Local Hoops: Preparations for Great Britain clash in gear

The Israeli national basketball team returned from a preseason tournament in Estonia on Friday and immediately began training for the upcoming EuroBasket 2009 qualification campaign, which begins with a home tilt against Great Britain at Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv on Wednesday night. In Estonia, Israel lost a close one to the host country, defeated Denmark 85-53, and beat Ukraine 96-84. Israel will play all of its Group D opponents, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Britain and the Czech Republic, home and away over the course of 17 days in September for the chance to play in the EuroBasket tournament in Poland next September. The teams that finish first in each of the four groups, as well as the three best second-placed teams, will qualify automatically for the EuroBasket The next six best teams will play an additional qualifying round next August for one remaining spot in the tournament. Last year Israel qualified for the 2007 EuroBasket via the last-chance playoff and finished 11th out of 16 teams. Great Britain has recruited two NBA stars to their team in recent years - Ben Gordon and Luol Deng who both play for the Chicago Bulls. While Deng's availability from Wednesday's game is currently in doubt due to an NBA insurance concern related to a back injury, Gordon is likely to play. Looking forward to the game against Great Britain, Hapoel Holon's center Amit Tamir said he was aware of threat Gordon will pose. "Gordon is an NBA player and it isn't every week you play against someone like this. They are a good team but we are playing at home and we need to protect our home court. We have to be focused and play aggressively." Last week it was announced that there is still a chance Deng will be given the green light to play in Tel Aviv. The NBA's insurer MetLife chose not to insure Deng earlier this summer due to the back injury that sidelined the Sudan-born forward for a few games at the start of last season. However, according to the EuroBasket Web site, British Basketball has its own insurance policy for Deng, the leading scorer in EuroBasket Division B last year at 24.5 points per game. British Basketball performance director Chris Spice told Basketball World News on Friday: "At this stage, we still have not received clearance from the NBA confirming Luol Deng's participation for GB this summer. We hope to make an announcement later today or first thing tomorrow on the issue and we are remaining positive." Point guard Yotam Halperin remained positive of Israeli success. The national team has played at every EuroBasket tournament since 1993 and Halperin doesn't expect any end to that run. "First, we worked very hard in the training camps up until now," Halperin told reporters during a break in training on Saturday. "This is my sixth year playing for the national team and I don't remember a time when we have worked so hard. There is no reason we shouldn't be prepared. We have a strong team with a lot of depth." "Of course we are excited. We hope the crowd will come and support us," Tamir exclaimed.