Blue-and-white begins preparations for EuroBasket

Israel will face France, the runners-up from 2011, as well as Germany, Great Britain, Belgium and Ukraine in Group A.

July 24, 2013 04:27
2 minute read.
Israeli basketball national team coach Arik Shivek

Israeli basketball national team coach Arik Shivek 370. (photo credit: Adi Avishai)

After missing the past two European Championships, September’s EuroBasket tournament couldn’t come soon enough for Omri Casspi.

The 25-year-old forward, who joined the Houston Rockets two weeks ago after two seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, chose to skip the 2009 tournament after being selected in the NBA draft and was forced out of the championships two years ago due to injury.

However, barring another injury, Casspi will finally get a chance to represent the blue-and-white in a major tournament in September and he is confident of leading the national team to a successful campaign in Slovenia.

“All our players are top level athletes and aren’t afraid of any challenge,” said Casspi ahead of the national team’s first training session of the summer on Tuesday.

“Our main goal is to progress past the first group stage. It is a realistic goal and we should be able to accomplish it.”

Israel will face France, the runners-up from 2011, as well as Germany, Great Britain, Belgium and Ukraine in Group A, which will be played in Ljubljana.

The top three teams from each group will progress to the second round.

The national team opens its campaign against Great Britain on September 4, before facing Ukraine (September 5), France (September 6), Belgium (September 8) and Germany (September 9).

Israel coach Arik Shivek will not only have Casspi at his disposal in the championships for the first time this year, but will also have a second NBA player on his roster in Gal Mekel, who joined the Dallas Mavericks on a three-year deal earlier this month.

“The fact we will have two NBA players will help the team,” Casspi said. “We are all very excited ahead of the tournament, especially me, as these will be my first championships.”

Israel qualified for its 11th straight EuroBasket tournament last year after finishing second in its group with a 6-4 record. Israel failed to progress past the first round in its last EuroBasket campaign, finishing Group B in fourth position with a 2-3 record.

The national team lost any hope of a top-three finish and a place in the top 12 after losing its first three games in Lithuania to Germany, France and Serbia.

However, wins against Latvia and Italy ensured that Israel ended the European Championships on a positive note after losing its first three games by an average 17.7 points.

Israel hasn’t advanced past the first round in a EuroBasket tournament since 2003 when it finished in seventh place.

The championships increased from 16 teams to 24 ahead of EuroBasket 2011.

“This is my fourth campaign as the Israel coach and one of the things that I’ve done in recent years was to build a core of players around which the rest of the team will be constructed,” Shivek said. “This roster has been together for a few years and that is a very big advantage.”

Israel will play a warm-up tournament in Italy between August 6-10 and another event in Belgium over August 16-20 before facing Georgia at home on August 26 and 28 in its final tune-up games.

Seven of the 16 players on the roster have yet to find a team for next season, including Lior Eliyahu and Yotam Halperin.

“These will be my fifth championships and I’m still excited,” said Halperin, who is expected to sign with Maccabi Tel Aviv in the coming days.

“We have been drawn into a group from which we can certainly progress.”

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