Lior Eliyahu 311.
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Israel only begins its EuroBasket 2013 qualifying campaign on Wednesday, but the
game against Montenegro on the road may well set the tone for the national
team’s quest to reach the European Championships for an 11th straight
The blue-and-white faces 10 games over the next month to qualify
for next summer’s tournament, and with Montenegro being its main rival for
second place in Group A, Israel coach Arik Shivek knows a win on Wednesday will
be a significant early step in the right direction.
Serbia is the favorite to win the group, which also includes the weaker
Slovakia, Estonia and Iceland.
The top two teams from the six qualifying
groups and the four best third-placed teams will make up the 16 sides who will
join Spain, France, Russia, FYR of Macedonia, Lithuania, Greece, Great Britain
and the hosts Slovenia in EuroBasket 2013.
“We had a good preparation
period this summer and I’m pleased with our overall performances in the warm-up
games,” said Shivek, whose team won nine of 10 tune-up encounters ahead of the
trip to Montenegro.
“We suffered a bit of a slump in some of the games,
but that is only natural and I’m happy that it happened before the
“We can’t wait to get started.”
Israel also faced
Montenegro in EuroBasket 2011 qualification, winning in Tel Aviv and losing in
Podgorica to qualify for the championships from second place, one game behind
“We know all about Montenegro, but there are no secrets
and they will know everything about us as well,” said Shivek, who will be
encouraged that Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic will not be playing
for the hosts on Wednesday.
“The team that overcomes the nerves and
executes its plan the best will win.”
After missing last summer’s
European Championships, Omri Casspi of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers returns to
the Israel lineup.
Casspi led the team in points (16.9 ppg) and minutes
(29.3 mpg) in the EuroBasket 2011 qualifying campaign and the team struggled
desperately without him in last year’s tournament, losing its first three games
by an average 17.7 points to drop out of contention for a top 12 finish before
triumphing in its final two meaningless group encounters.
also be boosted by the presence of Alex Tyus under the baskets and Yogev
Ohayon’s breakthrough last season.
The team will badly miss the retired
David Blu, but Tyus, who recently received Israeli citizenship and will replace
Blu as the side’s nationalized player, will give the blue-and-white an option in
the paint, both on the defensive and offensive ends of the floor, which it
hasn’t possessed in years.
Ohayon came out of nowhere to become Maccabi
Tel Aviv’s starting point guard last season and Shivek has repeatedly stated
that he will be in charge of leading by example from the
“Clearly, the first game in Montenegro is the key to the
campaign,” Ohayon said.
“We have spent the last few weeks preparing for
this game and the coaching staff has been telling us all they know about them
“However, this is a long tournament and we need to be
consistent and maintain our playing principals.
“I believe in this team,
but we need to be focused to play our best.”