Hapoel Jerusalem defeated San Pablo Burgos 96-91 late Wednesday night to clinch home-court advantage in the first two playoff rounds of the Basketball Champions League.
The Reds were able to pull out the tight win thanks to a pair of clutch three-pointers by Suleiman Braimoh to overcome a late 14-0 run and five triples by Thad McFadden to take the victory.
TaShawn Thomas dominated the game for Oded Katash’s squad with 27 points, six rebounds, four assists and four blocks for an efficiency rating of 38. Braimoh ended the night with 19 points, James Feldeine scored 15 points and J’Covan Brown notched a heroic performance with 10 points and 11 assists. McFadden led the way for Burgos with 20 points in the loss.
Braimoh, who clinched the game for Jerusalem, was born in Nigeria. The 6-foot-8 forward moved to New York with his parents in 2001 and attended the United Nations International High School as well as The Lawrenceville Prep School in New Jersey before heading to Rice University.
From university, the man they call “Su” began his fledgling professional career with the Rio Grande Vipers, but after a short period of time he headed to Qatar in 2012. With stops in Japan, New Zealand, Mexico, Germany, Russia and France, Braimoh arrived in Israel and featured prominently with Hapoel Eilat as he helped the squad reach the Israeli league Final Four.
After a year with the Red Sea squad, Braimoh moved to Jerusalem, where he has used his aggressive play to take Hapoel to a perfect home record in both the domestic league and the Champions League.
This campaign, Braimoh is averaging roughly 12 points and five rebounds between the two competitions.
Braimoh spoke to The Jerusalem Post following Wednesday’s triumph.
“It was very crucial to secure home court,” said Braimoh. “We have some amazing fans and trying to see it through to try and get this championship is definitely important for us.”
With the victory, the Reds finished atop their group heading into the playoffs, which get under way in March. Last season, Jerusalem finished in second place and was forced into a very tough quarterfinal matchup against Tenerife, which it lost, so the importance of taking first place was key.
With the passing of Kobe Bryant this week in a tragic helicopter crash still fresh in everyone’s minds, Braimoh reflected on how the “Black Mamba” influenced him as both a person and player.
“My first number as a professional basketball player was 24 [Bryant’s uniform number]. For me that meant something. When I got the number I was like ‘are you sure you want to give me this one?’ The type of standard that Kobe set inspired me because I try not to play the score, but I try to play the competition.
“I try to play to a standard, which is high-level basketball and high-IQ basketball. I like to play for my teammates’ respect, my coaches’ trust and that’s what Kobe did. I just try to be consistent and that’s what Kobe embodied. [He was] someone who was going to work and would give the same amount of effort and tenacity each and every game. That’s the standard I try to play to every time I suit up.”
Joshua Halickman, the Sports Rabbi, covers Israeli sports and organizes Israel sports adventures for tourists and residents (www.sportsrabbi.com). Follow the Sports Rabbi on Twitter @thesportsrabbi or feel free to contact the Sports Rabbi at firstname.lastname@example.org.