The Basketball Super League has undergone wholesale changes once more ahead of
the start of the 2012/13 season on Sunday.
Maccabi Tel Aviv still remains
the firm-favorite to win the championship, but yet again there has been a change
to the league’s format and to the regulations regarding foreign
As of this season, each team can choose to register either four
or six foreigners to a game.
Hapoel Gilboa/Galil and Maccabi Tel Aviv are
the only teams which currently intend on registering six foreigners and
therefore will have to make sure they have two Israeli players on the floor at
any given point in the game.
The rest of the league’s sides will be able
to play with all four of their foreigners at once.
After seven seasons,
the BSL has also scrapped the Final Four.
The Final Four format to decide
the championship was introduced in the 2005/06 season in the hope of creating
interest in a league dominated by Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Maccabi dropped its
first league title in 15 years in the 2007/08 season following a dramatic defeat
to Hapoel Holon and failed to claim the championship once more two years later
after losing to Gilboa/Galil in the final.
However, due to growing
criticism from all quarters regarding the unsporting nature of the Final Four
format the BSL decided that a best-of-five playoff series will be played in the
semifinals, just as it is in the quarters, with a one game winner-takes-all
final to take place to decide the title.
After 22 games for each club,
the league will be split into two sections of six teams each. Each side will
play once more against the other teams in its section, with the top eight teams
overall to advance to the quarterfinals.
Chief Sports Writer Allon Sinai
takes stock of the 12 teams battling for BSL supremacy in
MACCABI TEL AVIV
Since returning to coach Maccabi two years ago,
David Blatt has amassed an amazing 66-3 record in local league and cup
Tel Aviv has overhauled its roster yet again, bringing in seven new
players. Nevertheless, it is still difficult to see any team threatening the
yellow-and-blue, especially with the cancellation of the Final Four.
blow from the retirement of Israelis David Blu and Tal Burstein was softened by
the additions of Sylven Landesberg and Moran Roth, ensuring Maccabi still has
the best Israeli core in the league, with Lior Eliyahu, Guy Pnini and Yogev
Ohayon all returning for another season.
Player to watch out for: Itay
Segev. The 17-year-old 2.04-meter forward joined Maccabi on a sixyear deal this
summer and is being talked about as a future NBA player.
Last season: BSL
champion, 23-2 in the regular season, beat BC Habika’a 3-0 in the quarterfinal
Best-case scenario: Maccabi wins its third straight league and
cup double, this time going the entire season unbeaten.
scenario: Maccabi loses just a single game in 2012/13, but it happens to come at
the worst moment – in the BSL title game.
all expectations in its first two seasons in the BSL, reaching the Final Four
title game last term after making the playoffs the previous year.
Ashdod’s preseason form is any indication, it looks to be one of the league’s
strongest teams yet again.
The core of the roster from the past two
seasons, led by Meir Tapiro, has departed, but coach Ofer Berkowitz is back for
a third season and Ashdod will be a force to be reckoned with once more thanks
to promising young Americans Diamon Simpson, Kenny Gabriel and Chris Allen and
veteran Israelis Guni Izraeli, Dror Hagag and Moshe Mizrahi.
watch out for: Diamon Simpson. The 25-year-old center has been dominant under
the baskets in the preseason and looks set to become a double-double machine in
the coming campaign.
Last season: 2nd place, 12-12 in the regular season,
beat Hapoel Gilboa/Galil 3-1 in the quarterfinal playoffs.
scenario: Ashdod makes a second straight appearance in the title
Worst-case scenario: Ashdod only barely slips into the playoffs and
is sent packing in the quarters.
Holon lost the entire core
of its squad from last season, most notably playmaker Moran Roth. However, it
still has one of the best coaches in the league in Dan Shamir and has brought in
some promising names in the hope of returning to the semis.
Hassell, Jerome Dyson and Zack Rosen may lack professional experience, but there
is no doubting their talent. At 26-years-old, Ofir Farhi is the oldest player on
Holon’s roster, but if there’s anyone who can build a cohesive unit from this
group of youngsters it’s Shamir. Player to watch out for: Zack Rosen. The
23-year-old American-Jew was named as the unanimous Ivy League player of the
year last season, averaging 18.2 points, 5.2 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game
at the University of Pennsylvania.
Last season: 3rd – 4th place, 14- 11
in the regular season, beat Hapoel Jerusalem 3-1 in the quarterfinal
Best-case scenario: Holon reaches the last four for a second
straight year, becoming one of the league’s must-watch teams.
scenario: After lasting just two years at Hapoel Jerusalem and Bnei Hasharon,
Shamir also parts ways with Holon following two seasons after failing to guide
his kids past the quarterfinals.
MACCABI RISHON LEZION
begins his fourth straight season at Rishon, the league’s longest active
The veteran coach guided the club to the Final Four for a second
straight year last season and has yet again assembled a roster with great
Israelis Amit Ben-David and Nitzan Hanochi give Birenboim a
solid backcourt base, with reliable forward Adrian Uter also returning from last
Youngsters Or Solomon and Lazeric Jones will provide Effi with so
much-needed youthful exuberance and Julian Wright will be one of the stories of
the season in the BSL, succeed or fail.
Player to watch out for: Julian
Wright. Despite being picked 13th overall in the 2007 draft, Wright never quite
fulfilled his potential in the NBA, but he could prove to be an unstoppable
force in the BSL.
Last season: 3rd - 4th place, 15- 10 in the regular
season, beat Ironi Ashkelon 3-2 in the quarterfinal playoffs.
scenario: Rishon continues its consistent progress since Birenboim took charge
and makes the final.
Worst-case scenario: Its preseason struggles prove
to be a sign of things to come as Rishon’s season ends in the
Lior Lubin is back for a third season, but
the roster has an almost completely new look.
Young promising Israelis
Yoad Bet- Yosef and Amit Simhon will be hoping to flourish under Lubin’s
guidance, but it remains to be seen how they will coexist beside new Americans
Kenny Hayes, Rakim Sanders and Mitchell Watt.
Dagan Yavzuri and Brandon
Hunter give Gilboa some muchneeded experience, but Lubin has got his work cut
out for him if the team is to return to the title game after two
Player to watch out for: Yoad Bet-Yosef. The 24-year-old was one
of the National League’s top scorers at Maccabi Be’er Ya’akov last season and
will be looking prove he has what it takes to be a star in the top
Last season: 5th - 8th place, 16- 9 in the regular season, lost
3-1 to Maccabi Ashdod in the quarterfinal playoffs.
Gilboa goes one step further than last season and loses in the semifinal
Worst-case scenario: Gilboa takes one step backward and doesn’t
even reach the playoffs.
Jerusalem missed the Final Four
title game for a fifth straight year last season, with Sharon Drucker failing to
lift the team after replacing the sacked Oded Katash in January.
is still at the helm and he will have no excuse this season after building the
Israelis Elishay Kadir, Uri Kukia and Dan Grunfeld are
back for another campaign, but the rest of the roster has changed, with Drucker
mainly bringing in proven veterans.
No player is more established and
experienced than Meir Tapiro, but despite his excellent play for Ashdod over the
past two seasons, he is not set to be a starter and will have to get used to a
reduced role at 37- years-old.
Jerusalem also knows exactly what it is
getting in Americans Josh Duncan and Courtney Fells, who both played in Israel
last season, and with the 29-year-old Craig Smith, who has played in the NBA in
the past six years, most recently with the Portland Trail Blazers, averaging 3.3
points and 2.3 rebounds last season.
However, the x-factor is expected to
be 22-year-old Jacob Pullen, who impressed at Biella in Italy last season and
will have to shoulder much of the team’s playmaking
Player to watch out for: Craig Smith. The 28-year-old
forward was a legitimate NBA player for the past six seasons and could be a real
steal for Jerusalem.
Last season: 5th - 8th place, 14- 11 in the regular
season, lost 3-1 to Hapoel Holon in the playoffs.
Jerusalem returns to the BSL title game after six years.
scenario: Drucker is gone by January, sacked exactly one year after replacing
Coach Adi Azulai is back in Ashkelon and he faces
an uphill battle.
Ashkelon has one of the smallest budgets in the league
and by the time it got organized it was left with two weeks to build its
Ashkelon’s Israeli core is one of the weakest in the BSL, with
Oded Sha’ashoua and Lior Lifshitz the only experienced local players on the
team. Azulai is known for his excellent eye for foreigners, and while Taj Gray
has shown plenty of promise, the coach will also need the rest of his Americans
to raise their level for the team to avoid the relegation
Player to watch out for: Dudu Shamriz. The 21-year-old guard is
entering his third season with the team and should finally get the opportunity
he’s been waiting for.
Last season: 5th - 8th place, 10- 15 in the
regular season, lost 3-2 to Maccabi Rishon Lezion in the quarterfinal
Best-case scenario: Ashkelon is swept in the quarterfinals
after sneaking into the playoffs.
Worst-case scenario: Ashkelon lives up
to its preseason billing and is relegated.
Oded Katash will
be hoping to guide Eilat back to its glory days after owner Doron Herzikowitz
relocated BC Habika’a to Israel’s southernmost city.
promised NIS 1.5 million in backing from mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevi and Eilat is
determined to make a splash in its first season back in the big time, with its
total budget expected to reach NIS 6.0 million.
Eilat had one of Israel’s
top clubs in the 1990’s, gaining promotion to the top flight ahead of the
1991/92 season under the guidance of current Israel coach Arik Shivek and
remaining there until 1999.
American guard Austin Freeman looks to be the
undoubted star of the team, while the return to Israel of Afik Nissim gives
Eilat a local hero it desperately needed.
Player to watch out for: Afik
Nissim. The 31-year-old has played abroad in the last nine years and could prove
to be the barometer of the team.
Last season: 5th - 8th place (as BC
Habika’a), 10-14 in the regular season, lost 3-0 to Maccabi Tel Aviv in the
Best-case scenario: After his traumatic time in
Jerusalem, Katash reestablishes his place among Israel’s best coaches by guiding
Eilat to the semis.
Worst-case scenario: The long haul for road games
costs the team a playoff berth.
Danny Franco experienced a
disappointing campaign at Netanya last season, but he has been given another
The coach will be depending heavily on his foreign core,
with Yehu Orland the team’s only established Israeli player.
at least gone for proven players in his selection of Americans, with only one of
them not having previous BSL experience.
Ramel Bradley, Deron Washington,
Marco Killingsworth and Raymar Morgan (who will be back from injury later in the
season) are players Netanya can rely on, but the team will struggle if none of
its Israeli youngsters step up.
Player to watch out for: Eyal Shulman.
The 25-year-old is set to start in Netanya’s backcourt, an opportunity he may
never get again.
Last season: 9th place, 9-15 in the regular
Best-case scenario: Netanya returns to the playoffs after a
Worst-case scenario: Netanya goes back to the drawing
board after failing to reach the playoffs for a second straight
After a dismal season, Bnei Herzliya is desperate to
Coach Ariel Beit-Halachmi steadied the ship at Herzliya
after replacing Adi Azulai in January, and if its preseason form is anything to
go by, Herzliya could be one of the dark horses of the season.
foreigners Milt Palacio (34) and Jumaine Jones (33) have vast NBA and European
experience, but it remains to be seen if they don’t run out of gas as the season
Niv Berkowitz and Isaac Rosefelt give Beit-Halachmi two solid
Israeli options and Herzliya should be a force to be reckoned with once
Player to watch out for: Ben Rice. The 22-year-old has been tipped
for a breakthrough for several years and after missing all of last season due to
a knee injury he is healthy again and looking to make his mark.
season: 10th place, 7-17 in the regular season.
Best-case scenario: The
experience of Palacio and Jones proves to be the key factor in Herzliya’s drive
to the semis.
Worst-case scenario: The old legs of Palacio and Jones
result in Herzliya not even making the playoffs.
nightmare seasons, Haifa looks ready to become a challenger once more. The
Greens ended last season bottom of the BSL standings with a 5-19 record and
after going through five coaches over the last three years have started
completely anew yet again, bringing in American coach Brad Greenberg and
replacing the entire roster. Greenberg, a former NBA assistant coach and general
manager and NCAA Division I head coach, will have some of the league’s best
foreigners at his disposal.
Point-guard Paul Stall looks to be a hidden
gem, while Donta Smith is the best player in the entire BSL according to
Veteran Israeli center Ido Kozikaro is also back in town and
together with the team’s return to the renovated Romema Arena, Haifa has every
chance of making some real noise.
Player to watch out for: Sean
Labanowski. The 19-year-old made little impact in his debut season and should
display more of his potential this year.
Last season: 11th place, 5-19 in
the regular season.
Best-case scenario: After a threeseason hiatus, Haifa
gets back to the semis.
Worst-case scenario: Haifa’s season ends on a
sour note after being bounced in the quarters.
HAPOEL TEL AVIV
after being formed by fans, the resurrection of Hapoel Tel Aviv will be
completed this season with its return to the top flight.
The club was set
up under the name of Hapoel Ussishkin in the summer of 2007 following the demise
of the original Hapoel Tel Aviv and the demolition of the Ussishkin
The new franchise took over the name and heritage rights of the
original Hapoel Tel Aviv in December 2009 and it will be the first fanowned club
to play in the BSL after winning the National League championship last
Erez Edelstein is one of the more experienced coaches in the
league and his abilities will be tested to the limit this season with Hapoel
having one of the smallest budgets in the BSL.
The Reds have made the
least amount of changes to their roster of all 12 BSL teams. However, while the
continuity should initially work to their advantage, especially with the likes
of Matan Naor and Curtis Kelly sticking around, they may eventually discover
that what was sufficient for the National League last season will simply not cut
it in the top flight.
Player to watch out for: Bar Timor. The 20-year-old
guard made his breakthrough last season and should benefit from Hapoel’s lack of
Last season: National League champion.
Hapoel sneaks into the playoffs but far more importantly also records a stunning
upset against Maccabi in the derby.
Worst-case scenario: Even Hapoel’s
faithful fans grow tired of following the team to its new home in Rishon Lezion
as the losses continue to pile up.