(photo credit: Itamar Bornstein/Hapoel Jerusalem Web site)
Hapoel Jerusalem can take a significant step towards qualification to the last 16 of the Eurocup with a road victory over Aris Thessaloniki on Tuesday.
However, after claiming a comfortable 89-76 home victory over BC Siauliai in its group opener, Jerusalem faces perhaps its toughest game of the group stage in Greece.
Aris stuttered at the start of the season, but last week it claimed an impressive 73-68 win at KK Zadar in its Eurocup opener and it has also won two straight league games following a 0-3 start.
"We are going to one of the toughest places in Europe, Aris is a great team with great tradition," Hapoel coach Guy Goodes said. "Their win in Zadar last week proves that they are the favorite to qualify and, in my opinion, to win this competition.
"Each player in their squad has experience in the top level. It will be a mountain to climb but we have the mentality of never giving up. We have about 100 fans coming with us which gives us pride and strength. We will do our best to get a good result."
Jerusalem, which returned to winning form in the BSL on Saturday, defeating Ironi Nahariya 95-70, will have to be at its best to win in Thessaloniki.
Aris coach Fotios Katsikaris has built a balanced roster, which includes the likes of Greek veterans Michailis Kakiouzis and Dimos Dikoudis as well as Americans Keydren Clark, Jeremy Richardson and Juan Dixon. Giant Englishman Andy Betts (2.17-meter) will be a nuisance to play under the basket, while backups Aaron Miles and Nikos Hatzivrettas are also key contributors, with Hatzivrettas scoring 15 points against Zadar.
"Hapoel Jerusalem is a very fast team and their players are very skilled in long-range shots," Aris coach Katsikaris said. "The addition of Pooh Jeter, the fifth American player on their roster, has made them even stronger. Hapoel don't use any typical big center in their game, and this will make things difficult for us in defense.
"They are very good at the transition game and we will have to make a lot of effort, in order to stop this. We must be focused and control the rhythm of the game, because our opponents like to play quick and go on the fast break as much as possible."
Kevinn Pinkney, who scored 16 points and took seven rebounds in the win over Siauliai, is looking forward to Tuesday's encounter and believes Hapoel can return home with the big win.
"You cannot play in a better atmosphere than in Aris' gym," he said. "Great fans, great atmosphere, it will be a struggle and I hope we can make a good game for all.
"We are coming after a good win in the league and we have confidence in our ability and group spirit. Of course, we will have to be in our top form to be in a position to win."