After making a statement with the signing of coach Danny Franco and BSL MVP Donta Smith over the weekend, Hapoel Jerusalem is looking to continue and add pieces to the team ahead of its first season in the new Jerusalem Arena.
The rebuilding process at Jerusalem got off to a fast start with the addition of Franco and Smith, who will hope to build on their successful partnership at Maccabi Haifa last season.
Franco and Smith came tantalizingly close to leading Haifa to the BSL title, with the American forward ultimately claiming he had thought his team had already secured the Israeli championship when he attempted the final shot of the second leg of the final against Maccabi Tel Aviv two weeks ago.
After Tel Aviv won the first leg 81-77 on the road, Haifa sent the game to overtime with a 79-75 win in regulation and led by two points (84-82) as Smith prepared to take the final shot of the game.
Smith drove to the basket and his shot was ultimately blocked by Alex Tyus, but he said he was sure Haifa had already wrapped up a second straight championship, believing that a win by any margin in overtime would be sufficient for his team.
“The point system was definitely off to me. I don’t get it,” he said. “I thought that once we went to overtime we are even, but I guess I was wrong.”
Smith, who was crowned as the league’s MVP after averaging 16.1 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game in the regular season, was unstoppable in both legs of the final, averaging 29.0 points, 10.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists against Maccabi.
The 31-year-old, who signed a three-year deal, helped Haifa to an historic championship in 2012/13 and will be aiming to take Jerusalem back to the BSL final for the first time in eight years.
“I’m happy to be back cooperating with the best player in the league,” said the 40-yearold Franco, who succeeds Brad Greenberg in Jerusalem just as he did in Haifa. “We have a special connection and I’m sure Hapoel Jerusalem will benefit from it.”
Smith, who was also courted by Maccabi Tel Aviv, joins Yotam Halperin, Lior Eliyahu and Derwin Kitchen, who are all under contract for next season, with Jerusalem also hoping to extend the deals of Josh Duncan, Bracey Wright and Art Parakhouski, as well as strengthen its Israeli core.