ISRAELI PLAYERS celebrate withtrophyfollowing victory over Croatia in final2018 FIBA Under-20 European Championship in Chemnitz, Germany, 2018.
(photo credit: FIBA EUROPE/ COURTESY)
It is a rare feat for Israel to capture a gold medal in any international sporting event. So when it happens, it is certainly a worthy cause for celebration.
Sunday’s 80-66 victory over previously undefeated Croatia in the final of the 2018 FIBA Under-20 European Championship was the blue-and-white’s first-ever title in any FIBA event at any level.
After opening the tournament with a heartbreaking loss against the tournament host Germany, the Ariel Beit-Halachmi-coached Israeli side won six games in a row to bring home the winner’s trophy.
The score was still 47-45 with a couple of minutes played in the third, but a 7-0 run for Israel proved to be the decisive blow Croatia never managed to recover from.
The result garnered instant joy and praise, both from those within the team, to dignitaries throughout the country.
Michael Brisker, who had a team-high 19 points in the final, said: “It’s amazing. Everyone here gave 150%, even in training. Before we’re teammates, we’re a family and that’s why we teamed up so well. Nothing came easy, we worked very hard for this moment and we made history.”
Captain Gil Beni, who was great with 14 points, said: “I have no words, it’s a crazy feeling. I am so proud to be the captain of this team, we have an amazing team. I am proud for the country that we brought the first gold. The loss in the first game lifted us up and we turned it into the best thing that happened to us. I hope that people in Israel saw what happened here this week and will pay attention to the bright future of Israeli basketball.”
After three previous defeats in the final of the U20’s, Beit-Halachmi was meticulous in his execution of strategy, both on offense and especially on defense, and the results followed.
“I want to thank everyone who was around us and supported us, the managers and employees, but ultimately the players were the ones who were there on the court. We were blessed with great players. We went and got better as time passed, so I want to say a lot of thanks to my team. There are a lot of partners who have shared in this achievement,” said Beit-Halachmi.
Seventeen-year-old Israeli forward Deni Avdija, who along with swingman Yovel Zoosman, made the all-tournament team added: “This is such an amazing feeling... I have another tournament [the upcoming Under-18 Euros], and I’ll give my 100 percent to bring home a second gold and make even more history.”
Among the many big-name political figures to weigh in with praise were Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.
“Ariel, you attained a wonderful achievement and have brought us all tremendous pride,” said Netanyahu. “Beating both France and Croatia reminds me of the previous week and the World Cup. But in all seriousness, I have to say you notched a great and true triumph...waiting to meet you in Jerusalem.”
Rivlin echoed the sentiment with a warm congratulatory message to the team: “Congratulations to our dear friends, the Israeli basketball team who brought us the gold medal in the European Championship final in Germany tonight. What a proud Israeli moment.”
“Thank you all who have brought us this great honor; we are waiting for you to celebrate the historic victory in Israel.”