Israelis gear up for State Cup Final Four

Hapoel Jerusalem, Hapoel Holon, Hapoel Tel Aviv, Maccabi Rishon Lezion to vie for coveted title

WITH THE absence of perennial powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv from the Final Four field, Hapoel Jerusalem and Hapoel Holon are the favorites to capture the State Cup, with the semifinals and final set to tip off in Jerusalem next week. (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
WITH THE absence of perennial powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv from the Final Four field, Hapoel Jerusalem and Hapoel Holon are the favorites to capture the State Cup, with the semifinals and final set to tip off in Jerusalem next week.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
The Basketball State Cup competition will be at the forefront of Israeli sports next week when the semifinals and final will be played at Jerusalem’s Pais Arena.
Monday night will feature a doubleheader, with Maccabi Rishon Lezion facing Hapoel Tel Aviv early before the nightcap pits Hapoel Jerusalem against Hapoel Holon.
The winners of the two semifinal clashes will tip off on Thursday night in front of the President Reuven Rivlin, who will present the cup to the winner.
There are many interesting storylines as each team will be looking for Israeli basketball supremacy in the knockout tournament.
First off, what team is missing from the Final Four? If you answered Maccabi Tel Aviv then you’re correct. In fact, the yellow-and-blue has won the most cups in the competition’s history, with 44 since its inception in the 1955/56 season, and its absence is glaring.
After losing in the final last season to Hapoel Holon on a Glen Rice Jr. basket – halting a streak of eight titles in a row, Maccabi was knocked out in the quarterfinals by Rishon Lezion – which has never won the cup, losing twice in the final.
However, Rishon’s only league championship came in 2015/16 when it defeated Hapoel Jerusalem at the Pais Arena, the same facility where this season’s cup competition will come to an end.
In addition, Jerusalem has played in two State Cup Finals at the Pais Arena and has come up short against Maccabi Tel Aviv both times. Once again, Hapoel is taking aim at hoisting the cup at its new home arena for the first time. The Reds have won the cup four times, with the last one being captured in 2007/08.
The big question surrounding the game, however, is if former NBA All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire will be able to play. Stoudemire currently only plays in the European Champions League competition and not in Israeli games due to a foreigner limit.
Both the team and Amar’e have been working diligently in order for him to gain Israeli citizenship ahead of the clash, especially after the interior ministry granted him residency status this past month.
Will Amar’e get the all-important citizenship for which he qualifies as an outstanding athlete in time to be able to suit up? That’s the million-dollar question as the hourglass runs out.
Holon, of course, will be holding out hope that Stoudemire is not granted his Teudat Zehut in time as it looks to win its second straight cup.
Dan Shamir’s squad will be coming into the game after a week of mixed results. Following its win over Maccabi Tel Aviv in league action this past Sunday, Holon was eliminated from the Champions League competition when it was stunned at home by Nanterre.
However, Holon has the hottest player in Israel and January’s player of the month in Corey Walden who spoke to The Jerusalem Post about his successful season, to date.
“I’ve been really working off the court and on the court including shooting, schemes, pick and roll and also not being afraid to make mistakes. I think that’s the biggest thing. I always want to play a perfect game but there’s not going to be a perfect game,” said Walden. “Once I realized that it’s ok to make mistakes, not too many but making mistakes and being comfortable with making mistakes and learning from them then it makes the game a little bit easier.”
Walden’s coach, Shamir, had only compliments for the guard.
“It’s great to be able to talk about Corey because he’s such a special player. You don’t meet many people like Corey, who play with their heart and gives everything for the team. He has shown how good a player he is time after time and I am happy he feels comfortable playing here and can show how he can excel.”
The dark horse is Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Danny Franco’s team is the only club left in the competition with a sub-.500 record in league play and has struggled mightily throughout the campaign.
But interestingly enough Hap TA has beaten Rishon in the only league matchup between the two sides earlier this season. So there is hope for the embattled Reds.
They know that should they bring home the Cup for the first time since the 1992/93 campaign, it will give the fans hope for the balance of the season while also giving them something to savor in one of their most difficult periods in a very long time.
So buckle up tight and head out to Jerusalem for some basketball fun.

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 www.sportsrabbi.com. Feel free to contact the Sports Rabbi via email at sportsrabbi9@gmail.com