Maccabi Haifa owner Jeff Rosen believes his team will win the BSL championship.
And no, he doesn’t think of himself as an optimist, but rather a realist.
After losing the first leg of the BSL final at Romema Arena 81-77 on Sunday night, Haifa will need to triumph by five points or more in the home of European champion Maccabi Tel Aviv to claim its second straight league title on Wednesday night.
Nevertheless, Rosen has every confidence in his players, saying he will never discount his team.
“I think we can win. We don’t have to play a lot better than we did on Sunday, but we do have to play better,” Rosen told The Jerusalem Post this week.
“Will Tel Aviv play so much better in Nokia? I’m not sure, maybe. Who am I afraid of? David Blu and Tyrese Rice.
They are their most dangerous guys.
Everybody else are good players but I’m not frightened of any of them.”
Haifa trailed by as many as 11 points in the first leg on Sunday, but drew level ahead of the closing minutes, only to ultimately lose by four points.
The Greens received big contributions from Donta Smith (29 points, eight rebounds and eight assists) and Brian Randle (27 points and seven rebounds) on Sunday, but the rest of the team never really showed up and a sensational showing by Tyrese Rice, who finished with 30 points and seven assists in 30 minutes, ensured the yellow-and-blue will have the edge entering Wednesday’s showdown.
“We came up short so of course I’m disappointed,” said Rosen. “We all witnessed superlative performances by Donta Smith and Brian Randle, but the rest of the team did not perform. If our guys had performed more up to our standards I think we would have had a better result. I think Tel Aviv played a very sharp and disciplined game. Yet we tied them twice in the fourth quarter and we were there at the end. We didn’t win and Tel Aviv outplayed us yet we had our chances to win that game.
“I’m optimistic even though going to Nokia is a tough road game. I think we have a chance to surprise on Wednesday but we must bring a better game. I don’t think our guys are defeated and we are going to bring everything we have on Wednesday.”
Rosen, owner and chairman of Triangle Financial Services, made his fortune with International of Rose Art Industries, a major manufacturer of toys, stationery and arts and crafts with annual sales of over $300 million. Rosen, who has lived in the US his entire life, bought Maccabi Haifa in 2007 after selling the family- owned business and is delighted to see the club building on last season’s historic success.
“I was quite content as an owner to arrive back to the final to defend the championship,” said Rosen. “I know it is hard in Israel to come back and have a good year. We built a team that we thought was on paper as good as our championship team and we felt that with this team we can go far and we did. So I feel that as an organization we achieved our goals and objectives of defending our championship with honor and pride. But as a competitor you are here to win and we can’t quit.
We have got to go in there and try to pull off a miracle.”
After nine years in the lower divisions, Haifa gained promotion to the top flight in Rosen’s first season as owner in 2007/08 and agonizingly missed out on silverware in the following campaign, losing to Hapoel Holon in the State Cup final and to Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Final Four title game.
However, the team lost its way in the subsequent seasons, going through five coaches over three campaigns and ending 2011/12 bottom of the BSL standings with a 5-19 record.
Haifa ultimately avoided relegation to the National League and went all the way last season, capping a remarkable run for Rosen as owner.
“This was the high end of the expectation level,” noted Rosen. “For me it was to jump into Israel in sports with a commercial business plan and to try to make a contribution as an American and a Zionist. I went in with full passion and my eyes wide open. In seven years we have been in the playoffs four times. We have been to three championship finals in six years. We have built a new Romema.
We have created a positive product in the league and Haifa. I’m a pretty satisfied guy. I’d say we hit almost all our maximum expectations.”
Only three senior Haifa players returned from last season, with coach Brad Greenberg also departing for Hapoel Jerusalem. There are expected to be numerous changes to the side yet again this summer, with few players under contract for next season and even the status of coach Danny Franco far from secure.
“Danny has had a marvelous year, but I’ll remind you we gave Danny a very strong team,” explained Rosen. “We will evaluate all the players and all the coaches at the end of the season. I’m a very open minded guy about making progressive moves and we will make the same due diligence we do every year to look over the team and the direction we are going.”
Rosen believes the club still has a long way to go from a business aspect and is hoping to attract more attention from the business community in Haifa. He is optimistic that the team’s success over the past two seasons will bring in more sponsors, as well as fans.
Rosen feels the club has hit a “pretty nice plateau” from a budget standpoint, explaining that “I think we are able to compete with Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and there is greater pride and pleasure when you have a smaller budget and beat them.”
However, owning Maccabi Haifa is far more than a sporting or business venture for Rosen.
“If I was a good Jew before I feel like I’m a certified one now,” he explained.
“I’m more Israeli in style. I understand more about the Israeli Jew than I did. It has built a stronger foundation for me in Israel. In many ways it is hard to gauge as one grows as a Jew and as a Zionist but for me I feel very fortunate that in this point in my life I was able to have a chance to express feelings I have had for many years. I’m a passionate guy and I cheer as a fan.
“I’m loving the team and it has been a good ride and I certainly want to keep it going. If I can be granted another seven years like the first seven I will be a very happy guy. I hope to continue for as long as I can and that is my plan.”