Hapoel Jerusalem's European campaign disappoints yet again

The Reds lost to the Ukrainian team Prometey 82-79 in overtime and were knocked out of the Play-In tournament to basketball's Champions League.

 HAPOEL JERUSALEM guard Jalen Adams (left) drives to the hoop during the Reds’ 95-70 victory over Ukrainian side Prometey in Champion League Play-In action (photo credit: DANNY MARON)
HAPOEL JERUSALEM guard Jalen Adams (left) drives to the hoop during the Reds’ 95-70 victory over Ukrainian side Prometey in Champion League Play-In action
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)

There’s no question that each one of Hapoel Jerusalem’s European campaigns over the past number of years have been one disappointment after the next. That was the case yet again this season after being knocked out in the Play-In tournament by Prometey. 

After winning the first game at home by 25 points, 95-70, the Reds fell in Ukraine in overtime 82-79 in a game that they literally threw away by coughing up the ball no less than 22 times. In the do-or-die, backs-against-the-wall game 3, Yotam Halperin’s team came out as flat as a pancake falling behind out of the gate 9-0 and digging a 15-point hole after the first quarter that they were never able to claw themselves out of. 

Jerusalem could not have been less energized to play in front of a shade over 4,000 fans at the Arena and they seemed to be behind the 8-ball play after play after play all game long. It was clear as day that they were missing something or perhaps someone as the usually reliable Jalen Adams couldn’t hit the barnyard door, going 5/20 from the field including a ghastly 0/6 from deep. All in all, the Reds had a pitiful shooting night from long distance with 6/21 on their home court. 

Prometey who were without their head coach, Israeli Ronen Ginzburg due to COVID-19 didn’t have a problem finding the bottom of the basket after outlasting Jerusalem in Ukraine and hit 11/31 from beyond the arc. D’Angelo Harrison carved the Israeli team up for 18 points while DJ Kennedy also found plenty of points and Miro Bilan kept scoring in the paint in a well-rounded attack. Add to that Chris Dowe with 9 huge 4th quarter points after going 0-for throughout the first three frames and you have a recipe for a big win on the road. 

Jerusalem was missing assistant coach Donalds Kairys who was also out with COVID-19 and his presence was sorely missed for Yotam Halperin who only stepped into a coaching role for the first time a few months ago. Kairys with his many years of experience perhaps would have made a difference on the sidelines especially when Jerusalem pulled to within just a single point 56-55 with just a shade over a minute left in the third frame, but that would be as close as they would get. 

 AFTER STEPPING down from the front office to the sideline a month ago, Hapoel Jerusalem interim coach Yotam Halperin has turned around the club’s season. (credit: FIBA/COURTESY) AFTER STEPPING down from the front office to the sideline a month ago, Hapoel Jerusalem interim coach Yotam Halperin has turned around the club’s season. (credit: FIBA/COURTESY)

Following Jerusalem’s win to open the series, Halperin and the rest of the players were very, very careful saying that this would be a long series, a three-game series and that it was far from over. That was reiterated before and after game two as well as prior to the rubber match. 

This could be viewed as just giving your opponent way, way too much respect. Say it once, perhaps twice, but by keeping going back to the same narrative it seemed that they were setting themselves up for a self-fulfilling prophecy. And that was exactly what ended up occurring.

Sean Kilpatrick was definitely missing this series as he was out due to a knee injury and the word on the street is that he is on his way out of Jerusalem sooner rather than later. However, regardless if Kilpatrick is staying or going, they could have used his veteran presence and shooting on a night that very little was able to fall. He could have easily been that missing piece. When you look at how the minutes were distributed for both teams, Prometey went with 8 players who were on the court for 15+ minutes while Jerusalem had seven as the visitors seemed to have a bit more than the hosts.

Retin Obasohan had a rough night but still ended the game with 19 points while Su Braimoh and Kaiser Gates also finished in double digits for the Reds, but it was just not enough for a team that has so many weapons that can damage you all over the court. 

The game last night was a microcosm of Jerusalem’s continental campaign this season. From beginning 0-3 and then making a valiant comeback to win three straight games and get into the Play-In tournament to fight for the right to feature in the Round of 16 group stage, it wasn’t meant to be as the slow start just fried them. Willy Workman came in as their “Energizer Bunny” which helped get the reds back into the game but obviously, just an energy boost is not going to be enough.

For the fourth year in a row, Jerusalem has failed to make some serious noise in the Champions League since joining the competition back in the 2018/19 season and that should be cause for concern. Under Simone Pianigiani, the Reds made it to the EuroCup semifinals which was quite an accomplishment in the second-best continental competition. While they thought that a move to the newer Champions League may have given them a chance to experience European glory perhaps with a smaller budget for the first time since 2004 when they captured the ULEB Cup (now EuroCup) under Sharon Drucker, it has been anything but. 

The club and management need to take a good hard look at how they are building the squad before the season begins and not on the fly as they did this year. Many mistakes were made when Oren Amiel along with Yotam Halperin and Guy Harel put the team together over the summer and while corrections were made as the season got underway, it’s still very, very tough to make serious noise when you are putting the puzzle together piece meal. 

Perhaps they need to take a peak at Hapoel Holon as to how they built their team and have just added two more imports including star guard Tyrus McGee to join a core of Chris Johnson, Joe Ragland and Michaele Kyser plus Steve Zack, Adam Smith and newcomer Hayden Dalton. Plus add to that having brought on Israel National Team coach Guy Goodes in place of Maurizio Buscaglia, they seemed primed to make a very serious run in the BCL plus league play as well. 

Jerusalem now has an entire week to prepare for a trip to Hapoel Tel Aviv for a State Cup quarterfinal matchup next Saturday night and they do find themselves in first place in Israeli league play, so not all is lost. But the Reds will need to make some noise in both competitions to make sure that they can finish the season off with some sort of hardware and pride. 

Halperin will have to begin working on the mental state of the squad and find a way to down Hapoel Tel Aviv who are coming off of their second Derby win of the season. It won’t be an easy task as one look at owner Eyal Homsky as the time ticked off the clock said it all for this year’s continental crash.