Ten years after claiming its one and only European title, Hapoel Jerusalem believes that this could be the season when it once more tastes continental glory.
Jerusalem visits Ulm in Germany in the first leg of the Eurocup Last 16 on Wednesday night. The return leg will be played at Malha Arena next week, with the tie to be decided on aggregate score.
Hapoel memorably lifted the ULEB Cup with a victory over Real Madrid in April 2004, but has struggled in European competition in recent years.
The team failed to progress past the first group stage of the Eurocup, which took the place of the ULEB Cup, in each of the last three seasons, suffering painful premature exits time and again.
That all changed this season, with Hapoel advancing from the regular season with a 6-4 record after prevailing in its final two games before wrapping up its progress to the knockout rounds by winning Last 32 Group M with a game to spare.
Jerusalem has also shined on the local scene this season, winning 14 of its past 15 BSL games to move to a 17-4 record, tied with league-leader Maccabi Tel Aviv.
The key to Jerusalem’s success in the Last 32 was its dominance under the baskets and efficient ball handling. Hapoel led all teams in rebounding (36.7 rpg) and two-pointers made (165), while also registering the fewest turnovers in the second group stage (10.5 topg) together with Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius.
The target for both teams on Wednesday will be to reach 80 points, with Jerusalem amassing a 6-1 record when it has done so in the Eurocup this season while Ulm is 6-0.
Ulm won six straight Eurocup games at one stage in the regular season, but advanced from the Last 32 with a 3-3 record, losing its final two group contests.
Ulm coach Thorsten Leibenath uses a deep rotation, with nine players averaging between 17 and 30 minutes per game in the Last 32.
American Edgar Sosa was the team’s leading scorer in the Last 32 with 14.7 points per game despite averaging just 23 minutes off the bench.
“We understand the significance of this game,” said Jerusalem guard Yotam Halperin. “We are determined to continue our European campaign and we want to record a good result in Germany.
Ulm has a pretty unique style so we won’t be able to stop them by stopping a single player. This tie will not end in Ulm regardless of the result of the first leg. We will have to make some adjustments for the game in Germany, but we are entering the encounter with a lot of confidence.”