Hapoel Jerusalem forward Donta Smith goes up for a dunk in a game against Maccabi Ashdod.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
After finally claiming its first local championship last season, Hapoel Jerusalem is aiming to make its mark in Europe once more.
Despite winning the BSL title last season, Jerusalem was forced to settle for a place in the Eurocup yet again, with the Euroleague rejecting its request to receive a wild-card.
Jerusalem registered an embarrassing 2-8 record in the Eurocup regular season in 2014/15 and will have its work cut out for it this season as well.
Hapoel plays Galatasaray Istanbul of Turkey, Nizhny Novgorod of Russia, Krasny Oktyabr Volgograd of Russia, AEK Athens of Greece and Lithuania’s Neptunas Klaipeda in Group F.
Jerusalem opens its campaign in Novgorod on Wednesday after getting its local title defense off to a winning start with a 91-76 victory over Maccabi Ashdod on Sunday. Hapoel put its disappointing preseason behind it with an impressive second half against Ashdod and will be aiming to get its continental campaign off to an equally strong start.
Jerusalem was knocked out by Nizhny in the Eurocup quarterfinals in 2013/14, Hapoel’s only appearance in the last eight of the competition in the past five years.
After 10 regular season games, the top four teams from each group will enter the Last 32 phase. The Last 32 will feature eight groups of four teams, with the best two teams from each group to advance to a two-game, head-to-head, home-and-away aggregate series. The quarterfinals, semifinals and finals will also all be played in the same format.
Jerusalem will be without Bracey Wright once more on Wednesday, with the American shooter still in the US due to personal reasons.
New guard E.J. Rowland stepped up in his absence in the win over Ashdod, scoring 14 points and registering five assists.
“Our preseason didn’t go the way we hoped, but it was important to get our season off on the right foot,” he said on Sunday. “We are slowly gelling and I’m also still getting used to the other players. The sooner we progress as a team I will also progress.”
Rowland believes Jerusalem will have to dig deep to return from Russia with a win. “The Eurocup games at this stage of the season aren’t usually very pretty,” he explained. “The team that plays harder and adjusts itself will be the one that wins.”
“We played Hapoel two years ago but they have changed a lot since,” said Nizhny forward Vladimir Ivlev. “I can name 6-7 players on their roster easily, these guys have been around for a while.
Eliyahu, Halperin and Fischer play for the Israel national team, and I know Rowland from his experience at VEF Riga. They are a high quality team, we expect a very tough encounter. It would be nice to start the Eurocup campaign with a home win.”