Youth movement a focus for Israeli hoops

Experts weighed in as blue-and-white continues World Cup qualifying with tests vs Serbia and Georgia

WHILE OPERATING behind the scenes, Oleh Jake Rauchbach has helped improve the mindset of Israeli basketball players in myriad ways (photo credit: DOV HALICKMAN/COURTESY)
WHILE OPERATING behind the scenes, Oleh Jake Rauchbach has helped improve the mindset of Israeli basketball players in myriad ways
With Israel playing Serbia on Friday and Georgia on Monday in FIBA World Cup 2019 qualifying, the blue-and-white has been having a renaissance of late in the world of round ball. After the Under-20 team took home the European Championship this past summer, Israel is primed to take the next step in competing with the big boys across the continent and around the world.
Up-and-coming Israeli home-grown players feature on almost every Basketball Super League team. From Yovel Zoosman and Deni Avdija with Maccabi Tel Aviv to Tomer Ginat and Rafi Menco with Hapoel Tel Aviv, as well as Hapoel Jerusalem’s Tamir Blatt, there are plenty of budding stars that are coming to the forefront. The Jerusalem Post spoke to a number of basketball experts to understand how the sport is not only flourishing in the Holy Land, but how a plan is in place to ensure the success of the Israeli players in the future.
“Home grown players are very important as they reflect basketball development in the country,” said Oded Katash, Israel’s senior national team coach. “I believe that there has been an improvement in this area over the past few years and the young players understand what they have to do in order to be able to get to the highest levels. Within the Israel Basketball Association there has been a movement to continue the development of the younger players as well as in the youth departments throughout the country as they understand its importance for the future of the game in Israel.”
Ioannis Sfairopoulos, Maccabi Tel Aviv’s new head coach managed his first Israeli game this past week and was very complimentary of his young blue-and-white players.
“The Israeli players are good players and high quality players. There were times when I played with three or four Israeli players on the court at once which means I can work a lot with these players,” said Sfairopoulos
However, the Greek also warned that the “Russian Rule” which states that there must always be two Israeli players on the court could be an issue.
“I don’t want the Israeli players to relax and it’s a little dangerous that they may do so and not work hard because they have a guaranteed place on the floor. The Israeli players have to work really hard and I believe in them, but they also must stay humble. Most of them are young and I expect a lot from them. They need to give good positive energy and also focus and work hard on defense.”
Pini Gershon, the long-time coach and current Israel Basketball Association Technical Director, has seen a big surge of recent youth development in the country.
“Today there are over 25,000 children playing in basketball schools, academies and youth departments throughout the country,” Gershon told the Post. “We are trying cut the gap between us and the other countries in Europe, including for example Serbia, who are training almost double the amount of time than we are. Part of the issue is that other countries have more indoor courts than we have in Israel, but it’s our mission to continue to reduce the gap.”
The two time Euroleague champion with Maccabi Tel Aviv also mentioned that the IBA is working to find solutions in practice time for the Israelis.
“The European players are practicing for two hours in the morning and from there they learn for a few hours, after which they go back to practice again. Even if we training five to six days a week, we aren’t getting to the amount of practice hours that other European countries are. As a solution we are working with players on an individual level and we are beginning to work with them at an even younger age.”
“The current national team features many players who were with the Under-20 National Team over the last few years and were very successful. We are playing against countries whose players are bigger and more physical than ours, but the game of basketball has been changing and the three-point shot is much more significant than in the past which is something that we can compete against,” noted Gershon. “We are trying to take advantage of the current game and teach the younger children a style that they can succeed in. We have implemented the use of the same style of play at all age levels from the senior national team to the youth teams, which sees a lot of pressing the ball and shooting from the three. More or less the whole national team system is playing the same.”
“The Israel national team embodies the Israeli basketball player,” explained Motti Daniel, the national team manager, who has also played at the highest levels of the sport for the blue-and-white. “As the players continue to develop, train and play the game, the base widens and they can then impact both the domestic league and internationally as well. Without the continuous development of younger Israeli players, there wouldn’t be a future for the game in the country or even a national team. But we can see that the future is bright.”
Joshua Halickman, the Sports Rabbi, covers Israeli sports and organizes Israel Sports Adventures for tourists and residents. Follow the Sports Rabbi on Twitter @thesportsrabbi or visit Contact the Sports Rabbi via email at [email protected]