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Hapoel Jerusalem was drawn Friday to face Belgium champs Euphony Bree in the first elimination round of the ULEB Cup.
The two-legged tie will take place in Belgium on January 31 with the return leg one week later at Malha. The aggregate winner will face the winner of the Unics Kazan vs Virtus Roma tie in the quarterfinals.
The most recognizable face on Bree is English forward Roger Huggins, who played half a season with Hapoel in the spring of 2001. Huggins, 38, also played for Bnei Hasharon last year. During his time in the capital, Huggins played only 11 games, but he quickly became a fan favorite as he played an instrumental role in an upset of Maccabi Tel Aviv in his debut.
Huggins averaged 15.3 points and 5.7 rebounds over 28 minutes in seven playoff games that year as Jerusalem reached the playoff finals. Last year he posted 10.6 points and 6.6 rebounds for Bnei Hasharon.
Bree's top player this season has been guard Julius Jenkins, who leads the team with 19.7 points per game in the ULEB Cup.
Although Hapoel may have secretly hoped to draw Bree, which on paper is the weakest of the opponents it could have received in this round, it won't be caught overlooking anyone.
"There are no easy games," club chairman Danny Klein told the team's official Web site. He indirectly related to the fact that the potential quarterfinal opponents are among the competition favorites by adding "You can't look ahead to the next round. To advance deep into the competition, we'll have to be at our best."
Team captain Meir Tapiro, the only member of the current squad to play with Huggins, said "it will be a very difficult challenge against a leading team from the Belgian league, which is one of the toughest in Europe. The first game will be a tough one against a team that is very strong at home."
Bree went 4-1 on its home court during the ULEB regular season, but its overall record was just 5-5 as it finished in third place of Group C.
Bree's head coach Chris Finch was somewhat optimistic about playing the 2004 ULEB Cup champs. "We have seen Hapoel Jerusalem some times on TV and they are more familiar to us than many of the rivals in the bracket," he said. "We are all excited about being in the second round and we have shown everybody that we can compete hard. We think we belong in this competition, our players play great together as a group, unselfishly, and I think some of the teams underestimated us and I think we knew how to use that to our advantage."
In the meantime, Hapoel will remain focused on the next task at hand - Matchday 11 of the BSL. Jerusalem travels to take on last place Maccabi Givat Shmuel on Sunday night. On Tuesday Jerusalem has another away game in the league as it faces Bnei Hasharon in a matchup that was postponed earlier in the month.
Also Sunday, Elitzur Ashkelon hosts Ramat Hasharon, Ironi Nahariya travels to Hapoel Tel Aviv and second-place Maccabi Rishon meets Ironi Ramat Gan.
The final game this week sees Maccabi Tel Aviv host Hapoel Galil Elyon-Golan at Nokia Arena on Monday. Bnei Hasharon benefits from a bye week.
On TV: A night of Israeli basketball featuring Maccabi Rishon vs Ironi Ramat Gan, with updates from Maccabi Givat Shmuel vs Hapoel Jerusalem and Hapoel Tel Aviv vs Ironi Nahariya. (live at 7 p.m. on Sport5)
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