Israel’s players couldn’t hide their disappointment when receiving their silver medals at the under-20 European Championship in Crete, Greece..
(photo credit: FIBA EUROPE WEBSITE)
Despite exceeding all expectations by reaching the final of the under- 20 European Championship, Israel’s players returned home from Crete, Greece on Monday afternoon with many question marks hanging over their future.
The roster assembled by coach Oded Katash was beaten by host Greece in Sunday’s final after winning its six previous games in the competition, including against European powerhouses of the likes of Lithuania, Italy and France, by an average 16.7 points per game.
“Everyone has been talking about expectations, but for me the thing I didn’t expect was that I would have so much fun,” said coach Katash, who is without a team for next season after Hapoel Eilat chose not to extend his contract. “The players are now entering the real world. I’m sure they will take this experience with them.”
The success of the team, which became the third blue-and-white side to reach the final of the event after the 2000 and 2004 squads, was especially impressive as its roster included few players with significant BSL experience.
The star of the team, Tamir Blatt, son of coach David Blatt, is the only player on the roster who had an important role with a BSL side last season, averaging 25.5 minutes per game at Hapoel Tel Aviv. The 20-year-old was selected to the all-tournament first team in Crete, finishing with averages of 16.0 points and 10.1 assists per game. He became the first player in tournament history to average over 10 assists throughout the event. Blatt made a name for himself in Europe with his performances in Greece, and he already signed a deal with Hapoel Holon for next season prior to the tournament.
Most of Blatt’s teammates find themselves in a completely different situation, with many still not knowing if they will receive an offer to play for a BSL team next season or will have to once more settle for a place in the second division.
Some of the players, 19-year-old Yoval Zoosman for example, will need to make a decision between battling for minutes in the BSL or instead taking a significant role with a National League team.
Zoosman, who averaged 16.3 points in Crete, is arguably the player with the biggest upside on the roster. The gangling guard is under contract at Maccabi Tel Aviv, but spent last season on loan at Maccabi Ra’anana of the second division, averaging 11.7 points.
His will need to decide between limited playing time at Maccabi, joining another BSL team on loan or an almost guaranteed star role in the second division.
“There is a sense of disappointment, but we all know how far we have come,” added Katash. “When you play basketball for the right reasons you are a winner before the game even starts. It is hard to smile after you lose in a final, but a few days or years from now the players will look back at this and understand what they achieved.”