(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Meir Tapiro has played his last game for Israel. He announced his retirement from the national team on Wednesday evening.
The 34-year-old starred for Israel in recent years, playing for the team in the last five European Championships (1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007).
"It's not easy to leave your home, and the national team was my home," said Tapiro, who made 121 appearances for Israel and is ranked ninth all-time in scoring for the team.
"I'm retiring from the national team, but not from basketball. I decided to retire so I could prepare myself better for next season."
Israel plays in the European Championship in Poland in September and Tapiro, who openly admitted he is delighted he now won't need to go through the grueling preparation process for the lengthy tournament, is confident the team has plenty of quality players to cope without him.
"The time has come to clear the stage for other players," he said. "We have talented players and I'm sure they'll fill the void."
Coach Tzvika Sherf is hopeful the team's youngsters can step into Tapiro's shoes.
"I hope we can succeed without Tapiro. I will send our new playmakers to get tips from him," Sherf said.
"We would have obviously preferred Meir remained with the team, but this is a golden opportunity for our young players to step up and lead the side."
Tapiro, always known for his clutch shooting, was a pivotal leader this season on Bnei Hasharon, carrying up and distributing the ball as the team's starting point guard. In 22 games played, he averaged 12.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.8 assists.
He is currently without a contract for next year, but is sure to be snapped up soon by one of a number of BSL teams in dire need of what Tapiro brings to the table.