Plenty to ponder after Hapoel Jerusalem’s early European elimination

Odd year of transition continues for Reds, with new players and coach and only local league to focus on

HAPOEL JERUSALEM and big man Suleiman Braimoh were ousted from the Balkan League and FIBA Champions League, but still are in the middle of the Israeli Winner League season.  (photo credit: DOV HALICKMAN PHOTOGRAPHY)
HAPOEL JERUSALEM and big man Suleiman Braimoh were ousted from the Balkan League and FIBA Champions League, but still are in the middle of the Israeli Winner League season.
(photo credit: DOV HALICKMAN PHOTOGRAPHY)
Hapoel Jerusalem always strives for the highest of heights. We failed, we did not advance to the next stage and that isn’t acceptable.”
 Those were the words of Eyal Homsky of the Hapoel Jerusalem ownership group after having landed back in Israel from France where it was unceremoniously sent packing from European play earlier in the week with a loss to Limoges in Basketball Champions League action.
The defeat signified a massive failure in the team’s continental campaign, especially after having advanced deeper the past few years and raising expectations that the Reds were ready to capture their first European title since they won the ULEB Cup back in 2004.
However, it wasn’t meant to be as Jerusalem came up short on all accounts finishing a shortened regular season with a 2-4 record.
Last season, Hapoel had a team that could have gone all the way, but when the coronavirus hit hard in Israel so did the end of the campaign.
The Champions League ended up playing a Final 8 Tournament to crown a champion in October of this past year based on the previous season’s results, but the composition of the teams were totally different than the ones who had initially competed for the title.
Ultimately, Jerusalem was missing a number of key players and it included others, plus a veteran guard in Nikos Pappas who was signed for just that tournament which ended up being only one game. That signing in itself was a strange end and peculiar start to this year’s competition.
A shoulder injury to star guard J’Covan Brown and a broken hand for Malcolm Hill didn’t help matters, while the loss of James Feldeine made things even more dire.
Add the fact that there was no more John Holland, Shelvin Mack and Emanuel Terry, life wasn’t the same for TaShawn Thomas, Suleiman Braimoh and Tamir Blatt as well as for coach Oded Katash, who ended up departing to take over the reins at Panathinaikos immediately after the crushing 78-77 home loss to Turk Telekom.
New players Hill, Chris Kramer, Adam Ariel and Tarik Phillip, who was subsequently released, didn’t make any type of positive impact on the continental campaign.
Another critical error in the European season was that Jerusalem decided to play both its home and road games against Igokea in Bosnia in order to help save money for both clubs due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The matches were held two days apart in December instead of having the games played at their original dates, which would have been at least two weeks from one another. Usually when two teams face each other in a short period, the result is a split of the games with each team winning one, and that is exactly what happened.
On top of everything else, Katash informed the club that he had gotten an offer to become the head coach of Panathinaikos, which plays in the Euroleague, the highest level of basketball outside of the NBA.
The Athens-based club was also home to Katash back in 1999-2000, when he led the Greens to the continental championship, ironically over his former club Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Ever since that moment, he was always looked at as one of the Greek Gods amongst Zeus, Apollo and Poseidon.
With his former teammates from that title win in charge of the club, they went after Katash hard and a deal was struck less than a week before the defeat at the hands of Turk Telekom just a few weeks ago.
Instead of allowing Katash to leave immediately, Hapoel management wanted him to still stay on the sidelines for that crucial contest, which ultimately was an error in judgement. As much as perhaps Katash himself wanted to be there, assistant coach Yonatan Alon or another member of the staff needed to be in charge of that game, which saw Hapoel’s huge lead evaporate in the fourth quarter.
To make matters worse, new coach Dainius Adomaitis was sitting in a box watching his future team. Who knows what factor that may have played in the defeat?
The players can say until the cows come home that they were all mentally prepared and it wasn’t an issue, but that’s just not possible. Players are human beings as well with feelings and emotions.
In his two games as head coach so far, Adomaitis has seen his team play exactly the same way it did in that loss to Turk Telekom – poorly.
The two losses knocked Hapoel out of not one, but two, different competitions. The first was a disastrous fourth-quarter collapse against Maccabi Rishon Lezion, eliminating the Reds from the Balkan League and of course the defeat to Limoges as his team waved goodbye to the Champions League. To think that the club had designs on playing in the Euroleague just a few years ago seems like eons from where it is now.
Jerusalem has had some success in Europe over the past few years, beginning with Italian coach Simone Pianigiani taking the club to the semifinals of the Eurocup and then two campaigns in the Champions League in which it made it to the playoffs, being eliminated by eventual by finalist Tenerife and last season by San Pablo Burgos.
However, to be a champion in Europe, there are no shortcuts no matter what competition a club is in, something Homsky clearly understands as he left a caveat for the disappointed fans.
“We have to take a good look at what we are doing in house. I understand that we are going through some things that aren’t within our control since the onset of the coronavirus, but that is no excuse. We have to look in the mirror, see where we erred and what we can do differently. We are still competing for the Israel State Cup and League championships; we’ll fight for them until the end.”
Joshua Halickman, the Sports Rabbi, covers Israeli sports and organizes Israel sports adventures for tourists and residents (www.sportsrabbi.com). Follow the Sports Rabbi on Twitter @thesportsrabbi or feel free to contact the Sports Rabbi at [email protected]gmail.com.