Hapoel Jerusalem forward Austin Daye..
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Just three games into the Eurocup regular season and Hapoel Jerusalem already finds itself in what is essentially a must-win situation.
Jerusalem visits Reggio Emilia on Wednesday knowing that a fourth straight defeat to start the campaign would leave it in serious danger of missing out on a place in the Top 16. Hapoel reached the semifinals last season and failing to even make it through the regular season would be regarded as a massive failure.
Hapoel has already taken one dramatic step in the hope of overcoming its early season woes with the release of top scorer Curtis Jerrells two weeks ago. The club decided to put its faith in the coach, Fotis Katsikaris, rather than its star guard, a decision that has become a rarity in the sports world over recent years.
Jerusalem prides itself in giving its coaches all the backing they need to succeed, something which proved itself last season when Simone Pianigiani overcame early struggles to lead the team to the BSL championship and Eurocup semifinals.
But Pianigiani’s troubles came mainly in the BSL where the season is ultimately decided in a Final Four tournament and not in the Eurocup where his team opened its campaign with three straight victories.
Even should Hapoel lose in Italy, it will still have its fate in its own hands, having six more regular season games to play and with four of the group’s six teams to advance to the next round.
However, it would leave itself with very little room for error and in a very difficult position, with three of its final four games to come on the road, including against Buducnost and Bayern Munich, who have already won in Jerusalem.
Reggio Emilia, led by Eurocup top scorer Amedeo Della Valle (22.3 points per game), has a 2-1 record in Group B, beating Galatasaray at home and Panevezys on the road. However, it is still without a win in local league action, falling to 0-5 after losing to Trento by 23 points on Sunday.
Jerusalem suffered its first BSL loss of the campaign on Sunday, falling to 3-1 following a dejecting 86-74 defeat at home to Maccabi Ashdod.
“We are looking forward to get away from the atmosphere at the end of our last game. It kind of hurt to have our fans boo us in such a way,” said Jerusalem forward Austin Daye, who leads the team with 19.0 points per game.
“But at the same time I’m trying to take that loss as a positive. It is kind of a wake up call for us to do the right things and make sure we are all responsible enough to be professionals and come out and play with the right intensity and mindset and take care of business on the road.”
Despite a far from ideal start to his tenure, Katsikaris remains optimistic.
“I know it is not easy when you lose and you have this record, but I believe a lot in my team and I think that with time and with games we are going to correct our mistakes and improve our weaknesses and I think we can be a winning team,” said Katsikaris ahead of the team’s flight to Italy on Tuesday.
“We are going to be ready for this game. We know the importance, of course, and I think this is the moment to start winning games.”