(photo credit: AP [file])
Hapoel Jerusalem will be hoping to get back to winning ways in the ULEB Cup when it faces Belgian side Telindus Oostende at Malha Arena on Tuesday night.
The reds have made a dreadful start to their ULEB Cup season with only one win in three games, making tonight's Group C fixture crucial.
Malha is already sold out ahead of the game, which could prove to be a turning point for the Jerusalem team. Nothing less than a win will satisfy the club management, which has recently received mixed indications from main sponsor Arkadi Gaydamak, who is considering terminating his future support for Hapoel.
Coach Dan Shamir has also been in the spotlight recently, mostly due to his much-publicized rift with fan-favorite Meir Tapiro.
The star point guard has not played adequately in the team's recent games, but started in the 86-78 win over Ironi Ashkelon on Sunday and responded with a 14 point and seven assist performance.
"There is no tension with Meir [Tapiro]," Shamir told reporters after the team's game on Saturday night. "I respect him and am sure he will get better with time. I am aware of his abilities and if he has played 35 minutes in the game, it means he has done what I expect of him."
"There was no talk with Shamir," Tapiro clarified. "I played a lot, contributed and helped the team to win. I never thought about leaving the club.
"The team is above everything. All I want to do is to have fun and keep playing the game of basketball."
Jerusalem couldn't hope to meet the Belgian champion at a better time. Oostende's Serbian coach, Mihailo Uvalin, has been relieved from duty following the team's poor start to the season so the visitors will be guided by Uvalin's assistant, Badioli Umberto, who has been appointed as caretaker coach.
"I have not done enough scouting after being promoted," Umberto said ahead of the clash. "But I trust my team and am sure they will do well in the game and prevail. I am familiar with the Israeli mentality. It's going to be an offensive game."
Oostende's main weapon, and Shamir's main problem, is American swingman Rashad Wright, who is averaging a team high 18.3 points per game in European competition. Wright was drafted by the Indiana Pacers in the second round of the 2004 draft, but decided to make the move to Europe.
"We must stay together as a team. The focus must be maintained and we just have to play our game," the dynamic guard said about his team's current situation. "Jerusalem is an excellent team and it's going to be a tough game.
"We have to come out aggressive and try to stop them from running."
Jerusalem's next game in Europe will be against highflying Alba Berlin on November 29.
The Germans take on Russian side Khimki Moscow tonight and are clear favorites to collect their third win.
ONTV:Hapoel Jerusalem vs Telindus Oostende (live at 6 p.m. on Channel 1)
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