabi Haifa last season, with Sam Clancy signing
after proving himself as a reliable post player at Bnei
However, Hapoel’s chances of success will likely rest more than
anything else on the shoulders of Will Solomon, who returns to Malha six years
leading the team to the ULEB Cup in the 2003/04 season.
Solomon is past
his prime, but if he can come close to recapturing the form he showed at Malha
six years ago there is no telling what Jerusalem can achieve.
watch out for: Brian Randle. The 25-year-old showed consistent improvement under
Katash’s guidance at Gilboa over the last two seasons and should be one of the
best players in the BSL in the coming campaign.
Last season: 3rd place,
14-8 in the regular season, beat Maccabi Rishon Lezion 3-1 in the
Best case scenario: Katash cements his place as a coaching
legend at 36 years of age, winning his second straight championship with a team
not named Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Worst case scenario: Even Katash can’t
control Solomon and Jerusalem doesn’t make it to the championship game for a
fourth straight year.
Netanya surprised all the experts
last season, reaching the Final Four in its first campaign back in the BSL in
more than a decade.
Eric Alfasi’s roster seemed to be one of the weakest
in the league, but led by playmaker Shmulik Brenner and superb foreigners Danilo
Pinnock, Marco Killingsworth and Tony Washam it finished the regular season in
the top four, and beat Maccabi Haifa to reach the Final Four, before losing to
Maccabi Tel Aviv in the semifinals.
However, apart from Brenner, Alfasi
has had to virtually rebuild the team from scratch this summer, and despite the
coach saying last week that he believes his side can repeat last season’s
achievements, no one is expecting to see Netanya make the season-ending
tournament for a second straight time.
Player to watch out for: Elton
Brown. The 27-year-old forward has plenty to prove this season. Brown was a key
member of the Hapoel Holon team which won the 2007/08 title, but after being
brought back to Israel by Maccabi Tel Aviv the following campaign, was cut after
playing just a single BSL game.
Last season: 4th place, 13-9 in the
regular season, beat Maccabi Haifa 3-1 in the playoffs.
scenario: Alfasi proves he deserves to be treated as one of Israel’s top coaches
after guiding Netanya to a second straight Final Four.
scenario: Netanya makes the playoffs, but this time it’s the relegation
Haifa has been one of the league’s top teams in
the past two seasons, and despite replacing its entire roster and its coach
during the summer, it has once more got every intention of challenging for a
Final Four berth.
The 30-year-old Elad Hasin, who was Avi Ashkenazi’s
assistant at Haifa in the last couple of seasons, has taken charge and has built
a promising roster. Israelis Yoni Nir and Avi Ben-Shimol and experienced
foreigners Sasa Bratic and Marco Killingsworth give Hasin a strong foundation,
with Americans Derrick Low, Larry O’Bannon and Frank Robinson to ensure Haifa
will at the very least be a Final Four contender.
Player to watch out
for: Sylven Landesberg. The 20-year-old will be playing his first season of
professional basketball after starring for the University of Virginia Cavaliers,
being named ACC Freshman of the Year for the 2008/09 season. Landesberg could
prove to be a real steal for Haifa, especially as he will be playing as an
Israeli due to the fact his father is Jewish.
Last season: 5th – 8th
place, 14-8 in the regular season, lost 3-1 to Barak Netanya in the
Best case scenario: After a one-season break, Haifa is back in
the Final Four.
Worst case scenario: Hasin is not ready for head-coaching
and Haifa misses out on the Final Four for a second straight
Ashkelon made the playoffs in the past two seasons
and will be looking to go one better this time around. The reliable Ariel
Beit-Halachmi remains at the helm, but Ashkelon’s roster doesn’t look strong
enough to make the Final Four.
Veteran playmaker Dror Hagag gives the
team the experience it needs, with the excellent Rashon Turner continuing for a
second year after averaging 15.5 points and 10.6 rebounds last
However, Ashkelon’s small budget has meant that Beit- Halachmi
has had to go for some unproven Americans, which could end up costing the team
in the playoffs.
Player to watch out for: Gabe Pruitt. The 24-year-old
former Boston Celtic will be playing in “Europe” for the first time and should
be a reliable source of points for Ashkelon.
Last season: 5th – 8th,
11-11 in the regular season, lost 3-0 to Hapoel Gilboa/Galil in the
Best case scenario: A third straight season ends in the
Worst case scenario: Ashkelon fights for its life in the
relegation playoffs and only survives by the skin of its teeth.
After three straight years of relegation battles, Rishon finally
made the playoffs under the guidance of Effi Birenboim last season. The club’s
faithful will be expecting nothing less in the coming campaign, with Rishon
aiming to make the Final Four for the first time since 2006.
Aaron McGhee will be dominant under the baskets, with the speedy Denis Clemente
to team up with Dwayne Mitchell in what promises to be a very dangerous
All the pieces seem to be in place for Birenboim, who will be
confident of reaching the Final Four three years after his last appearance at
the season-ending tournament with Bnei Hasharon.
Player to watch out for:
Denis Clemente. The 24-year-old helped lead Kansas State to the Elite 8 and a
second seed in the NCAA tournament, averaging 16.6 points and 4.2 assists.
However, he couldn’t land a place in the NBA and will have a lot to prove at
Rishon this season.
Last season: 5th – 8th, 10-12 in the regular season,
lost 3- 1 to Hapoel Jerusalem in the playoffs.
Best case scenario: After
three years Effi is back where he belongs – the Final Four.
scenario: The playoffs are once more as far as Rishon goes.
Bnei Hasharon disappointed for much of last season, amassing a 9-13 regular
season record. However, it ended up coming within a whisker of knocking off
Maccabi Tel Aviv in the quarterfinal playoffs.
Dan Shamir has got an even
stronger roster this term so there will be no excuse should the team fail to
return to the Final Four after a two-year absence.
Erez Katz, Shawn James
and Ron Steele are back from last season, while the sharp-shooting Lee Nailon
returns to the team after three years. Nailon is already 35-years-old, but
there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be able to average something similar to the
20.6 points per game he did in the 2006/07 season.
Sharon Sasson and Sam
Hoskin are two more players Shamir can count on and confidence levels are very
high at Bnei Hasharon entering the season.
Player to watch out for: Dori
Asaf. The 23-year-old guard had some teething problems last season, but he will
have learned from the experience and will be a lethal weapon off the bench for
Last season: 5th – 8th place, 9-13 in the regular season, lost
3-2 to Maccabi Tel Aviv in the playoffs.
Best case scenario: After coming
so close last season, Bnei Hasharon gets the better of the yellow-and-blue in
the Final Four semis.
Worst case scenario: Nailon ruins the team’s
chemistry and another early playoff exit means Shamir is looking for a new
After once more coming close to extinction in the
off-season, Holon will yet again be fighting for its BSL life on the court in
the coming campaign.
Danny Franco, who guided Holon to the State Cup in
2009, is back at the club and will need to work more miracles if the team is to
achieve any kind of success. The financial problems meant Holon began to build
its roster later than it would have liked, with Franco also having a meager
budget with which to sign players.
Guard Moran Rot, who won the
championships with Holon in the 2007/08 season, returns and will share the
backcourt with fellow Israeli veteran Amit Ben-David. Jamie Arnold gives the
team an effective low post presence, but Franco’s Americans could be better and
his short roster may well hurt Holon down the line.
Player to watch out
for: Robert Hite. The 26-year-old former Miami Heat guard arrives from the
Italian League, where he averaged 17.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game for
Reggio Emilia. He will be expected to put up similar numbers for
Last season: 9th – 12th, 6-16 in the regular season, beat Ironi
Nahariya 3-2 in the relegation playoffs.
Best case scenario: Holon not
only maintains its BSL status for a fourth straight season, but even manages to
sneak into the playoffs.
Worst case scenario: Relegation to the National
League means Holon subsequently disappears from the basketball
Ashdod didn’t even make the National League playoff
finals last season. However, after both eventual champion Habika’a BC and
runner-up Hapoel Yokne’am/Megido forfeited their places in the BSL, it was
handed the opportunity to play in the top flight.
Ashdod seems intent on
making the most of its chance, bringing in experienced coach Ofer Berkowitz and
assembling a relatively strong roster.
The 35-year-old Meir Tapiro is
well past his peak, but he is still a superb playmaker and combined with Or
Eitan, Niv Berkowitz and Sean Daniel, Berkowitz has a decent Israeli
However, Ashdod’s eventual success and hopes of survival will
depend very much on Berkowitz’s gamble on young Americans Ramel Bradley, Josh
Carter and Josh Duncan, meaning the team could well struggle.
watch out for: Ramel Bradly. The 25-year-old former University of Kentucky
Wildcat played for France’s Dijon last season, averaging 12.0 points, 3.7
assists and 2.7 boards.
Last season: 3rd – 4th in the National League,
16-10 in the regular season, lost 3-2 to Habika’a BC in the
Best case scenario: Ashdod proves it deserves its place in the
BSL and enjoys a largely eventless campaign.
Worst case scenario: Ashdod
regrets ever wanting to play in the BSL and is relegated after a single season.